I recently had the good fortune of dining at Neighborhood Restaurant of the Year nominee Willow in the Ballston area of Arlington. Willow uses locally sourced American ingredients with French and Italian techniques to create an array of incredibly tasty modern continental cuisine.
My friend showed up early by just a few minutes and rather than being offered an ice water or a seat at reception (it was pushing 92 degrees), she was promptly greeted with “we’re not open yet”. After waiting in the heat for the rest of our party, we were led into the AC for a table hidden away in a quiet, separate alcove. The decor was a relaxing cream and maroon theme with white table linens and contrasting dark wood.
It just so happens to be Restaurant Week in DC and we were thrilled to hear that Willow is participating. One thing I learned is that the prix fixe lunch price is set at the current year so we each enjoyed a full three-course meal for just $20.13 per person. Great concept! This has probably been happening for years but yes Team, I am sometimes slow to catch on.
I started with Tomato, Basil & Almond Gazpacho since I know a good gazpacho is hard to find and most can be compared to plain old salsa. Besides, with almond slivers and avocado mousse, how could I turn it down? I was initially sad to see they might’ve missed the avocado mousse, but upon diving in with my spoon I found a big dollop of it smack in the middle of this chilled soup. I almost cheered out loud but had to remain all professional, since this was a working lunch. It hit the spot on such a hot day! The ratio of crunchy vegetables to juice was perfect and I was *this close* to asking for the recipe. While the wait staff was eager to please and speedy in their service, two of the guests dove into appetizers they didn’t order, since the wait staff confused their dishes.
After the Gazpacho, I just had to try the winner of the 2013 Ballston BRGR Battle – Willow’s Double Smoke burger. The smoked, locally sourced beef patties were dressed with pickled onions, smoked cheddar, garlic-duck confit butter and dijonnaise all on a house-made roll. Wow! The smokey taste along with pickled onions and dijonnaise is the perfect combination. I have to say, I didn’t see or taste anything that would hint of garlic-duck confit butter. Perhaps it was on the plate disguised as grease underneath the bottom bun. I guess that’s possible. Two others ordered the burger as well and throughout lunch the topic kept veering to “where’s the duck butter?” or “maybe it melted”. No matter, since the burger is easily one of the richest and finest I have ever tasted. My suggestion would be to leave the butter cool so the guest can see it evident on top of the onions rather than hope it’s really in there.
Rather than take the Cookies to Go for dessert, I followed suit with the rest of the team and ordered the Sticky Toffee Pudding Cake, topped with salted caramel ice cream. The cake was shaped like a little dome and was reminiscent of spice cake with a little zing!
I want to say I could taste a hint of apple or pear, but can’t put my finger on it. The ice cream had the slightest hint of caramel and was my first try ever of tasting salted caramel ice cream. It was perfect. I would definitely visit Willow again, next time for their dinner menu. Or maybe drop in at the Nosh corner of the restaurant to try little plates ranging from flat breads dubbed The Drunken Duck or the Brooklyn, to Crispy Portabello “Fries”. Good news for health conscious or sensitive diners, many of their dishes are labeled (V) for vegetarian or (GF) for gluten-free and they also host Wheatless Wednesdays in the fall. If you’re like me and have no real dietary limits, you can enjoy any one of the tasty treats created by Co-Owner and talented pastry chef Kate Jansen. Why buy a piece when the restaurant offers full cakes and holiday pies? Next on my list? The Bourbon Chocolate Pudding Cake.
Willow saw its beginning in 2005 when Kate was walked down the aisle by her mentor and renowned Washington, D.C. chef Bob Kinkead, to join her hand in marriage to Willow Director of Operations Brian Wolken. How I wish I were there to feast on what must have been an incredible reception meal. From the upscale and comforting ambiance to the locally sourced menu, do yourself a favor and take a trip to Willow. Every one of your senses will thank you.
(out of 5) Willow 4301 Fairfax Drive Arlington, VA 22203 (703) 465-8800 $$$