Dining High and Low

Those of you who know me know that I enjoy eating out. I’m not entirely sure where my affinity for restaurant dining comes from. Perhaps I’m compensating for the fact that, growing up, my family didn’t eat out a lot. Or maybe I just am too lazy to cook…

Redwood City’s restaurant scene has been on the upswing for quite some time now (personally, I date it to the opening of City Pub, back in 1991), but things have really accelerated over the last couple of years. These days Redwood City boasts a couple of restaurants of the caliber you once had to travel to San Francisco for. And although we’ve lost a few along the way—I’m thinking in particular of Flaming Fresco, which took Mexican food to new heights for my wife and I—other higher-end restaurants have taken hold while new ones continue to be added at a rapid pace. Not all of the additions are high-end, of course: one new addition, in particular, is about as low-end as you can get.

While on a walk recently a new restaurant caught my eye, and after doing some research I determined to try out Aly’s on Main (http://www.alysonmain.com), a new restaurant that is located, strangely enough, on Main Street in Redwood City.

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Squeezed between The Patty Shack and Little India Restaurant at 911 Main, Aly’s isn’t a large place. The decor is somewhat spartan, but they’ve employed cork flooring, bamboo, and reclaimed wood. That, coupled with the old brick walls and LED lighting, help to warm you up to this eco-friendly space. And the bar looks inviting: I’m always on the lookout for comfortable places in which one can have a drink and an appetizer.

A quick bit of online research revealed that people were very happy with the food. Currently the restaurant has a 4.5-star rating (out of 5) on Yelp. I was pleased to see that Aly’s is focused on sustainable, local, organic, GMO-free meat and produce, and that they butcher their own meat in-house. So when the occasion arose for my wife and I to have dinner out with friends, I suggested that we try Aly’s.

The four of us were greeted warmly upon entering the restaurant, and after informing the host that we had a reservation (which turned out not to be needed, as the restaurant wasn’t terribly busy on that Wednesday night), we were promptly seated at a nice table near the back.

It took us a few minutes to understand how the menu was laid out, since items are grouped into sections that have no titles. We suspected that the first section was appetizers, the second was salads, and the third and fourth were entrees, and the waiter confirmed that we were indeed correct. Having straightened that out, we then started by ordering drinks.

We knew we were going to get good service when, as my wife was mulling over the red wines on the list, the waiter readily brought tastings of two of them. Although I didn’t recognize many of the wineries on the wine list, the three of us who had wine were very pleased with our choices; the fourth, who had a beer, enjoyed his choice as well.

Aly’s menu changes depending upon what is available and is fresh. There were two salads on the menu the night we were there. I had the Little Gem Lettuce salad, which was fine, although the chef may have been a bit heavy-handed with the dressing. My wife and the other couple we were with, however, had the Kale Salad, and they couldn’t stop raving about it. Next time, I’m thinking I’ll order that one…

As for entrees, we tried three different ones, all of which were really good. I had the “Organic Spaghetti Carbonara,” made with salty pancetta, pecorino romano cheese, and a farm-fresh egg. It was perfectly done, and I happily cleaned my plate. My wife and one of our friends had the Grilled Lamb Rib Chops, which were succulent and delicious, and were artfully arranged on a river of cannellini beans.  Finally, our fourth had the daily fish, which that night was (I believe) halibut, served on a bed of resotto. The fish looked perfectly cooked, and it indeed was a very satisfying entree.

We briefly considered dessert, but we’d all enjoyed our entrees so much that we really didn’t have room. Next time, perhaps. And there most certainly will be a next time: Aly’s serves quality food in a comfortable setting for a very reasonable price. Click here to check out their menu, and then give it a try.

Aly’s isn’t the only new restaurant in Redwood City, of course. Back in December I mentioned that LV Mar, a cousin to La Viga, had opened on Broadway between Jefferson and Main. At that time I had not yet tried it, but since then I’ve had dinner there twice and lunch there once.

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As you can probably guess by the fact that I’ve been there three times now, I like LV Mar very much. Like Aly’s, the decor here is a bit spartan, but it is tasteful and clean. Like its sister restaurant La Viga (and as you might guess from its name), LV Mar’s menu has its share of seafood dishes, although it is by no means a seafood restaurant. Indeed, LV Mar has a selection of beef, chicken, and vegetarian entrees. When we had lunch there recently, in fact, my wife had the LV Burger, which she loved. I, on the other hand, had the pepita crusted sea bass. It was excellently cooked and nicely flavored, and came with a delicious truffle and potato puree. We also shared an artichoke/asparagus soup that sounded too good to pass up—and I’m glad we didn’t, since it was fantastic.

LV Mar bills itself as having “Modern Latin Cuisine” and there is definitely a Latin flavor to the dishes. Unlike La Viga, however, LV Mar is not at all a Mexican restaurant. The Latin influence results in some unusual combinations (check out the menu on their website to see what I mean), but don’t let them put you off: these dishes are indeed worth trying. Chef Manuel is bringing something new to Redwood City, and I for one like what he is trying to do. But don’t just take my word for it: read the San Jose Mercury News’ review for more.

LV Mar doesn’t yet have a license to serve hard liquor, so the mixed drinks on the menu are wine-based. Their wine list is eclectic and primarily made up of wines from Chile, Argentina, and Spain. Fortunately, those parts of the world are producing some excellent wine these days. Since you may not recognize many (or any!), don’t hesitate to ask for recommendations. The servers we’ve encountered seem to know their wines and have steered us towards some great finds.

Readers of some of my earlier posts know that I’ve been eagerly awaiting the opening of Johnston’s Saltbox, a San Carlos restaurant on the corner of Laurel St. and White Oak Way (the building was formerly the site of the White Oak Hardware store):

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After several false alarms, it appears that Johnston’s Saltbox is finally ready to open. I’ve heard that they’ll be opening on April 3rd, and if the amount of activity I observed when I took the above picture is any indication, its true. They have finally removed the paper that had been covering the windows and blocking our views of the interior (but I have yet to get a close-up view of the inside). According to their website, they’ll be open for lunch and dinner Tuesday through Friday; on Saturday they’ll serve brunch and dinner, and on Sunday they’ll serve brunch only. Although they’ve removed the sample menu from their website, their philosophy of using seasonal “local artisan product” and their rooftop kitchen garden are both indicators that we’ll be in for a treat. Keep an eye out for this one. I’ll write something about it when I’ve finally gotten a chance to eat there.

On a related note, I finally made it to Gambrel’s & Co. (our new, independent butcher) when he was open. I bought two New York steaks, which I barbecued that evening; they were wonderful. And Steve (the butcher) had homemade beef jerky available for sampling. The sample was excellent, so I bought some, giving my wife and I something yummy to snack on over the following week. The jerky was spicy and very, very good. I’ll be buying some more at the next opportunity, and will be buying more meat from him as well. He’s at 810 Main St. in Redwood City, just a couple of doors down from Broadway. Check it out!

Lastly I wanted to introduce you to a new, very low-end dining-related concept that is coming to Redwood City. If you regularly or even occasionally drive south on El Camino towards Palo Alto, you may have noticed that the Shell gas station at the corner of El Camino and 5th Ave (in the parking lot of the Chavez Supermarket and Taqueria) has been torn down. If you are especially observant, you may have noticed that through the construction thus far, the Shell sign remains:

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That’s a good clue that the gas station is being rebuilt. And did you catch sight of the fabric sign hanging on the construction fencing? Here it is:

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If you ignored the Shell sign you could logically conclude—as I originally did—that the Chavez Market was being converted to this “Loop” thing. But follow the URL on the fabric sign (http://www.loopneighborhood.com) and you’ll start to get an idea of what is actually going on. In short, they are rebuilding the Shell station to include a gas-station convenience store that is a cut above: one that you might actually buy real food (not just snacks) from, and one in which you may even sit down to eat. The’ve produced a concept video to help communicate the idea: click here to watch it.

Loop is the creation of a local company that operates a number of Shell gas stations throughout the Bay Area. Currently there are six of these in existence: ours will be their seventh. It certainly has me intrigued: enough so that I’m thinking I might check out one of the existing ones so that I don’t have to wait until construction is finished. But given their new location relative to the parts of Redwood City that I typically frequent, the Loop market would have to be a powerful draw, indeed, in order to lure me in to buy gas and groceries…

The Loop isn’t going to take its place among the fine dining establishments of Redwood City, but it certainly does fill a niche of sorts. And that is what I love about the revitalization of Redwood City: the restaurants we are getting, in particular, span the full spectrum from high-end white-tablecloth style dining establishments to gas station eateries. For those of us who dine out on a relatively frequent basis, Redwood City is providing something for nearly every taste and occasion.

2 thoughts on “Dining High and Low

  1. Pingback: We’re in Business | Walking Redwood City

  2. Pingback: That’s One Big Box of Salt | Walking Redwood City

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