- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Redwood, like its name, is big and beautiful.

The new Bethesda restaurant is divided into a large bar and lounge area with ample seating, where a limited menu is available, and the dining area. Enormous folding glass windows the length of the dining room give an airy atmosphere and bring in the outdoors. Tables under umbrellas on the Bethesda Lane pedestrian mall make for traffic-free outdoor dining for lunch; dinner will be served outdoors in a few weeks.

There really is redwood (reclaimed), too, as well as slate, marble and cork, and the chairs use fabric reclaimed from safety belts.

Executive chef Andrew Kitko has done stints in San Francisco and New York, and his cooking reflects the innovative delights of California American cuisine, with mid-Atlantic ingredients. He pays homage to sustainable food and local produce.

Appetizers are particularly good. A soft-shell crab is crispy and crunchy, the meat deliciously juicy. A simple salad of beets and yogurt cheese is topped with a mound of fresh lacy greens, the cheese sprinkled with a layer of zahtar, the Middle Eastern spice combination of sesame seeds, powdered sumac and dried thyme. The spice adds a touch of mystery and character to the mild cheese.

Not to be missed are Bluebay iron-skillet mussels. The two dozen mussels arrive sizzling in a bath of garlic-parsley butter, so the aroma teases the taste buds well before the mollusks arrive. They are deliciously sweet and tender, neither over- nor undercooked. Perfect.

Mr. Kitko uses a wood-burning oven and grill for several main courses, such as pork loin, chicken and steak. Flatiron steak is a shade on the tough side but rich in flavor and cooked as ordered.

The kitchen offers several dishes “for the table,” portions meant for two, such as a 16-ounce New York strip steak, a whole roasted fish of the day and smoked beef ribs, each accompanied by an appropriate sauce.

Aside from all this, the main courses at dinner are limited to two fish courses (scallops and rainbow trout), quail and a vegetarian gratin. Two boned trout fillets are delicate and nicely sauced with creme fraiche redolent with fresh dill. Day-boat scallops are excellent, either hot with mashed potatoes and chanterelle mushrooms in the evening or warm as a salad at lunch. The salad is particularly good: The scallops are served under a small mound of arugula and atop a tiny dice of corn and zucchini with a fine tart herb vinaigrette.

Two quail, glazed with a sweet-spicy sauce, are served with added sweetness supplied by juicy little roasted red plums, the sweetness balanced by slightly bitter greens and onions. The quail are not deboned and are a little tough.

The lunch menu is similar to that at dinner, with the addition of entree salads and a few sandwiches, including a mushroom-and-white-bean burger and a sandwich of the day. Bread is not served at lunch.

Ever more frequently, restaurants are offering a cheese course in lieu of, or in addition to, dessert. Redwood’s local cheeses include those from as far afield as Vermont, Georgia and Oregon as well as from Maryland and Virginia, priced at $4 each or three for $11 and five for $18.

Sweets are unusual and wonderful. We tried a lovely, silky, rich butterscotch pudding topped with whipped cream and sprinkled with buckshot-sized chocolate pearls. A frozen goat-cheese souffle served in a lake of seasonal fruit sauce made of peaches or plums and topped with a thin, lacy almond cookie, is terrific. The souffle is a creamy semifreddo with the faintest goat-cheese flavor.

Redwood, like Sonoma on Capitol Hill, is owned by Eli Hengst and Jared Rager, who recently sold Mendocino in Georgetown. Service is attentive, efficient and cordial. The extensive wine list is a mix of international wines in a wide price range. Wines by the glass can be ordered in three sizes: from a small glass to a carafe of two-thirds of a bottle. Nice.

RESTAURANT: Redwood, 7121 Bethesda Lane, Bethesda. 301/656-5515.

HOURS: Daily lunch 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., dinner 5:30 to 10 p.m. Brunch is served on Saturdays and Sundays in lieu of lunch.

PRICES: Starters: $8 to $14; entrees $10 to $15 (lunch), $14 to $25 (dinner); desserts $7 and $8.

CREDIT CARDS: All major cards.

PARKING: Metered street parking; several parking lots on Bethesda Avenue and Elm Street, and a large metered public outdoor parking lot.

ACCESS: Wheelchair accessible.

METRO: Bethesda.

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