Fine (And Fun) Dining At Willow

Achievement: #45. Try 10 House Specialty Drinks

When it comes to a week where we get to eat amazing meals out every day, it’s really, really hard to pick a favorite. But I always try to, in the end, just to keep me on my food blogger/Yelper game. (I mean, as much as I want to give every restuarant a 5 star review, it’s impossible, and it wouldn’t lend to a very valid review system.)

For the Winter 2013 celebration of Restaurant Week, I think my favorite meal of the week was our final night: dinner at Willow.

Restaurant Week - Dinner at Willow
We’ve been to Willow before, once a verrrrrrry long time ago, when we were not nearly the foodies we are now. It’s only about five minutes from my parents’ house, and over the years, the building has existed under a number of different names and cuisines. Nothing stuck until Willow landed there in the early 2000s.

Willow is in a beautiful building. It’s gigantic, with what feels like an unlimited number of different, intimate dining rooms. Imagine that your rich uncle loaned you his luxurious cabin in the middle of the forest for a week-long getaway, and every day, you found a new room you hadn’t known existed the day before. That’s what dining at Willow is like. I’ve been there three times now, and have never once sat in the same room. But each room is stylish, warm, and inviting, like you’ve suddenly had a full-service staff move into your living room (if your living room was fancy, that is).

We were seated on the ground floor, just steps away from a beautiful fireplace in a room dressed in dark wood, and got down to the serious business of exploring the menu. First stop: drinks.

Restaurant Week - Dinner at Willow
Even back in the days when I couldn’t identify what made a certain preparation of a dish so good, there was one thing I always had an eye for at Willow, and that’s their amazing specialty drink list. For our first round, we each got one of these little gems, the Heaven’s punch: gin, white cranberry juice, lemonade, topped with champagne, and garnished with green grapes. Yum!! (They’re big on real, fresh fruit in drinks: my second round was a Plumberry Martini, with plum and blueberry vodkas, cranberry juice, a splash of Sierra Mist and fresh blueberries floating in the glass.)

Restaurant Week - Dinner at Willow
For dinner, Michael ordered off the Restaurant Week Menu (which was a daily-changing thing), and I ordered off the regular menu. Our meal started with this lovely plate of bread, which our server, Tyler, embellished by making the Willow logo in the dipping plate. Cute!

Restaurant Week - Dinner at Willow
First round for Michael: kobe beef tartare. Crispy, flavorful, beautifully presented. A hit with the first bite.

Restaurant Week - Dinner at Willow
I ordered a plate of the short rib gnudi (yes, it’s pronounced ‘nudie’, so imagine my giggles of trying to say that in front of our cute, no-way-he-was-even-20-years-old waiter). This stuff was awesome!! It was like if a gnocchi and a fried dumpling had an appetizer-child. I loved the contrast of the bitterness of the greens, and the squishiness of the mozarellla cheese balls.

Restaurant Week - Dinner at Willow
Round two for Michael was a plate of shrimp drizzled in a miso caramel peanut sauce, with grilled scallions and a chilled noodle salad, and a giant kale chip on the side. (Kale chip! Be still, my heart!!) The peanut sauce was delicious and light, and any meal that comes with two courses of appetizers is great in my book.

I was all set to add a side house salad to my meal, when our server Tyler suggested, “Maybe a mushroom salad?” Mushroom salad?? REALLY? THEY HAVE THOSE?

Restaurant Week - Dinner at Willow
Oh. Oh yes they do. This salad has roasted crimini, shitake, and oyster mushrooms, and is served over arugula with a toasted sesame vinaigrette. The mushrooms were so juicy and plentiful, and the sesame vinaigrette gave the entire dish an Asian flavor (with a little hint of spice and pepper). This honestly felt more like a second, decadent appetizer than a salad!

Restaurant Week - Dinner at Willow
The entrees, however, really stole the show. Michael had a thick sirloin steak, grilled to a perfect medium-rare. It was paired with wild rice and okra, as well as a lobster sauce with meaty succulent chunks of lobster tail in it.

Restaurant Week - Dinner at Willow
And I got the cranberry chicken, which was breaded in corn flakes and almonds, dressed with leeks and served with a huge helping of dried cranberries in a maple-syrup cranberry glaze. The potatoes underneath are red, skin-on scallion mashed potatoes, which, if you’re keeping score at home, are the best mashed potatoes of all time. The chicken was so tender under the crispy coating, and all of the flavors worked together (who knew – leeks are like, kind of the best thing). The serving was so huge that I took half home and made all of my coworkers crazy jealous during lunch the next day.

Restaurant Week - Dinner at Willow
We went for broke at dessert and each ordered our own plate. Michael got their famous ‘apple peaches pumpkin pie,’ which is pretty much what it sounds like: heavenly nibbles of each type of pie. His favorite was the pumpkin pie mousse, which was topped with a Kahlua-infused whipped cream and candied pumpkin seeds.

Restaurant Week - Dinner at Willow
I got a plate of the cherry vodka chocolate trifle: Bing cherries, cherry liqueur, poundcake, with chocolate ganache. I think there may have been some blueberries thrown in for good measure. This was insanely good, almost too sweet, but the poundcake balanced out the sweetness with each bite. Oh, and it was big enough that a table of 5 could probably have eaten it!

Our trip to Willow was perfect from start to finish. Great atmosphere, great service, delicious food on every course. I loved the way the chef was able to feature so many different flavors across the menu, and I loved the unique quality of some of the dishes (especially that Kobe beef tartare and the mushroom salad). Even better: I’d randomly bought a ‘Just Pay Half’ coupon off of WDVE two years ago, and they still honored it! We may have stuffed ourselves silly, but I can say with certainty that Willow was worth the trek to the suburbs, and we’ll be back, hopefully in the summer to check out their patio seating!

2 Comments

Filed under #45, #45-12, cocktails, dessert, dinner, restaurant, restaurant week

2 Responses to Fine (And Fun) Dining At Willow

  1. Dad

    Very well written review. It makes me want to go there now!!!!

  2. Adrienne

    Going to Willow for Valentine’s Day! I have been in love with this place for years! I am now going to try the Cherry Vodka Chocolate Trifle!! Thanks!

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