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Restaurants get creative to get customers

July 24, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
When restaurants began to hear the sound of customers closing their wallets to high-priced dinners, many made menu changes, even seating revisions, to get more patrons in their bars, as lower-priced eats and drinks proved to keep many establishments afloat. The latest development in these 'bar wars' is to go beyond pizza and wings and get sassy with small designer dishes.

It's the very reason why Test Kitchen Tuesdays was created at Cork Bar in downtown L.A.

"We wanted to make sure we had great value. This is not a special occasion place," said John McGonigle from Cork Bar.

"The home run, so far, has been the crab cakes," McGonigle said.

Priding itself on a "fresh food only" concept, McGonigle launched the idea a month ago to attract a crowd on Tuesdays, a typically low revenue day.

"Let's create farmers market-inspired meals that could potentially end up being specials, could end up being on the menu. Price them at two dollars and have our customers come in and help us decide what actually gets on there," McGonigle said.

At Century City, it's Thursday not Tuesday that have foodies feasting.

At Bread Bar, they have their own version of Top Chef, featuring small plates created by rising culinary stars.

"What I'm doing is kicking off the series with a little bit of taste of what I call Seoul to soul. It's my story on a plate," said chef finalist Debbie Lee.

And what a tale she tells. She is a finalist on one of the food shows and launched their Hatchi Series.

"We're inviting a guest chef every last Thursday of every month to present 8 small dishes for 8 dollars each," said Lorena Tomb.

Some of Lee's contributions include a "mandu" slider hamburger served with eggplant tempura chips, Korean-style sashimi tartar on crispy rice with micro greens and a "gochujang" drizzle, and an apple pie egg roll served with a spicy cumin butterscotch.

Restaurants experimenting with these pub plates are finding many eager to rub elbows at the bar rather than sit in an empty dining room.

From sliders to bite-sized desserts, smaller offerings are providing big payoffs to restaurants and consumers alike.

Other restaurants offering small plate deals:

Cafe Pinot: A Taste of the French Riviera. The menu includes complimentary tastes of homemade crackers and tapenades, plus specially-priced dishes ($5 to $7), including tuna Niçoise rillettes, rosemary chicken open-face sandwiches and French cocktails.

Salt Creek Grille: Offers $3 appetizers and Kobe sliders during happy hour

Morton's The Steakhouse: 3 sirloin sliders during happy hour for $5

Tin Roof Bistro: Test kitchen Tuesday begins August 4, continues first Tuesday of every month. Plates average $6- $12.


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