Last night, we took another rare trip to Virginia for a friend's birthday party (drinks and board games!), and decided to hit up another of Washingtonian's Top 100, Willow, about a block and a half off the Ballston metro stop. Being a District snob, I wasn't expecting to be wowed, despite the restaurant's high placement on the top 100. But holy hell, was I wrong. Willow definitely earns its No. 39 spot on the list. Every dish we ordered demonstrated the great level of care taken by Chef Tracy O'Grady and her staff, and if you haven't been, I suggest you take yourself over there post-haste!
Click below to see what we ate!
Although it is a lovely space, walking into the restaurant, I still had lowered expectations, as the set-up seemed a little upscale diner-y to me (with a partitioned off section in the middle of the floor). My hopes started to rise, however, upon the arrival of our server, who was friendly, warm and professional, despite having 4 big tables in addition to us.
Mark started out the night with a surprise, ordering the Butter Poached Lobster Agnolotti, with cauliflower puree, butternut squash, savory, Parmesan chips, and sherry-lobster sauce (shellfish does not typically call to him). The appetizer was pure decadence, with rich, buttery sauce (which I sopped up with the complimentary bread) and the savory velvet of the cauliflower puree. The Parmesan chips added a nice crunch, and the sweetness of the butternut squash cubes helped out with what would have otherwise been almost overwhelming butter.
Butter Poached Lobster Agnolotti
Wanting to balance out the richness of the lobster dish, we also ordered the Roasted Beets and Goat's Cheese Salad, with marinated red and yellow beets, aged goat's cheese, baby greens, candied walnuts, and sherry vinaigrette. The first thought that struck me was, "What a beautiful plate!" Every element of the dish was plated with such deliberation, and upon taking a bite, I realized that the same level of care was put into making sure the taste lived up to the same standards. The golden beets were subtly marinated, allowing the delicious roasted beet flavor to shine through. The dish came with two types of goat's cheese: the first, plated off to the side, was a creamy, almost Brie-like cheese, sharp, pungent and perfect when taken in a bite with the sweet golden beet. The second, a more classic goat's cheese, was sandwiched in between two layers of finely minced roasted red beet, like a gorgeous little beet-and-cheese Oreo. The greens were lightly dressed with the tangy sherry vinaigrette, which gave the dish an ideal level of acid.
Roasted Beets and Goat's Cheese Salad
I ordered the Lady flatbread (which our server informed us was his favorite), with creamy leeks, Parmesan cheese, smoked goat's cheese, Nueski's bacon, rosemary and sherry vinegar. I could easily see why Willow considers their grilled flatbreads the restaurant's signature dish - the flatbread itself was perfectly seasoned, crisp and cracker-like, just the way I like my flatbreads to be. And it was clear that the ingredients were just top-notch - the saltiness of the thick-cut bacon was balanced out by the creaminess of the leeks and the smokiness of the goat's cheese. Again, the acidity of the sherry vinegar really brightened the dish.
The Lady Flatbread
In another departure from the norm, Mark ordered the vegetarian entree, the Miniature Roasted Pumpkin with Faro and Barley Risotto, which also came with butternut squash ravioli, spaghetti squash, and smoked tomato butter. He absolutely raved about the dish, from the fresh ravioli, to the complexity of the flavors and textures of the faro and barley risotto. From my few bites, I could see where he was coming from - the balance of flavors was spot-on, and the presentation of the dish was just phenomenal.
Miniature Roasted Pumpkin With Faro and Barley Risotto
We opened the dessert menu to find a chocolate peanut butter trio. I smiled, looked up at Mark, and said, "We pretty much have to get the chocolate peanut butter thing, right?" He nodded. Each little bite was outstandingly done, but my favorite was the peanut butter ice cream topped peanut butter & chocolate cookie, which was not too sweet.
Chocolate Peanut Butter Trio
We both really loved our meal at Willow. Mark went so far as to say it was one of the best meals he's had in the D.C. metro area. If Willow is indicative of Virginia's top dining options, we may need to cross the river more often...