Willow Wood - Graton
When you go to the Wine Country, you consult your map often. You drive to wineries, you drink (excuse me taste), you chat, you absorb the view, and then you go to another vineyard. And another. And another. And before long you realize it's time for lunch. If that Eureka moment hits you when you're in the Russian River Valley near Graton, I recommend you visit the Willow Wood Market & Cafe. The Willow Wood is casual and inexpensive, but makes some delicious and hearty hot sandwiches. It's just the thing to absorb the morning tastings and provision you for the afternoon. The reuben is one of the best I've had. Strictly speaking, it may not have been a reuben because it was not on pumpernickel or rye, but it was definitely reubenesque. They also do a guilt-inducing, though yummy, hot open-faced egg salad, pesto, pancetta, and fontina cheese sandwich. I hear they do wonders with polenta.
I've been going for several years, but was very dissapointed in the Huevos Rancheros I had there two weeks ago. The beans they used were like a black bean salad and were dressed with vinegar. The vinegar overwhelmed everything else on the plate and ruined the dish. Of course this was the first bad experience I've ever had there with the food. My wife had the egg sandwixh you mentioned and it was tasty, if not overwhelmingly rich.
I'll add that on this last visit the hostess was incredibly kind and accommodating in getting our large party a table quickly since we had two hungry toddlers with us.
Yesterday I met some friends for a late lunch at Willow Wood. I'd not been for a couple years and it was great to come back to the ol' reliable. Even at close to 2pm on an autumnal Saturday, there were only a few tables available and none on the sun-dappled patio. Two of the day's specials: fried sole and baked rock shrimp were already sold out.
Famished, we got a quick Mediterranean plate served with garlic bread (and pesto dip) on the side. Beautiful, gossamer tender lettuces, loose style of hummus, and grilled vegetables. And I had a bowl of cafe au lait (Taylor Maid coffee) to perk up my afternoon.
I tasted the open-face egg salad sandwich, a classic here, that had a bit too much cheesey richness this time. Polenta, topped with vegetable ragout and addition of a grilled sausage, was as creamy and perfect as always. I didn't sample the ham and melted brie sandwich, but I saw that the hungry guy couldn't quite finish it. And for me, the eggplant sandwich, with sweet and tender, non greasy pale purple-rimmed slabs of eggplant with roasted peppers, pesto and feta cheese on lightly toasted sourdough. The potato salad sides on the plates had the zippy vinegar dressing, same as always too. The menu selections tend to the richer side with most of them having a cheese element. Luckily the assortment of pickles on the sandwich plates help cut through that.s
My friends spoke highly of the French folded eggs they've ordered before on the breakfast menu. And I've been a fan of the Monte Cristo on the brunch menu. It's nice to know that places like Willow Wood stand the test of time and still deliver today.
Willow Wood Market Cafe
9020 Graton Rd
Graton, CA 95444
We were there this past April 2014. I tend to not post rvws on CH as I post my rvws on three other sites including my own web-based archive, so just don't have enough time these days! These are my notes:
At Willow Wood we always pick one of the polenta dishes. One is pork, prepared different ways but always hearty and substantial. One is vegetarian, and one uses meat but more as an accent than a main. The high-quality polenta is always soft, prepared with very little salt as it's the base for the other ingredients. It is available separately, however, for those (like my spouse) who are thinking that next time it would be great with butter and honey.
He again chose the polenta with pork (this was our 2nd visit; our first was in 2011). This time it came with shiitake and spinach. The first time he got this dish, the pork was braised in a rich brown farm-style gravy. This time the pork tasted like thick slices of a really superb porcetta, but without any fat – gently perfumed with fennel seed and rosemary, incredibly tender and soft as if very slowly roasted. He said it was one of the best pork dishes he'd ever had, despite the fact he isn't fond of fennel seed or rosemary. This is a very generous serving of meat and gravy. Two people could easily share this dish; the other two polentas are less filling.
I ordered the day's Market Plate polenta: spinach, coppa, cambozola toast, roasted tomato, soft-boiled egg. This was a very different combination of flavors. The spinach was seasoned with vinegar, a country-cooking method I don't normally like. But the thin slices of coppa were spicy and chile-hot, so with the mild polenta and two salty-funky cambozola toasts, the tangy spinach was perfect. The creamy richness of the blue-veined cambozola cheese offset any tannins. The roasted plum tomato was a thick slice, surprisingly sweet for so early in the season, and the egg was just slightly runny on the yolk. Everything worked together: it was unusual but pleasant, a tasty lunch dish that wasn't heavy.
I had the gingerbread for dessert, over which I wax rhapsodic as an ode to Dickens' classic. It is dark, substantial, and rich with real spices and molasses, not the wimpy pallid Duncan Hines imitation that comes in a box mix. This is not cheap at $7.75 but worth every penny.
I took the opportunity to ask the waiter if it is always available. He answered in the affirmative, saying the gingerbread is housemade by the pastry chef for both restaurants (Willow and Under Wood). So for our friends who are pining for really good gingerbread, or have never tried it and want to know what the fuss is all about, know that you can go to Willow Wood whenever it's open and enjoy this great classic cake.
Our tip: ask for extra whipped cream. More is always better, when it comes to accompanying real gingerbread! And Willow Wood makes a proper pot of tea, equally rare these days.