As a restaurant name, Willard Hicks invites the diner to ask questions. Who is Mister Hicks? Or is it a partnership of Willard and Hicks? One step inside the spacious dining room and the decor has the same identity crisis.

Large leather-cushioned booths and bar chairs with studded upholstery are reminiscent of jazz age grandeur. Meanwhile, wooden tables, a wall covered with wood panels and pewter chandeliers with exposed bulbs go for a rustic earthy feel. Then the giant metallic letters W and H on the wall adjacent to the front door, and TV screens at the bar, bring a clash of modernity to the previous themes. It seems like a restaurant being pulled in too many different directions. Unfortunately, the food was almost as complicated as the decor.

Half the menu lists appetizers, soups and salads. There are two different sections for steak, both separate from entrees. It is the kind of extensive menu expected of a high-end steakhouse, but this is a higher mid-range restaurant—casual attire is welcome and beers at the bar are fine, but an expensive bill is still expected. Luckily, our waitress was well-versed in her knowledge of the menu and explained the difference between the many sections.

I wet my whistle with a dry and bubbly Gerard Bertrand Rose ($8), which was served in a skinny cylindrical glass rather than a flute. For appetizers, the iron skillet poblano cornbread ($12) comes highly recommended and for good reason. Moist cornbread with a spicy honey sauce is served in an iron skillet with plenty to share. While the tomatoes in the fried green tomatoes ($9) were fresh and juicy, the dish was bland with little flavor in the cornmeal crust. The bed of baby arugula in a citrusy dressing was the best part of this appetizer.

Of the signature steaks, the ginger ponzu bone in ribeye ($44) sounded most promising with its demi glaze and sriracha onion strings. And while the steak was cooked medium rare as requested and the quality of meat was good, the ginger ponzu was absent to my taste buds. What was promised to be a fresh cilantro salad was a few sprigs of cilantro sprouts. The onion strings were crispy and delicious despite not tasting like sriracha, and they were served in an overwhelming heap atop the steak.

The pan roasted scallops with mushroom risotto entree ($24) fared much better. Three giant scallops with a golden brown sear, served on top of creamy risotto sprinkled with pepita seeds and mushrooms, made for a satisfying and hearty dish. This dish and the cornbread were the best bites of the meal.

At about six months old and owned by veteran restaurateurs who also own the Opa! restaurants, Willard Hicks is no longer in its infancy. It has the potential to bridge the gap between casual restaurants and higher end steakhouses, and it has some standout dishes among a long menu of items that could be amped up. The ingredients look and taste as fresh as they sound, but the dishes lack bold flavor and execution. Most of my meal, particularly the steak, lacked the confidence exuded in the poblano cornbread, which made a statement with its large portion size, sweet and spicy combination, and mix of textures. If Willard Hicks could make steaks with that much personality, it would be required dining. Until then, it would be less price prohibitive and more satisfying to make a meal of the appetizers.

Willard Hicks
280 E Campbell Ave, Campbell, CA