Correction to This Article
The First Bite column quoted Bice restaurant owner Raffaele Ruggeri saying that an earlier incarnation of the restaurant, now in Bethesda, had closed when its building in the District was sold. The building did not change hands. Ruggeri sold the restaurant to another entrepreneur.
First Bite

Bice in Bethesda: Same Look, Not-So-Same Taste

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Bice is back. The stylish Milanese chain, which was one of the places downtown to see and be seen in the 1990s, has opened an outlet in Bethesda (7501 Wisconsin Ave., 301-654-2250). Owner Raffaele Ruggeri said the D.C. outlet of the chain closed in 1995 when the building, now home to Le Paradou, was sold. But he said the company was happy to "have an opportunity to come back to Washington. We got a very good deal."

Those who remember the old Bice will find it surprisingly unchanged, as will patrons who have visited any of the other locations from Dubai to Palm Beach. As in the other 23 outlets, the decor is Milan chic, with modern, warm-wood chairs in the bar, plump banquettes and ceiling-high tropical flower arrangements in the main dining room. The service is expert: formal but never stuffy. On Tuesday and Wednesday nights, a live band plays jazz covers of popular songs by the likes of Van Morrison and Sting.

The food may not be quite as good as patrons remember, a result perhaps of diners' increasingly sophisticated tastes or early kitchen stumbles. The menu is a lengthy list of Italian cuisine's greatest hits: prosciutto and melon, Caprese salad and carpaccio to start; 11 pastas and risottos, seafood soup, veal scaloppine and osso buco. Everything we tasted was respectable, but not everything shined enough to justify the prices, which climb as high as $49. A tricolor salad ($14) was a nice balance of bitter greens, crunchy pine nuts and Parmesan, but the melon with prosciutto ($18) lacked the ripe sweetness needed to set off the salty meat. The asparagus risotto with sea scallops ($21) was a brilliant green but lacked seasoning. The scallops, though, were expertly seared.

Surprisingly, the best dish we tried was dessert, not something for which Italians are known. The skizza Claudia ($8) is a homemade crisp flatbread topped with caramelized pears, almonds, Nutella and two scoops of fior di latte gelato. It's big enough for two, if you're not too greedy to share.

Entrees, $12-$47.

-- Jane Black

Food critic Tom Sietsema will return next week.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company