On the weekends, Adams Morgan sometimes feels like an alternate universe, where Miller Lite is king and jumbo slice, his greasy mistress. For the last week and a half, restaurant/bar Black Squirrel has been charting a slightly new course on the 18th Street strip, serving up duck roll appetizers, swordfish entrees and tasty beers.
"I was a little bit worried about the bar atmosphere that takes over on the weekend," says chef and co-owner Gene Sohn, who previously was the chef at Marcel's. "There used to be a lot of good retaurants here," he said. "They're coming back."
The restaurant, which takes its name from the 18 non-native black squirrels that the National Zoo released during Teddy Roosevelt's time, sits in the old T. S. Muttly's space. Sohn and his two partners put just over $100,000 worth of renovations into the space to transform it from a dingy Irish pub to a much brighter dining-and-drinking spot. High tables line the perimeter of the long, skinny space and kitschy film posters -- think "Superfly" and "The Hustler" -- don the red walls. The cutest (but perhaps chilliest) seat in the house is the one by the window, where low chairs and benches surround a table that looks like a section of a tree trunk.
Sohn describes the cuisine as "good American comfort food." Appetizers -- including mussels in a cream sauce and shrimp dusted in a salty blackened Cajun spice -- were the highlight of my weekend visit. Entree options, which Sohn says will all be priced under $20, include baby back ribs in a port barbeque sauce and a grilled Angus ribeye. Want to give the new place a shot? Go on a Tuesday, when, for the foreseeable future, food will be half-price.
Black Squirrel's extensive, multi-page beer list is particularly exciting. Try the bar's namesake beer -- a dark brew that's not too heavy and not too sweet. Sohn says the short wine list is growing.
It'll be interesting to see how the establishment's attention to dining will play out in the coming months. When you stroll in at 11 p.m. on a Saturday, will you see people finishing up meals and sipping drinks at the tables? Or rocking out to '80s music on the Internet jukebox and downing pints at the bar? Perhaps some combination of the two. What do you think?
--Julia Beizer (March 4, 2008)