CHANGING SPACES: Along with a bumper crop of promising new restaurants that have popped up on the landscape lately, a handful of established players are making changes that also hint at a more alluring autumn (and beyond) for diners.
Consider Marcel's (2401 Pennsylvania Ave. NW; 202-296-1166) in Washington's West End. In an effort to "tighten things up" after seven years at the formal French-Belgian restaurant, chef-owner Robert Wiedmaier recently added red-and-gold carpet and handcrafted mahogany chairs to the front dining room, along with new china and silverware for the tables. Still to come: a couple of armoires and drapes from France. The waiters at Marcel's have also traded in their tuxes for tailored suits, to "get away from the Old World look," says the chef. For his part, Wiedmaier plans to scale back portion sizes (in response to customer requests, he says) and tweak the bar menu to include more Belgian selections, including mussels with french fries.
In Bethesda, Black's Bar & Kitchen (7750 Woodmont Ave.; 301-652-6278) has closed for lunch as the seafood restaurant begins a "door-to-door makeover" that is expected to cost $2 million and be completed sometime in the spring, reports owner Jeff Black. The renovation will remove the restaurant's front deck and translate into fewer seats in a more spacious dining room, Black adds. The restaurateur tapped Mallory Buford, his chef at Addie's, Black's modern American restaurant in Rockville, to replace David Craig, who left the restaurant earlier this summer.
Meanwhile, over on Capitol Hill, Sonoma (223 Pennsylvania Ave. SE; 202-544-8088) unveiled a second-floor, 3,000-square-foot bar and lounge this month. Actually, it's two venues. Open and airy, and dressed with Ultrasuede club chairs and sofas, the larger of the two rooms features arched windows overlooking Pennsylvania Avenue and a working fireplace; the second, smaller space is a shade of burgundy, paved with Oriental rugs and designed for intimate parties. Food upstairs is limited to the restaurant's cheese and charcuterie platters. "It's hard to eat when you're sitting on couches," explains co-owner Elias Hengst.