- - Thursday, September 4, 2014

Shaw, originally just called “Uptown,” is one of Washington’s oldest neighborhoods and now is becoming one of its hottest — a good example of how food can help transform a neighborhood. Restaurants give a neighborhood its personality, if not exactly its soul, and Shaw is no exception.

The Walter E. Washington Convention Center on Mount Vernon Place NW has brought new restaurants to the neighborhood, as well as a Cambria Suites hotel that opened in June at the corner of Ninth and O streets. The stretch of Ninth Street from Massachusetts Avenue up to Florida Avenue now offers a choice of attractive bars; American, Asian and Ethiopian restaurants; coffee shops; antique stores and even art galleries, interspersed with two-story houses.

Once a neighborhood of freed slaves on the outskirts of the city, it was named for Col. Robert Gould Shaw, who commanded the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, the famous black regiment of the Civil War. The Northwest neighborhood today is bounded by Massachusetts Avenue to the south, 11th Street to the west, Florida Avenue to the north and New Jersey Avenue to the east.

A century ago Shaw was the center of black intellectual and cultural life in Washington, akin to New York’s Harlem Renaissance. Duke Ellington came from Shaw and poet Langston Hughes from nearby LeDroit Park. U Street called itself the “Black Broadway.” Howard Theological Seminary — just north of Shaw and chartered by Congress in 1867 — became Howard University.

The riots after the assassination of Martin Luther King in 1968 marked the beginning of the end of the old Shaw. Now the neighborhood is flourishing again. One of the more dangerous areas in the city has become gentrified neighborhood of Victorian houses, many newly renovated.

One of the newest restaurants is Chaplin’s Restaurant & Bar (1501 Ninth St. NW, 202/644-8806), named for Charlie, the Little Tramp. Drinks are named for his movies, many of which are projected against a wall on the restaurant’s upper level. Chaplin was British, made his fame in Hollywood and lived his final years in Switzerland. The restaurant serves Asian food under the pretense that Chaplin was popular in Asia. Well, why not? He was famous everywhere. Good dumplings — especially those in “adult shots” — and ramen noodles are a specialty. A boutique hotel is planned for the upper floors.

From Sept. 17 through Oct. 14, three local Legal Sea Foods restaurants will celebrate their sixth annual oyster festival. Dishes will include oyster stew, fried oysters with pickle relish, an oyster po’ boy, oysters jambalaya, bacon-wrapped oysters and Oysters Legal, featuring oysters baked with spinach, cheese and crumbs. Small plates featuring oysters will be available at the bar during happy hour from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., Monday-Friday, along with Stingray oysters priced at $1.25 each.

Oysters will appear on the special “retro” menu at MBK Kitchen (405 Eighth St. NW, 202/347-7491) during September. The 1960s retro menu is themed on AMC’s popular show, “Mad Men,” and the oysters arrive as Oysters Rockefeller. Other 1960s-era dishes include Beef Wellington, shrimp cocktail and cheese fondue. The complete dinner is $65, with cocktail and champagne pairings for an additional $45. The restaurant features an “all night happy hour” menu from 5 p.m. to closing time that includes beer, wine, cocktails and bar snacks. These are priced from $4 to $10.

The summer special at 1789 Restaurant (1226 36th St. NW, 202/965-1789) will be available until Sept. 12. For $45 per person, diners can select a soup, salad, pasta or cheeses, followed by a main course with dessert. A surcharge may apply to some menu items, and drinks are not included. The offer is available Sunday to Friday, but not Saturday nights. To receive the special offer, go to SummerSpecial1789Restaurant.com.

Speaking of specials, several Clyde’s restaurants are offering an $18.95 lobster special for September and October. Along with the lobster, the special includes melted butter, coleslaw and French fries.

DC Harvest (517 H St. NE, 202/629-3296) opened on Sept. 2. At the stove is chef/owner Arthur Ringel, who has cooked at Vermillion and Vidalia. The menu will change seasonally and is based entirely on local products. These will include Virginia fluke crudo, ricotta kale agnolotti, spelt linguine with spicy lamb sausage, pan roasted scallops with local vegetables, and a honey walnut tart with thyme, fromage blanc and fruit.

Chef Richard Sandoval is featuring a once-a-month “pop-up” Sunday sushi school at his Masa 14 restaurant (1825 14th St. NW, 202/328-1414). The class will be taught by sushi chef Kaz Okochi. The first class will be Sept. 7 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Once the class is finished, the scholars return to their table to savor the results of their labors. Priced at $15 per person, classes will be held the first Sunday of each month through December.

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