Ruta emerged from Palena’s kitchen, pictured with Maddy Beckwith
So how unique was last night’s opening reception for Sou’Wester? So unique that Frank Ruta showed up. In all the years Y&H has been covering the dining scene in D.C., I’ve never seen the semi-reclusive Palena chef and owner at an industry event. I barely recognized him out of his whites.
“This is only the second time I’ve been to one of these,” Ruta told Y&H.
“Only the second ever?” I asked Ruta, knowing his years on the scene.
“No, this is the second time this year,” he responded.
Ruta’s presence wasn’t the only unusual thing about this dual-themed party, which celebrated both the fifth anniversary of CityZen and the launch of Sou’Wester, the latest project from Eric Ziebold, chef of the City Paper‘s reigning Best Restaurant. There was a tattooed DJ spinning rap and funk tunes in the CityZen dining room, one of the most formal spaces in town, where food stations had been set up to pass out samples of Sou’Wester’s menu. That’s right, people were dancing in the CityZen dining room (including Y&H, but it’s best not to think about that). The cognitive dissonance was palpable.
Avert your eyes, restaurant industry folks are getting down
Not that Y&H enjoys playing the role of Reliable Source, but the list of restaurant players was pretty impressive. Aside from Ruta, other attendees included Vidalia chef R.J. Cooper, Cork chef Ron Tanaka, Rasika chef Vikram Sunderam, Clyde’s Group chef John Guattery, baker and G Street Food‘s Mark Furstenberg, Inox sommelier John Wabeck, The Source‘s GM Adam Crocini, Bourbon Steak GM Mark Politzer, FreshFarm Market‘s Maddy Beckwith, Bistro Bis and Vidalia owner Jeffrey Buben, Bourbon Steak chef David Varley, and Cork owners Diane Gross and Khalid Pitts.
The media/blogger types were out in force, too. Aside from Y&H, other attendees included Nycci Nellis, David Hagedorn, Jennifer Barger, Monica Bhide, Erin Hartigan, Michael Birchenall, Melissa McCart, Don Rockwell, and Carol Blymire.
I can’t speak for anyone else, but I know I’m still having trouble adjusting to the new name for the Southern-inspired restaurant in the former Cafe MoZu space. If you’ll recall, the operation was originally dubbed South by Southwest, which Y&H ridiculed and which Ziebold defended. Because of a legal threat by certain festival organizers in Austin, the Mandarin Oriental switched to the current Sou’Wester, which rolls off the tongue like…rock candy stuck in the back of your throat.
I have much higher hopes for the restaurant itself, which is under the direction of CityZen sous chef Rachael Harriman, who will serve as chef de cuisine at Sou’Wester. Her menu will include blackened bluefish, chicken and dumplings, rabbit sausage with cheese grits, and a unique take on pork and beans.