First Bite

Redwood Stands Tall in Bethesda

If you want a seat at Bethesda's Redwood, you'd best call ahead; the restaurant, which opened last month, is often busy.
If you want a seat at Bethesda's Redwood, you'd best call ahead; the restaurant, which opened last month, is often busy. (By Leah L. Jones For The Washington Post)
By Tom Sietsema
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Andrew Kitko spent eight years in California, where he cooked at such esteemed San Francisco restaurants as Gary Danko (as saucier) and Aqua (as sous-chef). But the Connecticut native is also familiar with New York kitchens, having punctuated his time on the West Coast at Cafe Boulud in Manhattan, where he was saucier for two years.

The big difference between the two markets? Kitko says the East Coast is driven more by technique, the West Coast more by ingredients.

You can see, if not always taste, what the 31-year-old chef is up to at the freshly minted Redwood in Bethesda (7121 Bethesda Lane; 301-656-5515), the third in a collection of restaurants, including Mendocino Grille in Georgetown and Sonoma on Capitol Hill, owned by Eli Hengst and Jared Rager. Hengst calls the Maryland location a "sentimental" one, since both he and Rager grew up near Bethesda. Redwood's address, on a block that's closed to traffic and surrounded by boutique businesses, appeals to both owners, too.

"We can look out our window and not see a Gap or a Blockbuster Video," Hengst jokes.

The new restaurant, which opened late last month, marks "the first time we had an opportunity to start something from scratch." Among the forward-thinking design details are an entire wall of bark, which acts like a noise sponge in the airy lounge, and a raised "dining bar" separating the lounge from the dining room. The 16-seat platform will be the scene of wine tastings and special chef dinners down the road; in Redwood's opening days, the dining bar serves as a waiting area for some of the unexpected visitors.

There have been a lot of them. Hengst says he had to turn away "almost as many people as seated": about 150 customers on a recent Saturday night. When we dropped by sans reservation on a standing-room-only weeknight, our only option was a table in the lounge and food from the bar menu, which we had to order from the counter when our server repeatedly bypassed us. Mussels in a warm bath of parsley butter and a hamburger with house-made pickles were perfectly pleasant, but probably not the best examples of Kitko's range.

Yet a glance at his dining room menu, borrowed from the host stand, whetted our appetite for soft-shell crabs (served with a smoked tomato "fondue"), pork loin (rubbed with the chef's spice mix of fennel, cumin, pepper, paprika and more) and whole roast fish.

Note to self: Next trip to Redwood, be sure to call for an assigned seat.

Entrees, $18-$26.

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