Franklin D. Roosevelt, Amelia Earhart, Robert Frost, and Calvin Coolidge were some of the first inhabitants of the walls of Occidental Grill & Seafood, where their autographed photos have since been joined by more than 1,500 statesmen, power brokers, and celebrities. Throughout the restaurant’s nearly 110 years in business, its various menus have served as a mirror to the major events of the 20th century, from the conserved portions that addressed the food shortage during World War I to the 1924 victory banquet for the World Series–winning Washington Senators. Today, following a massive renovation in its 100th year, executive chef Rodney Scruggs achieves the difficult task of paying homage to the past in forward-thinking dishes.
Scruggs himself boasts quite the history in the culinary realm. His first job after studying culinary arts at Newbury College was—perhaps not so coincidentally—the Occidental, where he worked his way from a line cook to an executive sous chef. His career led him through some of the area’s most notable eateries before he returned to the Occidental, where he furthers simple combinations of fresh, local ingredients with refined touches and careful preparation. To wit, crispy soft-shell crab is accompanied by a sweat-pea puree, and roasted virginia rack of lamb hails from Border Springs Farm and sits beneath a coating of demi-glace. In addition to American craft beers and wines from around the globe, diners can honor the eatery’s legacy by sipping classic cocktails such as a rickey from Washington circa 1883 and a sidecar from 1920’s London.
Surrounded by the aforementioned autographed photos, the main dining room exudes old-school elegance. From high, recessed ceilings, ornate bowl-shaped chandeliers dangle over white tablecloths in front of burgundy leather booths and windsor chairs. The wine room has a slightly darker décor, as the wine bottles lining the walls reflect the rich-chocolate color of high-backed leather chairs.