With the rapid change in Southwest over the last two years, it is easy to forget about the early stages of the waterfront redevelopment project. The Mandarin Oriental hotel, located a short walk northwest of The Wharf at 1330 Maryland Ave., SW, opened 15 years ago as an anchor project for the waterfront renewal. Accompanying that opening was the restaurant now called Muze (previously called Sou’Wester), which serves American cuisine with an Asian-inspired twist. Executive Chef Stefan Kauth, along with Chef de Cuisine Andrew Powers, know how to do the twist.
The menu is seasonal, but ‘tis the season to start with the Crab, Corn & Coconut soup, with a fragrance that draws you in, followed by time-release episodes of flavor, and a little kick. If you prefer mild, go with the subtle and succulent Angus Beef Tataki, or the Ahi Poke complete with the fluffiest shrimp chips you’ve ever had (or perhaps the only shrimp chips you’ve ever had, but they are terrific). The Roasted Cauliflower Hummus is a sweeter version of your typical hummus, but the star of the appetizers is a superb Edamame, complete with a light dusting of parmesan cheese and Korean chili sea salt.
The service was good, with our server making recommendations that turned out to be the highlights of the meal. The setting seeks to reflect the theme of the 33 Mandarin Oriental hotels that exist world-wide: mindful and relaxing. There are guests in casual attire and fashionable daters; you are welcome to approach this establishment however you like.
Once you get to the entrees, the highlights are the melt-in-your-mouth Roasted Rohan Duck, featuring a savory broth and lo mein noodles; and the Corn Crusted Icelandic Cod, which gives you a new appreciation for the flaky, common whitefish. It features a variety of textures, including a slight crunch with a well-balanced, mild mix of accompaniments, topped with hearts of palm. There are also more traditional dishes on the menu, such as a ribeye thanks to Wagyu cattle from Texas, and a salmon with Szechuan glaze and bok choy.
But so often, the best is saved for last. Don’t leave without tasting the Mandarin. The signature dish of the hotel, this one is a creation of Pastry Chef Christophe Frigara, and is worth stopping in for, just on its own. You’re served a “mandarin orange,” produced in five textures: gel, fruit confit, foam, shell and of course, a fluffy white chocolate on the inside. It is a memorable experience, and, sadly, I’m now disappointed every time I peel an orange and I don’t find white chocolate.
The Mandarin also does the other things right: they are involved in the Southwest community, including support for Amidon-Bowen Elementary School and, recently, DC Storm, which provides academic and athletic mentorship at Jefferson Middle School Academy. The restaurant also features a kids’ menu (not something that every SW establishment has chosen to offer), and even has special occasions aimed at kids. For example, keep an eye out for the Easter Egg Hunt and Brunch on Easter Sunday, which will utilize the welcoming green courtyard that sits just off the restaurant.
Let Muze inspire you. Prepare for a great meal, and feel free to come as you are.
By Mike Goodman