Sou’Wester, Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Southwest

February 14th is a special day for me – not only because it’s Valentine’s Day, but because it’s also my son Matt’s birthday!

For the past two years, I’d taken him out for an “all-dessert dinner.” (Yes, go ahead and call Child Services), but this year we went the traditional route at Sou’Wester.

We were all exhausted before we even went out for various reasons (in my case, I’d been up since 4:30 AM working).

A 7:30 PM reservation is pushing it on a school night, especially on Valentine’s Day when you just know the restaurant is going to be slammed. And slammed it was, too, with the kitchen backed up and courses arriving s-l-o-w-l-y.

But when they did arrive, every single course, save one, was excellent (which also says a lot about how much work this restaurant did to get ready for Valentine’s Day – the single busiest restaurant day of the entire year in the industry).

Sou’Wester was featuring a “So Happy Together …” four course menu for $55 featuring two Hors d’Oeuvres to share, two appetizers, an entree for two, and choice of desserts. A limited a la carte menu was also available.

So we got one four-course which consisted of:

Hors d’Oeuvres
Beef Tartare with Gaufrettes
Virginia Oyster Gratin with Grilled Bread

(In retrospect, probably a bit bread-heavy given the basket of cornbread, biscuits, etc., but we were too hungry to even think clearly when we arrived. The Gratin was the one miss of the night, really only because it was under-salted.)

Anson Mills Grit Cake with roasted wild mushrooms, rosemary, and red wine sauce
Baked North Carolina Shrimp and Blue Crab with melted leeks and Champagne butter

Salt-Crusted North Carolina Red Drum for two with roasted hen-of-the-woods mushrooms and braised fennel
10-Ounce Beef Prime Rib ($30) with twice-baked potato, braised arrowleaf spinach, and beef jus

By the time we’d finished this little culinary orgy, it was almost 10:30, Matt had two tests the next day, and we just had to wave the white flag on dessert. It was an extraordinarily high level Valentine’s Day dinner, especially given the price and location (regular old restaurants were charging ridiculous amounts – $75 a person (at places where the total bill is usually half that) for the privilege of dining on what is more often than not a disastrous restaurant night) – Sou’Wester, kitchen backup aside, did themselves proud on this evening. They even gave us a little bag of chocolate chip cookies to go.

And, in my mind, Sou’Wester still remains one of the most underrated restaurants in the DC area. It’s ironic that it’s starting to get more critical acclaim now that it raised its prices a bit – people don’t realize what a gem they had on their hands when this place first opened. Fortunately, that gem still remains in place.

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