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Black Squirrel, Adams Morgan


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#1 AlexC

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Posted 09 April 2008 - 12:25 PM

Last night, six of us ate and drank our way through much of the menu at the Black Squirrel, drawn by the promise of Tuesday's half-off-all-food deal and the hope that we could add a new spot to our list of places to eat in Adams Morgan. I think they've been open six weeks and I hope that, in another six weeks, things will be humming.

Last night, things were not humming.

The place felt a little schizophrenic -- cheery red walls and dark wood, one or two extra televisions, a funky tree trunk table in the window... Sports bar? Bistro? What's going on?

The menu was similarly discombobulated -- chicken wings, burgers, fried calamari, duck spring rolls, artisinal cheese and charcuterie plate, fried chicken, leg of lamb... What?

The service, however, was one note -- brutal. The front of the house went down in flames last night. They were more than overwhelmed by the number of people pouring in. It clearly wasn't due to anything but bad planning and a new restaurant. There were coverage problems -- there seemed to be two managers, two runners/kitchen staff, and one waitress working what must have been her third shift. There were delivery problems -- we didn't order that. There were checkout problems -- there are people packed in at the bar, staring at us to leave, and we couldn't get a check.

They really need a strong manager to institute some protocols, carve out responsibilities and figure out how to staff that place.

The beer... The beer list was good. There were eight or nine taps, including two house beers which I assume are Old Dominion, a Redhook and Czekvar (spelling?) and maybe a Belgian too, along with 60 or so bottles.

The food... the food was not very good. The universal comment was "I guess this is worth $10, but it's certainly not worth $20," referencing the fact that our $20 entrees were $10 on Tuesdays.

- the chicken wings were typical small, gnarled, Pizza Mart delivery with Franks-based sauce. Eh.
- the duck spring roll was a 2" diameter fried tube stuffed with greasy duck, cabbage and raisins. Eh.
- the Tomato/Basil/Mozzarella salad was, you know, fine. Creamy fresh cheese, March tomatoes, fine balsamic.
- the Fried Chicken was panko-crusted, which was a little strange, but it was juicy and good. The collards were bitter and the side of mac-n-cheese was very runny, with gruyere that made it a little pungent/bitey, for my taste.
- The rib portions appeared small and and were described as unremarkable, but I did not sample them.
- The lamb shank was the star of the meal -- everyone who tasted it (not me) reported it was the best thing they'd put in their mouths.

The burger did look tasty, but, again, not first hand account.

My overall impression was that this place was hoping to offer something a half-step up from Bourbon, but they haven't quite been able to execute either stylistically, food-wise or service-wise.

Alex

#2 AmyB

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Posted 16 April 2008 - 03:09 PM

As one of the owners of The Black Squirrel, thank you for your constructive comments about your experience.

Our concept was to have a small neighborhood spot that would serve good food and good beer. Unfortunately, we underestimated the demand in the neighborhood. We still have a small spot, but on most nights we have many more people than we could ever have imagined. This is a good problem to have, but our service has really suffered. And for that I would like to apologize.

As a solution, we have hired a new general manager and we will be re-staffing with more experienced waiters.

Tuesday nights have been especially hectic because we offer half-price food. Traditionally, Tuesdays are slow in Adams Morgan, and we began the promotion as a thank-you for our neighborhood regulars. However, it’s hardly a thank-you if there’s a long wait, poor service, and the kitchen is overwhelmed.

We are very hopeful that our new general manager will have the front of the house in order within the next week or so, and, to use your words, we’ll be humming along.

Amy Bowman

#3 ferment everything

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Posted 17 April 2008 - 12:32 AM

As one of the owners of The Black Squirrel, thank you for your constructive comments about your experience.

It's posts like these that make me happy that this site exists. Thanks for joining in, Amy. When an owner replies to a negative review, not with anger and harsh words, but a "hey we're trying to improve: here's what we're doing" post, this makes me much more likely to give the place a chance.
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#4 jfw

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Posted 08 December 2008 - 12:39 PM

Been popping in Sunday afternoons to watch NFL games at The Black Squirrel. Impressed with the beer options, I hadn't sampled food since much earlier this year. Yesterday, I tasted some signs The Black Squirrel has settled in to a nice niche.

We ordered a bowl of onion rings and a bowl of fries. The onion rings were unbelievably good. Thick cuts of sweet onion. The fried batter was really airy and kinda reminded me of the lightness and weight of a fritto misto di mare I had many years ago at Cashion's. The fried batter crackled in a satisfyingly crunchy way. Seasoning was pretty in your/my face. I'm not one for table salt, but the saltiness in the batter was better than a heavy shake of the table-top shaker. I never thought I'd have so much to say about onion rings, but these honestly merit deep analysis.

The fries were nothing as laudable as the rings. They were solid. Not as crispy as I prefer, but they were hot. That goes a long way for me. I love fries (any sort) as long as they're straight from the fryer.

The highlight taste, however, was something not yet on the menu. Hopefully Gene will make them a fixture. Poached duck mousse sliders. I never got too excited about the whole slider craze, but these are a great variation on a played out concept. If the trend is moving away from sliders, these should remain. It's how I felt about Wrapworks in Dupont. The wrap craze fizzled, but those guys stuck around for a while. They offered good, fresh product. It just happened to come swaddled in a tortilla. Back to the sliders... The mousse was rich in its density, but pretty mild in flavor. The poached mousse was sliced thick and then grilled on the flattop for some crispiness and deeper flavor. Gene said the hoisin sauce was homemade. Clearly not the same stuff you'll get at nine out of ten Chinese or otherwise Asian restaurants. Sweet and salty and rich. The crispy onion topping and the very fresh mesclun rounded out a flavorful bite. The bun wrapping it all up was pillowy, a little buttery, and an unobtrusive vehicle. It was a excellent package.

The Squirrel appears to be feeding well for the winter.

#5 weinoo

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Posted 01 November 2009 - 08:27 AM

We had a most delicious couple of burgers here the other night. Meat is evidently ground in-house, and if you know anything about burgers, that's one of the ways to make sure you end up with a delicious burger...that and good meat, of course. (I always grind fresh at home, whether it's for burgers, meat loaf, meatballs, etc.) Of course, the meat used is of utmost importance too, but don't believe every single thing you read about "blends," LaFreida beef, etc. Gimme a good hunk of chuck, grind it fresh, and it'll make you a good burger.

Black Squirrel's was deliciously charred and just on the verge of falling apart, which it didn't. A nice roll held it all together, and absorbed the juices perfectly. Comes with your choice of fries or a salad, so we had one of each. While the salad was unmemorable (what do you expect with a burger?), the fries were also a cut above what you get in most bars. Properly crisp and nicely seasoned, I don't know if they're cut in-house, but it doesn't matter if they're cooked properly - after all, even Thomas Keller uses frozen when necessary.

Great beer selection and a nice staff made for a good experience as well. We'll be back.

Oh, and check out my burger method here...Tasty Travails Hamburgers

#6 AlexC

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Posted 03 December 2009 - 08:20 AM

Someone should look into just how the food at this place went from unremarkable to delicious. According to the staff, one of the owners, a former cook at Marcel's, has taken over kitchen duties. That's what it tasted like last night.

I had the Roast Chicken ($16), a brined half-bird served on a bare plate, Palena-style, dripping with jus, accompanied by a side platter bearing two large ramekins of collards and mashed potatoes. I'd gone in with the intention of ordering a burger, but the chicken read so well on the menu that I had to order it, and out came a surprising delicious, beautifully-executed classic.

My friend had the Fish & Chips ($12). The tilapia was light, crispy-not-greasy and moist, better than most in this city. The fries remain a mystery to me, as he subbed for the excellent house-made potato chips.

Beer-wise, I had a reliably-tasty Spaten Optimator draft and a Green Flash bottle. The latter is a standard West Coast IPA -- big-hop, low-malt, no great shakes.

Good for you, Black Squirrel. I'll be back and I will bring my friends.

#7 Tweaked

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Posted 03 December 2009 - 10:16 AM

Funny, I use to live in a group house with Gene (when people thought you were crazy for living on 14th Street) back when he was at Dean & Deluca. Lets just say our house parties were always catered very well! Nice guy and hope everything is successful at the Black Squirrel!
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#8 Sthitch

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Posted 03 December 2009 - 10:23 AM

Someone should look into just how the food at this place went from unremarkable to delicious. According to the staff, one of the owners, a former cook at Marcel's, has taken over kitchen duties. That's what it tasted like last night.

During his tenure at Marcel's Gene was entrusted with making the daily batches of Boudin Blanc.

#9 cjsadler

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Posted 03 December 2009 - 10:32 AM

The beer selection has been great recently-- among the best in the city. Taps a few nights ago included Avery Dugana, Bell's Double Cream Stout, Founders Cerese, and Founders Breakfast Stout. I love having this place a few blocks from me.

Chris Sadler


#10 sheldman

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Posted 23 January 2010 - 11:33 AM

Veggie burger with a fried egg and caramelized onions, on my first visit to Black Squirrel last night. Very good. (The burger is a little soft, but tasty and quinoa-y). Mussels were excellent too, in white wine. Onion rings were great and cumin-y. If we had jetpacks, or some other method of avoiding the parking nightmare that is Adams-Morgan, it would be even better.

#11 giant shrimp

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Posted 12 April 2010 - 08:06 AM

don't know who was on duty last night, but the kitchen, at least temporarily, had gone from declicious back to unremarkable. two duck confit spring rolls couldn't have been greasier, served with a thick pineapple ginger sauce that was weak and watery in flavor. half of an immense roasted chicken that, from the sourcing, can be assumed to have lived a healthy lifestyle, came to a dry end, absolutely not a contender. to compare this bird to palena's is sacrilege and they are priced about the same. accompanying collards were overly vinagery. the safest bet at our table was a reasonably well prepared bacon cheeseburger. aside from the spring rolls, nothing terrible, but about average for what you would expect to find in a typical bar. i would not come here for the food, but maybe the kitchen performs differently at different times.

i would come here for the beer. on a far-ranging list, there's much to explore. not sticking our necks out far at all, we settled for a bells oberon and new holland black tulip on tap, refreshing and affordable, $6 or $7 a glass.

#12 weinoo

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Posted 28 October 2010 - 07:11 AM

We stopped in last night for a couple of burgers after a visit to the Gibson. Over the past year, the burgers have ranged from excellent to...not excellent. Last night was the latter, as both of our burgers (1 ordered medium rare, the other medium) came out cooked to death.

Unfortunate, because the quality of the meat remains high. Also unfortunate, because I should have had a falafel next door.

#13 petercarrjones

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Posted 08 February 2011 - 06:37 PM

I've rarely had the food, but have enjoyed a burger on burger night now and again. The beer list is always impressive and the staff is friendly. For that, it gets my vote when I'm in the Adam's Morgan area and looking for a quick drink in the evening. The upstairs also has a pleasant vibe to it on Friday's and Saturday's. I'm looking forward to trying a wider range of food on 1/2 price app night (which has replaced 1/2 off food night).
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#14 weinoo

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Posted 16 January 2013 - 11:07 AM

So is this place under new ownership, or has something else happened?

 

We stopped in last night - while there are still burgers on the menu, there is nothing stating that the beef is ground in house, as the menu used to state.  The rest of the food menu looks different as well.

 

Also, there seems to be a reduced beer menu.

 

Anyone know what gives?






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