One way established special-occasion restaurants are dealing with the recession is by reinventing themselves as neighborhood restaurants while still keeping (they hope) some of their high-end cachet.
We saw that with Corks in Federal Hill, and now the Bicycle, a few blocks south at 1444 Light St., has done something of the same thing. Chef Nicholas Batey, who owns the restaurant with his parents, told me that the three of them decided to make some needed physical improvements as long as they were rewriting the menu. The Bicycle was closed from early Jan. 4 to late Jan. 8, while Batey, his wife, Saundra, and his father painted, rearranged the dining rooms, changed the lighting and added accessories.
"We spent two nights there to get it done," Batey said. "We made [the decor] warmer. I always felt it needed a little something else."
Regular customers of Batey's "global bistro" cuisine may find the changes in the menu even more noticeable.
"Most of our business was out of the neighborhood because of the prices," he acknowledged. Now people in the neighborhood should be able to eat there "without hurting their pocketbooks" - and not just for a special occasion.
Batey did keep some of the old favorites, like a tuna-and-avocado dish and steamed mussels in a chipotle-tequila broth. But new small plates ranging from $9 to $15 are now an important part of the menu. As for full dinners, the range of entree prices is $15 for a vegetable-tofu stir-fry to $23 for a New York strip steak. I looked back in the archives and found that three years ago, when Batey took over the Bicycle and I reviewed it, the range was $21 to $32. (I gave the Bicycle's food 3 1/2 stars, by the way.)
Italian dishes, however, have been left out of the global cuisine this time around so as not to compete with Batey's new restaurant. The project is still on track, an Italian eatery now scheduled to open in March at 554 E. Fort Ave., where Soigne once was. It's going to be called Ullswater, named after a lake in the English Lake District.
But back to the Bicycle. It has new hours, open 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Call for reservations at 410-234-1900.
Winter Restaurant Week I'll be interested to see if and how the troubled economy affects Baltimore's semiannual Restaurant Week, the winter version of which starts Friday. Participating restaurants offer three-course dinners for $30.09, and some have lunches for $20.09. (That's a good rate of inflation; the price creeps up just a penny each year to reflect the date.)
For a list of participating restaurants - and there are some names that we haven't seen before - go to the Web site at baltimorerestaurantweek.com.
Tidbits and crumbs Shawn Lagergren, the chef who cooked my three-star dinner at Luca's Cafe in Locust Point when I reviewed it, is now at the new Village Square Cafe (66 Village Square, 410-433-2233) in Cross Keys. ... The new Terra Cafe (101 E. 25th St., 410-777-5277) is open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday for breakfast and lunch. (Dinners will start in a few weeks.) ... The Firehouse Coffee Company (1030 S. Linwood Ave., 410-522-5046) has replaced the Daily Grind in Canton. ... Punk's Backyard Grill, which purports to re-create the classic American backyard cookout, will be opening in the Westfield Annapolis mall in February. ... Salt (2127 E. Pratt St., 410-276-5480) has benefited from the city's angled parking initiative, which has supposedly given the chic East Baltimore tavern 77 percent more parking places. ... Several readers have reported that Ray Lewis' Full Moon BBQ in Canton is closed, at least temporarily. Closings are always hard to pin down, but the phone has been disconnected. ... Elkridge has the area's first Fatburger, one of those burger chains people adore, located at 6630 Marie Curie Drive.
Deal of the week Regi's American Bistro (1002 Light St., 410-539-7344) in Federal Hill has Lobster Night on Wednesdays, featuring a one-pound steamed lobster, corn and drawn butter for $13.99.
"Of course, the price has gone up," owner Alan Morstein told me, "but I'm committed to it."
I like that in a restaurateur.
Tuesdays are Steak Night, when you can get a charbroiled New York strip, mashed potatoes and vegetable for $12.99.
On Thursdays, about 25 wines are half-priced - everything on the list except Regi's reserve bottles.