Monday, October 20, 2014


This past Saturday we had a difficult time deciding where to go for dinner. The problem was that after 8 days of dining out (vacation) followed by 3 days of pizza and lasagna, we were just not interested in food. Every restaurant we thought of was rejected for some reason. I was very close to saying we should just stay home, but I really didn't feel like cooking. So I started flipping through the dining listings in Pittsburgh Magazine and saw an ad for Willow. That sparked a bit of interest. We have been there twice before, but not since it became a sister restaurant to Grit & Grace, Spoon, and BRGR. This past summer, the interior was re-designed and a new menu created. I think it just re-opened at the end of September. So we decided to try it. Fortunately, we were able to get a 5:30 pm reservation using OpenTable.
I couldn't resist ordering the Gingers Club cocktail: bourbon, ginger liqueur, Snap, molasses, bitters, lemon. I liked it, but it was a little strong for me. The ginger liqueur and Snap (gingersnap liqueur) gave it quite a strong spicy kick. SP tried a New Castle Wolf beer, which I didn't photograph.
The new menu has some bar snacks, sandwiches, small plates, salads, and large plates. I was thinking about trying the agnolotti with spinach, squash, and goat cheese, so I asked about garlic. Our server consulted with the chef and to my surprise, returned with a marked up menu showing which dishes had garlic in them and which didn't. Pretty much everything was crossed off! I am pretty sure I could have had some of the crossed off dishes and been OK because it's usually a matter of the type of garlic/cooking time that affects me. For instance, a bit of dried garlic in a rub is usually OK and garlic cloves simmered in a braise for a very long time don't seem to bother me (although I don't eat the actual clove) BUT garlic in a ravioli filling or garlic sauteed quickly or a meat rubbed with it/studded with it almost always sets off my stomach. I really didn't want to be annoying with that level of detail and since several of the dishes I had been thinking about were on the 'safe' list, I just skipped the agnolotti (which had garlic in the filling and sauce).
To start, we shared Chopped Pear & Apple Salad (romaine, almonds, bacon, blue cheese, honey, thyme). Our server split it into two small bowls for us so we didn't have to serve ourselves from one big bowl - that was much appreciated. We enjoyed this salad a lot. The blue cheese was in tiny bits, lots of bacon, pear and apple chunks, a light touch with dressing, crisp greens. Delicious.
We also shared Parker House Rolls (bacon butter, bacon salt). Oh my gosh. These are so good. Yes, there's lots bacon flavor, but it's not overpowering. Delicious, warm, soft, fluffy, melt in your mouth with a golden slightly crusty/crunchy exterior rolls. I would go back just for these rolls. We took 2 home and on Sunday, they were just as tasty (we heated them for a bit in the oven).
Lobster Rolls Bites (lobster, celery, red onion, lemon). A mini top-split hot dog roll with a leafy green pushed down into the split and a heaping scoop of lightly dressed lobster salad piled on top. I like that the leafy green acted as a barrier to keep the salad from making the roll too wet/mushy. I had a hard time eating it because my mouth is not that huge, so I couldn't just pick it up and bite into it. I ended up scooping off the lobster salad and eating it with a fork while taking bites of the roll and lettuce with each forkful of lobster. It was very good, but my personal preference would have been for less/no onion since I found the onion a little strong. I loved how teeny, tiny the bits of onion and celery were.

The lobster rolls came with potato chips, which are in the blurry background of the photo. Usually, I don't pay much attention to chips because I don't really like them. I didn't even bother to include them in the photograph. But for some reason, I took one look at how thin these chips were and popped one in my mouth and suddenly, I couldn't stop eating them. So thin, so crispy, so good! SP liked them a lot, too, and something I thought would never, ever happen, happened: we were fighting over the potato chips. Something neither of us usually likes. We took some home (with the one lobster roll I couldn't finish) and they were still crispy delicious the next day.
Crab Cake (aioli, cucumber, Chesapeake vinaigrette). This was all crab and delicious. I managed to control myself and saved SP a bite.
SP decided to try the Charred Shishito (bonito flakes, miso butter). He said they were very tasty and that he wanted to try shishito with an Asian flavor profile, but even though they were good, and even though he usually prefers Asian flavors, it turns out he prefers shishito with more of an olive oil/cheese/nut flavor like he's eaten before (Dinette, E2).
SP's other choice was Rabbit & Dumpling (carrot, cremini, celery, pearl onion, gnocchi). He loved this dish. Usually when he's had rabbit, it's been in a red sauce, whether a tomato marina kind of sauce or red wine based sauce, so this was a nice change, a light colored broth/sauce. The rabbit & veggies were great but what he really liked was the gnocchi. They were charred on one side. He said they were the fluffiest, pillow-iest gnocchi he's ever had.
For dessert SP ordered coffee, I ordered tea, and we decided to share Pear Cake (pears, puff pastry. walnut filling, port caramel, walnut anglaise, salted caramel gelato). I don't really think of this dessert as a cake but more of a... well, puff pastry dessert that kind of tasted like baklava to me. I could taste the pears but would have liked more pears in the dessert. I loved the salted caramel ice cream. I think SP only got a wee bit of that before I scooped it all up.
We enjoyed our food at the 'new Willow' much more than we had in the past at the 'old Willow.' Our server, Victoria, was fantastic. She did a lot of work to make sure I didn't get sick from garlic and made sure of the order in which we wanted our food to be served (since we ordered multiple small plates, not the usual appetizer-salad-entree). She was friendly and chatty and easy to talk to. We enjoyed our food, in particular the rolls and rabbit-gnocchi. We would definitely go back to Willow especially since there are several dishes we didn't get to try (SP had a tough time deciding what to order since he also really likes mussels, hamachi, grouper, kale salad).

  Willow on Urbanspoon

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