Willow: Good Food, Good Wine, Good Location

Every once in a while we are victims of our own bad timing. I lived in Ballston for almost a year, and only shortly after I left did Willow open a mere two blocks or so from the Ballston Metro Station. I have had the pleasure of eating there four times now. While I can’t eat in Ballston every night anymore, I know Willow will draw me back again and again.

Willow Hostess Stand
Welcome to Willow

Willow is located on Fairfax Drive in Ballston, only blocks from Route 66, the Metro, and the Ballston Mall. The restaurant opened just over a year ago, fulfilling the dream of Chief Chef and Co-Owner Tracy O’Grady. Chef O’Grady is classically trained and has cooked for some of the most famous chefs in the Washington, D.C. area, including Yannick Cam at Le Pavilion, Chef Roberto Donnna at Galileo, and Chef Bob Kinkead at Kinkead’s. Chef O’Grady began her career as a pastry chef, later becoming a station chef and sous chef before representing the United States at the prestigious Bocuse D’Or cooking competition in Lyon, France.

Willow’s O’Grady
Chef Tracy O’Grady

When it came time to open her own restaurant, Chef O’Grady teamed with Willow Pastry Chef and Co-Owner Kate Jansen. Chef Jansen trained at the Culinary School of Washington before also working for Chef Donna as a pastry chef. After some training in Europe and a second stint with Chef Donna, she founded Firehook Bakery, Ltd. in 1991. It quickly became a favorite in the Washington, D.C. area for its pastries and fresh baked breads.

Having been to Willow a few times now, there are several dishes that I can recommend. When considering appetizers, the Potato Gnocchi and Little Neck Clam Gratin, and Tempura Fried Spring Vegetables are standouts, but the Fried Fontina and Prosciutto Fritters are the star. They are fried and filled with cheese–you just can’t miss.

Willow Fritters-small
Fried Fontina and Prosciutto Fritters (also known as Food Porn)

Main courses come in two groups: grilled flatbreads and standard entrees. Amongst the flatbreads, The Lady is the queen. In case any of you ever wonder, bacon and goat cheese do in fact work wonders together. As to the other entrees, every offering I have tried has been well prepared and presented. While the filet mignon was solid, I have to say that I was most impressed with the Pan Roasted Alaskan Halibut. I do not often order fish in restaurants, but this filet was perfectly prepared and complemented with potato gnocchi, braised fennel, and prosciutto ham. Not to fishy, the halibut was delicate and delicious. I highly recommend it to seafood lovers; in fact, it had sold out at my last visit. Finally, I would be remiss if I did not mention the lemon and thyme roasted chicken as a strong offering.

While the desserts change regularly, you can be confident you will find something for everyone at the table. Kate’s cookies with ice cream are always a favorite. If you are not in an ice cream mood, the cake of the day should satisfy your sweet tooth.

As if the menu was not strong enough, Willow’s cuisine is complimented by a first-class wine list assembled by General Manager Charles Dunn. I recommend the MacRostie 2003 Pinot Noir from Carneros, California and the Domaines Schlumberger 2003 Gewurztraminer Fleur from Alsace, France. The MacRostie is very drinkable and will go with any dinner–all six people at my table had nothing but praise for it. The Domaines Schlumberger is a unique white with a strong ginger flavor. While it is actually semi-sweet, chicken, cheese, and seafood bring out spicier notes. Willow also has a wonderful list of dessert wines to finish your dining experience on a sweeter note.

4 Stars
Appx. $25 per entree

Published in: on November 16, 2006 at 11:25 pm  Leave a Comment