An Early Look at Bice

The new Bice is in the Bethesda space that used to house the Old Homestead Steakhouse.

At Bice, an international Italian chain that opened in Bethesda in mid-February, the corporate tag line invites diners to feel “at home, cozy and relaxed.” That’s hard to do in a Chevy Chase Bank building space that features a drop ceiling and hotel carpeting, but there are touches that make you feel as if they’re at least trying.

The most visible efforts are the gigantic fresh floral arrangements (although they still come off as a bit corporate), and the diminutive coat racks beside each table that are actually for purses (now we’re talking).

There are happy hour specials aplenty at Bice’s bar.

But it’s the versatility of the menus that might impress diners most. Business lunch? Try the lunch express menu, which includes an appetizer, entrée, soda, and coffee for $14. Add dessert for $2 more. Taking in a show at Round House Theatre next door? A $28 pretheater menu includes a glass of wine and a 20-percent discount from the bar menu for posttheater diners. The best bargain, though, is the aperitivo happy hour weekdays from 5 to 7. It includes free Italian finger foods—cured meats, cheeses, and grilled veggies—plus a selection of half-price drinks and occasional live jazz.

All of these specials are available only at the bar, by far the most dynamic and interesting section of the restaurant. Cream-colored couches and matching comfy chairs are arranged around a coffee table; black and white dining chairs are a bold choice that works; and the arresting sight of the striped floor in contrasting colors of espresso and blond wood is both eye-catching and beautiful.

Possible pitfalls include the location, which formerly housed the Old Homestead Steakhouse; a lack of street visibility, which Bice is working to improve with better signs; and the questionable decision to serve subpar tomatoes in February. But as the weather warms, the patio tables will likely make Bice’s presence known—and the tomatoes will surely improve.

Bice, 7501 Wisconsin Ave., Bethesda; 301-654-2250; Open Monday through Thursday, 11:30 AM to 10:30 PM; Friday and Saturday, 11:30 AM to 11 PM; Sunday, 5 to 10:30 PM.