Restaurant reinventions happen for all kinds of reasons. Many are economic: As consumer habits, preferences and even taste buds evolve, so must restaurants, if they want to stay in business.
The changes can also at times be more personal, based on a chef’s evolving philosophy on dining or a desire to try something new.
This week, we’ll look at the reinvention of one Baltimore restaurant, chef Peter Chang’s NiHao. I have updates, too, on another recently re-imagined spot, Woodberry Tavern.
And I have a dispatch from Washington, where Baltimore’s Atlas Restaurant Group is set to make its dining debut this week with a restaurant called Parlour Victoria.
NiHao says hello to a new chapter
After ringing in the Lunar New Year with a special menu last month, chef Peter Chang’s first Baltimore restaurant shut down for a few weeks to undergo a makeover of both its food offerings and a third-floor dining space.
NiHao 2.0 launched Feb. 9, and places a stronger emphasis on Chang’s involvement with the restaurant, which features contemporary Chinese cuisine, including lauded Sichuan food from the James Beard Award nominee.
On the new menu, diners can find some beloved dishes from Chang’s Washington, D.C.-area restaurants, such as the chef’s signature Peking duck, tofu skin salad and airy bubble pancakes with curry dipping sauce. There are new items, too, like citrusy limoncello crispy jumbo shrimp and Chongqing red pepper chicken, popcorn chicken-style bites with a burst of heat.
Chang was in town last week to inaugurate the revamped restaurant, which will be led day to day by head chef Dong Liu, a master chef and native of the Sichuan province. Also newly involved is Karina Hou, a Montgomery County artist and philanthropist who is a new investor in the Baltimore restaurant as well as in another of the chef’s properties, Q by Peter Chang in Bethesda.
Hou said she and Chang, who met at a charity gala years ago, are on a “mission” to introduce Baltimoreans to the breadth of Chinese cuisine.
“We want to bring Chinese food to the level it deserves,” she told me.
Though the restaurant had been well-received in local foodie circles, landing on Esquire magazine’s 2020 list of the nation’s best new restaurants and winning accolades from food critics, NiHao struggled under the coronavirus pandemic, Hou said.
Initially, the plan was to “appeal to a younger crowd in the neighborhood,” she said, “but then the pandemic happened.”
Also part of the restaurant’s relaunch is a freshly decorated third-floor private dining space that features shelves of vases, pots and other objets d’art from Hou’s private collection. A founder of the Montgomery International Film Festival, Hou has an even larger display of art at her home, where she is known for hosting events attended by local political figures from U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin to now-Maryland Gov. Wes Moore.
Chang, who was a finalist for a 2022 James Beard Award in the outstanding chef category, also launched a new eponymous restaurant in Columbia’s Merriweather District in January.
Next up for the chef’s expanding empire is a dim sum restaurant near Johns Hopkins Hospital, expected to open in May. Hou, who is also a partner in that venture, said she and Chang have their eyes on opening a third Baltimore restaurant, near the Inner Harbor, if all goes well.
Late-night eats at Woodberry
Woodberry Tavern, chef Spike Gjerde’s recently re-imagined fine dining spot in the Clipper Mill community, now has a more casual component for late-night weekend diners.
The tavern, a petite spinoff of Gjerde’s well-known Woodberry Kitchen, opened late last year after the James Beard Award winner decided to split the restaurant into an events space and a 30-seat dining room.
Until this month, the only way to have a meal at the restaurant has been to make a reservation. On Feb. 3, Woodberry Tavern launched another option for the more laid-back, spur-of-the-moment crowd: “Wiching Hour,” which offers sandwiches, french fries and tall pours of beer to walk-in customers from 9:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday nights.
“Tavern tradition is all about bringing people together to have a good time,” Gjerde said in a statement announcing the new offering. “We can do that by helping people celebrate special occasions during regular dinner service and by providing a destination for people to just grab something delicious with friends later at night, when the spirit grabs them.”
Rather than rarebit and rye-aged rib-eye au poivre, the late-night menu will feature fare like a white cheddar Tavern Burger on a sweet potato bun and a fried catfish and oyster po’boy sandwich. A cocktail list includes micheladas made with Union Craft Brewing Zadie’s Lager and a Winter Sangria with fresh cider and maple syrup. For dessert, there’s baked Alaska and a fruit-and-whiskey-filled Lady Baltimore cake.
Atlas heads to Washington
Baltimore’s Atlas Restaurant Group is venturing into the D.C. dining scene.
On Wednesday, the hospitality company behind Baltimore concepts like The Choptank, Tagliata and The Bygone will open Parlour Victoria, an upscale seafood tavern inside the Moxy Hotel at 11th and K streets.
Construction on the project, in the works since 2018, was delayed by the pandemic. Then, the developer decided to sell the property, postponing it further.
An Atlas spokesman said the Parlour Victoria’s offerings will be similar to that of Loch Bar, another Atlas-owned seafood restaurant in Baltimore known for its raw bar and extensive whiskey menu. Executive chef Brandon Sumblin, formerly of The St. Regis hotel in Washington, will also serve up dry-aged steaks.
The restaurant draws design inspiration from the turn-of-the-century Gilded Age, with gold fixtures and leather booths inside the Moxy, a boutique hotel in a Victorian-era building that has been fitted with modern touches to attract young travelers.
In late March, Atlas plans to open its second D.C. restaurant in the same building. Lucha Rosa will be a rooftop bar and restaurant with a small, Mexican-inspired menu, cocktails, a retractable roof and an outdoor patio space.
New Eggspectation in Timonium
All-day brunch chain Eggspectation added a location in Timonium on Feb. 6. The restaurant at 2235 York Road is the 17th in the portfolio for Delaware-based High 5 Hospitality Group, which also operates Buffalo Wild Wings in Bel Air and Salisbury. The Timonium restaurant is open daily from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. and also serves lunch, dinner and happy hour specials.