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Restaurant renaissance

Once 'Deadwood City,' now diverse dining scene is growing in Redwood City

The Redwood City dining scene was a "little spotty" when Donato Scotti opened his Donato Enoteca on Middlefield Road in 2009.

It was hard to draw new customers. People didn't stay out late to eat or drink. There wasn't sufficient infrastructure -- the mix of retail, residential, office space, community events and the like that restaurants rely on for business -- to support a more vibrant dining scene, Scotti said. An uninviting nickname took hold: "Deadwood City."

In the last decade, that has changed dramatically.

New apartment buildings, high-profile companies and a flurry of startups have flooded Redwood City, fueling a growing restaurant scene. More employees stay after work to eat and drink -- Scotti said he often sees young people out when he gets off at midnight, a scene that hadn't existed before -- and others are choosing to move there. Restaurants, including Donato Enoteca, have extended their hours, according to Amy Buckmaster, CEO of the Redwood City Chamber of Commerce. The city launched a restaurant week in 2015, during which participating restaurants offer special prix-fixe menus.

"The days of 'Deadwood City' are over!" exclaimed a Facebook post announcing the restaurant week.

Buckmaster said there's been a "progressive flow" of new restaurants opening in the last five years, which she also attributed to the arrival of major companies, including cloud-computing company Box, consulting firm McKinsey & Company, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and others. Stanford University is building a satellite campus there. (In a sign of the times, electric car company Tesla recently submitted plans to the city to build a showroom and service center on Veterans Boulevard.)

At least six restaurants opened in the downtown area in the first five months of 2018, with more set to open in the coming months. The new eateries represent a wide range of cuisines, from Mediterranean to fast-casual Korean to plant-based dining. Redwood City's dining scene is anything but homogenous. In a single block on Broadway Street, diners can choose from Mexican, Korean, Russian, American or Vietnamese restaurants.

Read on for more about the restaurants that have opened this year.

The Bap: Almost every cuisine has been adapted to Chipotle's fast-casual, build-your-own model. In Redwood City, customers can now create their own Korean bibimbap bowl at The Bap, which opened this month at 2090 Broadway. At the modest, fast-casual eatery, choose your base (brown or white rice or a salad mix) then add vegetables (from pickled cucumber and sprouts to roasted seaweed, kimchi and burdock root), proteins (bulgogi beef, pork, chicken or tofu) and sauces (gochujang or a house soy sauce). Or, opt for a wrap version with your choice of protein, brown rice, kimchi, pickled radish, cabbage, diced onion and cilantro. The Bap also serves fried chicken, plates of Korean short ribs and bulgogi and daily specials including salmon dup bap -- grilled salmon over rice with fish roe -- and japchae glass noodles, stir-fried with vegetables.

The Courthouse 2021: The Courthouse 2021, described on its website as an "American farm-fresh restaurant" opened at 2021 Broadway in April. Co-owners Fadi Hanani and Mark Khoury took over the space after Mediterranean restaurant Mandaloun recently closed. The menu is wide-ranging, with an entire section devoted to dishes made in a wood-burning oven. Entrees are split into "hoof," "sky" and "sea" sections with mesquite-grilled steaks, wood-roasted whole fish and roasted Cornish game hen, among other dishes. At the highest end of the menu is a 32-ounce, bone-in prime ribeye that has been wet aged for 35 days. It's served with a bourbon-bone marrow reduction and truffle oil for $65. Cocktails play up the restaurant's proximity to the Redwood City courthouse with names such as "Hung Jury Manhattan" and "Moot Point Margarita."

Dhaba Xpress: Nazreen Mohd Ayub, who's from Singapore, and Dolly Khatri, a native of India, are running the kitchen at the newly opened Dhaba Xpress. Mohd Ayub is in charge of biryanis and meat dishes, while Khatri oversees vegetarian dishes and dessert. They opened the casual Indian restaurant at 312 Arguello St. in mid-April. Dhaba Xpress primarily does takeout and is currently open for lunch only, though customers can pick up dinner orders. Diners can build their own combination meals from vegetarian or non-vegetarian entrees such as goat curry, shrimp masala or shaahi paneer, with sides of rice, roti, raita and salad. The menu changes daily.

Pasha Mediterranean: Pasha brought Mediterranean food and a lively hookah scene to downtown Redwood City when it opened at 837 Jefferson Ave. in early 2018. Owner Serkan Bikim also owns Hummus Mediterranean in San Mateo. The vast menu has Mediterranean staples (gyros, kebabs, kofte and the like) as well as a hamburger, pasta and pizzas. The restaurant hosts live music, DJs, belly dancers and other events, making good use of its large outdoor patio.

Orenchi Ramen: In a coup for the local ramen-obsessed, South Bay ramen darling Orenchi opened at 2432 Broadway in February. The restaurant, which got its start in Santa Clara in 2010, is known for its tonkotsu ramen and long lines. This year's Michelin guide said the wait is well worth it for the "rich and utterly delicious bowl of tonkotsu ramen full of chewy noodles, roasted pork, and scallions." There's also a soy sauce ramen, salt ramen and a limited supply of tsukemen, or dipping noodles. Orenchi Redwood City's menu is largely the same as the original Santa Clara restaurant, with slightly different appetizers and beer.

West Park Farm and Sea: A trio of local restaurateurs who originally hail from Turkey teamed up to open West Park Farm and Sea at 855 Middlefield Road in April. Chef Mehmet Ali Ozturg learned to cook from his father in Turkey but worked in a range of cuisines after moving to the United States 15 years ago. Cem Bulutoglu owns a Mediterranean restaurant in San Francisco and Onur Alkanoglu runs West Park Bistro, an American restaurant in San Carlos. Bulutoglu described West Park Farm and Sea as "casual California cuisine, healthy, organic (and) plant-based" with vegan and gluten-free options. The menu includes salads, wraps and rice bowls. There are also small plates, like Japanese eggplant with tahini-yogurt sauce and a bowl of bright-pink beet hummus served with sheets of lavash bread. The restaurant uses Mary's Organic Chicken, grass-fed beef and wild seafood, Bulutoglu said. There's also beer and wine.

Why did the group decide to open a new venture in Redwood City?

"We see the potential here in Redwood City," Bulutoglu said.

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