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Shop Talk: Bird Dog contemporary restaurant comes to Palo Alto

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BIRD DOG IS BORN ... A conversation with Chef Robbie Wilson about his new downtown Palo Alto restaurant leaves the listener exhilarated. Wilson's enthusiasm is palpable for Bird Dog at 420 Ramona St. Taking over the former site of Mandarin Gourmet, which closed a year ago, Wilson and his crew have transformed the old Chinese restaurant into a work of art. From the white marble podium that greets diners at the front entrance to the clean lines of the cork and white oak floors, the feeling is one of simple elegance, a look that fits the restaurant's focus on fresh, contemporary American cuisine. "We practically gutted the whole place. All we kept was the east wall and the west wall," Wilson said. Keeping an ear out for acoustics, they "chose specific materials to control the noise factor," he added. "We want people to be able to talk to each other comfortably. And we made sure there is plenty of room between the tables." Wilson noted there is nothing pretentious about the restaurant. "We're not using fancy stemware, there will be no linen on the tables just good, delicious food that is locally-sourced." The chef was quick to point out a few whimsical aspects to Bird Dog. For example, the audio from Julia Childs' old black-and-white TV show, "The French Chef," will be playing in the restrooms. "Julia Childs was an inspiration to me," Wilson said, adding, "We're not taking ourselves too seriously." For example, in the lounge, a large ceramic squirrel emerges from white bowls of bar mix containing marcona almonds and pistachios. And colorful, wooden, life-sized birds in various stages of flight are positioned throughout the restaurant. A Dallas, Texas native and now a Menlo Park resident, Wilson said he has lived in every major city. So why Palo Alto for his newest venture? "I'm inspired by all the innovation around here," he said. "I love to feel and watch the buzz. It's a good catalyst." Wilson is partnering with his wife, Emily, along with a couple of investors, and expects that he or Emily will be at Bird Dog almost daily. "But I do need a break. We've got a 15-month-old son," he said. Scheduled to go live next month, the restaurant will be open seven days a week for dinner only. "We have a small staff and we don't want to be doing too much too soon," he said. Wilson wouldn't reveal the exact dollar amount spent on the massive redo, but acknowledged, "It's more than a million and less than five million." That's quite a range.

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8 people like this
Posted by AllYouCanEat
a resident of Mountain View
on Nov 2, 2015 at 8:57 am

"The French Chef," will be playing in the restrooms."

Wow, this place must be good! Nothing like listening to old Julia, while urinating, to get the taste buds going.

14 people like this
Posted by sunshine
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 2, 2015 at 11:05 am

I hope their noise level control works.
Palo Alto really needs a restaurant that serves excellent food in which you can hear your dinner companion without having to shout. It also needs a good restaurant where the service is excellent, instead of mediocre at best.
I'm still looking for a Palo Alto restaurant where the taste of the food comes first and presentation, while important, is not the headline. I'm also still looking for one where the sound level is not deafening, I can heat my dining companion, and servers are attentive without trying to pad the bill.
Good luck.

12 people like this
Posted by Midtown
a resident of Palo Verde School
on Nov 2, 2015 at 11:53 am


10 people like this
Posted by Hurray
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 2, 2015 at 11:57 am

Great thinking, Chef!

9 people like this
Posted by Jerry99
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 2, 2015 at 12:51 pm

If the restaurant is inspired by Julia Child I hope they bring out the entrees on hot plates. I had to send the food bad in the last three restaurants because it came out lukewarm. Two were >150$/couple without wine restaurants.
Remember Julia Child insisted on having hot food delivered to the customers. Do that and it will help develop repeat customers.

5 people like this
Posted by ME
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 2, 2015 at 12:55 pm

Did I miss it? What kind of food?

2 people like this
Posted by Chip
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 2, 2015 at 2:59 pm

Chip is a registered user.

Second vote for hot food on warmed plates & ambient sound reduction!

My hearing is good. My parents have hearing aids, which amplify all sound including background noise. Many local restaurants are impossible for us to patronize; if they must turn off aids, no conversation is possible.

3 people like this
Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 3, 2015 at 9:51 am

Nayeli is a registered user.

@ ME: "...contemporary American cuisine."

6 people like this
Posted by MAGGIE
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 3, 2015 at 1:23 pm

@ALLYOUCANEAT haters have to hate. I think it sounds cute & clever. I'm sure you have a memorable resume of projects that are perfect.

5 people like this
Posted by Just in Case
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 3, 2015 at 2:57 pm

Just in case you never saw the movie, "Julia and Julie", here's a warning: Julia Child cooked with A LOT of butter!

She and her husband did live into their 90s though.

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