Sunday, November 6, 2011

Birthday Dinner At Willow

It's about a week after Halloween, and that means it is time for me to celebrate another birthday. Last year was one of those 'big' ones - one of the birthdays that ends in a zero. I am officially at the point where I no longer wish to recognize just which birthday # I am celebrating - just bring on the celebratory dinners and treats and gifts!

This year I took my time selecting a place at which to have a birthday dinner date with SP. Past birthday dinner dates have been at Eleven, Casbah, Wild Rosemary. I wanted something different. I finally picked Willow, a restaurant at which we dined on New Years Eve 2007. We had not been back since, and that's a shame because Willow is a lovely place.

It's on Camp Horne Road. There are several rooms inside - I think there are 9 dining rooms - and on both our visits we have been seated in the room through the bar area and to the left. Our server introduced himself and asked if we had dined at Willow before, explained that they just rolled out a new menu, and pointed out several small plates and large plates for us to consider. I'm not sure if the choices he high-lighted are his personal favorites, or dishes many people order and enjoy, or if they were simply dishes to which the restaurant wished to steer diners that evening.

After giving us a few moments to peruse the wine/cocktail menu and food menu, our server returned with some bread:
and a plate of grated asiago and cracked pepper onto which he poured garlic olive oil. Oh no! He started pouring before I completely processed the 'garlic' part and I was sort of flustered because this lovely plate of grated cheese was in front of me but it had just been ruined with garlic olive oil! I was trying to find a polite way to ask for plain olive oil or just a plate of grated cheese - I'm not sure I was expressing myself clearly because I felt so bad with about my 'special request' after he'd poured the garlic oil. Anyway, it was no problem, he brought another plate of cheese and poured plain olive oil on, and I was happy because I could dunk my warm, tasty bread into cheesy olive oil.
See the zig zag in the cheese? It's a W for Willow! OK, I totally didn't pick up on that - we overheard a woman at a nearby table exclaim about the W for Willow.

For beverages, I ordered a glass of Grayson Zinfandel and SP stuck with iced tea. It was interesting that when SP checked into Willow at foursquare, it was listed as a wine bar. They do have a happy hour Monday through Saturday 5 pm - 7 pm (half off selected draft beers, $3.50 house wines, several $6 cocktails). On Thursdays Willow has 'Uncork'd' which is half off a selection of wine by the glass and by the bottle.

The menu is divided into 'small plates' (appetizers) and 'large plates' (entrees) and several small plates also make an appearance under 'large plates.' There were several small plates I wanted to try (the gnudi with veal meatballs, the risotto cakes) but I chose the Grown Up Mac & Cheese - orecchiette pasta, braised short rib, caramelized onions, spinach, brie cream sauce baked with herbed bread crumbs:
It doesn't photograph well. Of the 4 or 5 photos I took, this one was the best and it's not that great. Oh my gosh. So cheesy and creamy. Delicious braised short rib. Lots of onions. This was so darn good. I could have eaten it all, but I didn't because it was just enough cheese & pasta that I thought I would end up too full to enjoy my large plate. So I set about one third aside and got it wrapped to bring home.

SP chose Shellfish Trio - seared scallop and Korean bbq pork belly, miso caramel & marinated shitake, lump crab cake with red onion caper sauce, broiled shrimp, scallion coulis:
I tried a bite of his scallop and it was delicious - cooked just right.
I didn't ask for a taste of his shrimp. He said it was very tasty and flavorful but was maybe just a wee bit tough/cook a wee bit too long.
I tired a bit of his crab - just one lump, that nice big lump on the left in the photo! It was good, but I didn't get a full taste because I didn't dip it in the sauce. SP loves capers, so he loved the sauce and crabcake.
For his large plate, SP chose Roasted Duck - seared duck breast, crispy duck confit, duck crackling,
roasted brussel sprouts, stewed lentils, apple & duck jus.
He said the brussel sprouts were very good. The lentils were good, too, and had bits of duck mixed in with them. The duck breast under the radish slices was perfectly cooked (medium as he asked) with lovely crispy skin and was not the usual a l'orange duck. When I asked him how it was when I was typing this post, he said 'ooooohhhhhh so good when are we going back?'

I chose Braised Lamb Pappardelle - braised lamb shank, caramelized leeks, rosemary grilled wild mushrooms, fresh pappardelle pasta, red wine fig reduction, shaved fontina cheese.
It might have been a teeny mistake to order a pasta small plate and a pasta large plate, even for me, the pasta monster. But I couldn't resist either. I love braised lamb and this lamb was so tasty.
I love the super wide pappardelle noodle - I know what pappardelle is, but I had never before eaten pappardelle. I ended up using a knife to cut my noodles into bite size pieces. The mushrooms were so good - I think I made happy sounds every time I ate a mushroom (hope the sounds were just in my mind and not actually audible happy sounds!). There didn't seem to be a lot of sauce/juice, but my initial fear of a dry dish was proven wrong. This was so good. There are other large plates I want to try (veal osso bucco, BBQ pork chop) but this was so good I would have a hard time not ordering it the next time we go. Much as I wanted to keep eating, I had to stop before I burst. I got the rest wrapped up to take home.

I ordered a decaf coffee and SP ordered a decaf cappuccino while we thought about dessert:
He got a sugary swizzle stick!

Once we saw the dessert menu, we knew. There was no way we were passing up the funnel cake:
'Carnival funnel cake served with homemade pastry cream and macerated blackberries.' The funnel cake made me think of a nest! It was more a nest of fried dough bits than those huge piles of swirled dough you get at parks and festivals. Lots of powdered sugar. And a delicious pastry cream. To me, the pastry cream made the dish. I love pastry cream - it's what we make for our fruit tart every July 4. I could have licked the plate, but I didn't. I settled for scraping up as much as I could!

We both really enjoyed our food at Willow. I definitely ate way too much as after we left I felt super stuffed and had to roll down the window in the car for some cool, fresh air to help me feel better. Our server was friendly, knowledgeable, prompt, didn't rush us but didn't take too much time. He didn't get all freaked out over my olive oil issue. He made sure SP's iced tea and my coffee were kept filled. No complaints.

I can't remember the old menu at Willow, but I love the new menu and I am looking forward to going back soon.
Willow on Urbanspoon


  1. Oh. My. Goodness.
    That mac&cheese looks AMAZING!

    Happy Birthday!

  2. This all looks so delicious. What a fabulous birthday dinner! The pasta, the bread, the seafood, the duck and that funnel cake - yum is right! :)