Renee Barton grew up in Redwood City's Woodside Plaza neighborhood and knows what it needs and what it lacks: a family-friendly restaurant serving high-quality comfort food at reasonable prices.
Open since last July in Woodside Plaza Shopping Center, Barton's Redwood Grill, with its California comfort-food menu, is always busy.
The space the restaurant now occupies sat empty for two years prior.
"While it had been a restaurant, everything was outdated and nothing up to code," Barton said. "It needed a complete makeover."
The space now accommodates 80 diners -- 56 in the dining area and 24 in a separate bar area. With sky-high ceilings and dangling pendant lights, the décor has a utilitarian-industrial feel, simple and sturdy, yet comfortable enough for a social gathering. The walls are decorated with photo blowups of midcentury California, courtesy of Redwood City's public library system.
Barton left a tech startup to fuel her interest in opening a restaurant. With no previous experience, she's learning on the fly.
"I just took the leap and jumped right in," she said.
Barton found an excellent chef in Mario Ochoa and together they collaborated on the menu. While tinkering with potential dishes to serve, Barton and Ochoa conjured a grilled avocado stuffed with shrimp. While the finished dish was resting on a table, Barton said her 13-year-old "mischievous" dog Lucy snuck in and devoured the avocado.
Hence, Lucy's grilled avocado ($13), stuffed with a creamy shrimp salad and served with house-made chips, wouldn't disappoint man nor beast. The generous portion was plenty for two.
Devilish eggs (four for $7), topped with candied bacon, were both velvety and sweet, and yes, I could have eaten four more.
Smooth and satisfying, the homemade tomato bisque soup ($4 cup, $7 bowl) was fresh as a sunny summer day, filled with joy and brightness.
Beware, the honey Sriracha wings ($11) were so hot I had to check the linen after wiping my mouth to see if it was sauce or blood. I like hot -- to a point. These wings weren't for amateurs. I couldn't eat them all, as my taste buds were temporarily singed. There was a milder barbecue sauce option.
St. Louis baby back ribs ($18) with a special house dry rub and side of barbecue sauce came with choice of two side dishes. For the price, it was a great deal. The ribs were fall-off-the-bone tender, juicy, meaty and worth digging into. The sides I chose -- grilled vegetables and wild and white rice -- were the perfect compliment.
The half dozen fat, marinated grilled shrimp ($20) teased the taste buds in their bath of garlic, butter and herbs. The shrimp were cooked just through, juicy, fragrant and mouthwatering.
The grilled salmon ($20) though, was dry and overcooked, and the citrus beurre blanc sauce atop added an unnecessary touch of sweetness that threw the dish further off-track. I ordered the excellent mashed potatoes for one side and the crispy Brussels sprouts for the other. I wish the waiter would have warned me off the sprouts because they were tossed with truffle oil and sea salt. The earthy truffle oil collided with the citrus beurre blanc.
The grilled cheese ($13) with manchego, cheddar and Gruyere cheeses, served with caramelized onion and a creamy mustard horseradish spread, was warmly satisfying. The sweet potato fries added to the luster.
The chicken sandwich ($14) featured a flattened, golden crispy chicken breast topped with havarti cheese, tomato and lettuce on large wedges of ciabatta. It was a huge sandwich, crunchy and crusty.
Many of the dishes' top quality meats and poultry come from Richards Family Ranch and Mary's Free Range Chickens.
For dessert, the bread pudding ($8) with creamy, sugar-soaked, baked bread, finished with a sweet rum glaze, tasted as ambrosial as it looked.
S'mores ($6) came as toasted marshmallow cream layered over chocolate fudge with a side of graham crackers. Build to your own specs. But there was too much marshmallow and the fudge was difficult to coax from the bottom of the jar in which it was served.
There was only one service snafu. During one meal, I hadn't finished with my first course when the entrée was delivered. Instead of taking it back to the kitchen, the server wedged it on the table and walked off quickly. Getting the bill promptly was a problem several times. The waiters were efficient until the end, then seemed to disappear.
Specialty cocktails, brunch, happy hour and a kid's menu complete this popular neighborhood eatery. Like any savvy restaurateur, Barton is still learning, but what she's accomplished so far is impressive. She knows her neighborhood.
Woodside Plaza Shopping Center, 356 Woodside Road, Redwood City
Hours: Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Sunday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Credit cards: yes
Parking: shopping center lot
Alcohol: full bar
Happy hour: 3-5 p.m. daily
Outdoor dining: no
Noise level: moderate
Bathroom cleanliness: very good