In short, I will be going back again and again until I’m living there if this restaurant continues to serve like this. Not only the food, but the service, the wine list, the atmosphere… what a terrific experience.
The evening was gilded because we joined two of our favorite friends for Restaurant Week. Unlike the usual ‘get em in and get em out’ show associated with the Restaurant Week experience, this restaurant, on this particular evening, was absolutely spectacular.
I don’t rate restaurants, I review them; however, if I were to rate, I’d give Willow a solid 9.
We ate the following plates:
- Warm Potato Salad
Fried Goat Cheese Stuffed Petite Bell & Banana Peppers, Polyface Farms Deviled Egg & Yellow Tomato Vinaigrette
I was compelled to try this dish specifically because of the Polyface Farms Deviled Egg. Having read so much about them in Omnivore’s Dilemma and Everything I Want to do is Illegal, (have you been following my book reviews on Goodreads? http://tiny.cc/pyt2s) it was a necessary, devilish encounter.
The stuffed peppers were fried in a light and delicate manner that barely made a crunch sound when penetrated. The cheese inside was warm and smooth, round in flavor as opposed to tangy. The peppers retained their shape and were still crisp to the tooth when bitten.
The egg, well, it was hard to discern this specific yolk as opposed to any other due to the deviling, but the white was outstanding. It was not rubbery and had flavor that was creamy which complimented the tomato vinaigrette extremely well.
This was a good dish, not incredible. The stuffed peppers were of course the stars though the micro-greens and the deviled egg were by no means sub-standard.
The Ubiquitous Them:
Sneaking bites from the other plates I had the following experiences:
- Tempura Fried Soft Shell Crab & Crab Cake
Summer Cous Cous Salad & Smoked Tomato Butter
Not being a big fan of cous cous I expected to have a love hate relationship with this dish. Instead I found the smoked butter covered cous cous orbs to be tender and a very good vehicle for the compound butter. For me, that’s a graceful nod to this grain.
On to the stars of the dish, the crab selections. Similar to the fry on the above mentioned peppers, the tempura was light and crisp, though a more subtle flavor than the pepper coating. The heat during the frying permeated the batter to heat the crab delicately leaving it tender and succulent yet not in the least oily. The crab cake was held together with a tasty binder that crisped up well on the exterior and turned into a sheer shell, leaving the savory crab meat to speak, or rather sing, for itself.
- Local Heirloom Tomato Salad (V)
Creamy Basil Mascarpone Mousse, Balsamic & 20 Year Old Sherry Vinaigrette, Garlic Croutons & Balsamic Gastrique
This is not your usual tomato and balsamic salad.
The tomatoes were flavorful, like they were when we were kids (if you are younger than 35 or weren’t raised with a garden – you may not know what a real tomato tastes like. Shame.). The balsamic and sherry vinaigrette added bright acid which brought out the sweet and grassy tones of the tomato as well as the garlic of the croutons. The croutons themselves were crunchy and added the right mouth texture to the flavorful and perfumed basil mascarpone mousse. Had I tried to steal another fork full I’m sure it would have been allowed, but possibly bad form at the same time.
- Warm Shrimp Salad & Crispy Quinoa Cakes
Mélange of Spring Peas, Endive, Petite Greens & Feta Lemon Dressing
I love the word “mélange”. I also love spring peas. And who doesn’t love petite or baby food. Everything tastes better as a baby, doesn’t it?
Unfortunately, by the time I anteed up and offered a bit of my appetizer, everyone had stolen all of the bites up for grabs on this plate. What I got in response to my inquiry, “How was it?” were a lot of yummy noises and an, “I didn’t know I LIKED spring peas!”
Sorry folks, that’s all I’ve got on this one.
- Roasted Norwegian Salmon
Butter Poached Lobster Agnolotti, English Pea Risotto, Potato Gnocchi, Lima Beans, Savory & Lobster Sherry Sauce
The salmon was prepared deliciously medium rare-rare yet the exterior was crisply crusted from a sear and salt mixture that I could not identify but it was wonderful. The fish was fresh, the flesh intact, and there were no gray or disintegrating layers. A delightful protein that could have been a single entrée itself; however, paired with the following treats, it was magnificent.
Butter poached lobster inside thin skinned pouches of taught dough? You’ve got to be kidding if you think you won’t stab the hand of the beloved who tries to sneak one of these agnolotti. These little delights were covered in silky, savory sherry sauce that was generously drizzled in order to pair with the gnocchi as well.
Each of the gnocchi was tender yet slightly bouncy to the bite. The grooves and dimples held the lobster sauce which added the base taste to the sweet dough of the little dumplings.
The only item that was disappointing and rather irrelevant was the lima bean. Large and chalky compared to the succulent aspects of the dish, they could be removed and never missed on this plate.
Jamie felt compelled to copy my entrée because he knows what an expert orderer I am. Ok, not so, but we both fell in love with the description of the dish.
It was an easy reach to steal bites of this dish and it was well worth it. The halibut, which often becomes fibrous after cooking, was as velvety as if it were sashimi. Its texture was a nice contrast to the pepita seeds and the gentle reminder of the sea in each bite made for a nice harmony with the sweet corn ragout.
The corn ravioli itself was another amazing combination . The tender the ravioli tasted almost savory against the sweetness of the corn ragout. Then there was the corn sauce which was enhanced by the corn nuts salty and crusty texture. And then back around to the pepita seeds which, in comparison to the corn nuts, were a delicious, smooth, nut fat compliment.
Everyone at the table expressed their surprise at the way the various corns and nuts all brought the earthiness to the halibut. It was a very unique spin on surf and turf, and it worked really well. It was definitely a standout dish that would be a great addition to any menu at almost any time of year if the in-season corn was well frozen in the home. It may be well worth trying to replicate. What I tasted was a flavorful, sweet and salty treat of a dish.
- Petite Herb Roasted Chicken
Potato-Tomato Tart, Warm Barley, Broccoli & Lemon with Herbs & Chicken Sauce
This was no random chicken. It must have been locally raised on a sustainable farm because this bird was flat out delicious. It was juicy and savory and another dish that was also within my reach. (Lucky me!) The whole bird was flavorful and tender, and much like the above description of a tomato, it tasted like chicken without filler feed and hormone injections. The herb roast coating when taken with the flesh was amazing. It was aromatic and layered with flavors, just like a good wine.
The sauce for the chicken was extremely flavorful without being overly salty. The texture was a broth, on the borderline of gravy. It was rich and clung to the meat of the chicken as well as the potato-tomato tart.
The tart was served slightly warm so that the silky and savory potato had just enough firmness to define its consistency contrasting that of the tomato. Being slightly warmed the tomato layers were wet and sweet and it really stood out mingling with the herbs. Bright and fresh, the tomato added the acid balance to the dish that otherwise would have been too much of a nod to fall to serve on a hot summer evening.
The warm barley and broccoli were not very distinctive aside from the bright lemon flavor. When gathered into one bite with the chicken it was nice, but paled in comparison to the tart and its high notes.
As I stole forkfuls of each component I told myself that this is the next entrée that I will order at Willow. I think I will have to return 10 or so times before I make it though that list, and that’s just fine with me.
I will admit to making the wrong selection for dessert. This dish seemed to be the only dim spot of the entire meal for four.
The peaches and the peach melba ice cream were delicious and could have, should have, been served alone. The peach sections were sweet and juicy and the ice cream was just that, peach flavored cold cream. Together they made the dish.
Unfortunately, the pound cake was no hazelnut, just pound. It would have been a better product had it been moist and seasoned with more flavorful components rather than relying on what seemed like simply natural hazelnut.
The upside is that I had plenty of room left for a bit of each of the other desserts.
Much to David’s dismay, I had that “plenty of room” part going, because when I started grazing off of his beautiful layer cake he glared a hole right through me (that was on bite number three). Then, to his even greater upset we, the three other dining companions, decided to pass all of the deserts around. I could tell that David was sad, like Milton in Office Space.
It was a marvelous red velvet chocolate cake with caramel butter cream frosting and vanilla drizzle. Rich and moist center, butter cream caramel dissolving in your mouth and vanilla hints soften together in one self-indulgent bite, the first of many one hopes. This cake is representative of each Cake of the Day that we’ve tried and is completely addictive – always a sure hit.
The angel food cake, as opposed to the pound cake, was moist and light and delicious. Even on its own, the cake would be a nice dessert. However, that was not that case, much to the enjoyment of everyone.
Yellow and blue are such lovely colors together, and in this dish, they were lovely flavors together against the mildly nutty cake vehicle to the mouth. The lemon curd and blueberry sauce, separately and together, made playful bites with the soft back drop of the cake. The lemon was creamy and just the right mix between sweet and tart, and the blueberry sauce in my opinion, was the star.
Often I find that blueberries are entirely mishandled. Often over sweetened to pump up ‘flavor’ or paired with components that completely overshadow the berries. This sauce did justice to those beautiful blue super-fruits. The addition of spices and a little salt to the sauce and the berries’ natural sweetness and subtle flavor were heightened. Without being cloyingly sweet or too savory, the berries held their own. There was no expression to compare the flavor to other dishes other than “more blueberry-y”.
This dessert was the favorite (the layer cake running a close second). It simply tasted decadent. The first thing I tasted was the marshmallow meringue and it was like no marshmallow I’ve ever tasted before. It was sweet but did not make my teeth hurt with sugar, it was light as a meringue should be and it had a ‘mouth bounce’ to it. A slight resistance to being bitten that gave way to a melting delight once pierced.
The milk chocolate ganache was milky and sweet and welcome. Often the ganache of a dessert is dark chocolate and, even though it is so good for you (antioxidants and all that) I prefer my spoon full of malleable chocolate to be full corrupt with sugar and dairy laced.
It was gentle to spoon and amazing to roll around on the tongue. It almost left a thirst after it dissolved, to be quenched with a drink or more chocolate, your choice. I chose more chocolate.
All of these creamy and sweet aspects were held in place by a thick graham crust that was neither too dry nor soggy. It was just the right amount of crunch to pair with the toppings to make each bite worth excavating an equal portion of each layer. This dessert was delicious and Jamie was lucky to have received any back on his plate.
So, overall this is the highest recommend restaurant of my reviews. A bit lengthy I admit; however, each course and each plate deserved its own moment to shine.
As the person having eaten these delicacies it was worth going down memory lane to remember them bite by bite. I hope as the reader this review will inspire you to make the trip to Ballston. And hopefully, if I’m lucky, I will see you there!