Willow - an off night? (Feb.2014)
We've been fans of Willow for years though don't get there as often as we'd like. Last night, we had to run an errand in Ballston so we walked in hoping they would have a table. They had many. At about 7. That alone was odd. The bar area was full but the restaurant not so. The very soft dinner rolls were warm but without flavor. They needed salt. And that's coming from someone who is hypersensitive to salt and finds restaurant food to be too salty. We were told fairly quickly that they were out of two of the dishes - the Coquille St. Jacques, because they had no scallops and some other dish. They were offering substitutes that were basically the same preparations but without the key seafood item, using other seafood in its place. Not a problem. We had already decided to try one of the flatbreads. We also decided to split a salad as the waiter told us they were quite large, and indeed one was enough for two people. Now this is a pet peeve, but Caesar salad is not anything you feel like throwing on top of romaine. This was a very good salad of crisp romaine and it had excellent anchovies. Can't comment on the croutons as I don't like croutons. These looked large ordinary croutons. But the salad also featured raddichio and smoked gouda. Look, it was a very good salad but it wasn't a Caesar. Again just a pet peeve. I'm sure there are many people out there who want to take issue with me. Consider it taken. Don't waste your electrons. The flatbread was quite good. We had the clams casino and really enjoyed. Now for the truly off part. The dessert. Willow is known for its pastries. So how did we end up with a piece of the weirdest, very not-good carrot cake I've ever tasted? It had a burnt taste, it was dry and very dense. It had no flavor of carrots. It was topped with caramel (did nothing at all for the cake -it was just a jarring sweetness) and surrounded by a pool of creme anglaise. The frosting was bizarre. It had an odd consistency and not one whiff of cream cheese even though we were told it was a cream cheese frosting. The waiter was surprised we hadn't eaten it all and when we told him why, he took it off the tab even though we hadn't asked. He told us that the next cake up on the rotation was German chocolate, which he described as dark chocolate. Huh? Well, we almost never eat dessert anyway, but given that Willow is known for its in-house desserts, we made an exception in this case and were really disappointed. By the way, even when we left, there were still plenty of empty tables. And finally, I do wish they'd get rid of the wood flooring that leads to the back of the restaurant. All through the meal, clunk, clunk, clunk as women with high heels walked in or to the loo.
I normally get the salad without the cheese, yes I think it's an odd choice. I mostly eat at the bar and haven't had a flatbread or piece of cake, so don't know. I will say their GF rolls, biscuits and pies are really good? I get them a lot. I have also cheated and had their burger recently which I really enjoyed.
I'm sorry your meal was disappointing. On the other hand, my husband and I were recently there for Restaurant Week and had one of the best meals ever. I had the gnocchi with clams appetizer - fabulous. We both had the beef duo comprised of filet mignon and pot roast ravioli--both winners. Filet mignon was flavorful with a peppercorn topping and the ravioli was divine. I wish they would offer that by itself. I had the German chocolate cake. I normally don't like German chocolate cake because of its milk-chocolate nature, but the dark chocolate cake completely won me over. So I guess I'm happy they aren't purists with dishes. I'm a big fan of Willow and especially of their Nosh menu (reasonably priced and creative). I hope your meal was a one-off and that people will give one of my favorite restaurants a try.
I hope so too, because we've had many wonderful meals at Willow. I don't have a problem with creativity. In fact, I applaud it. But at some point, the creativity gets to a point where the dish is so far removed from the original that it is an entirely different dish. In m opinion, that's the case with the "Caesar" salad served at Willow. As I said, it is just a pet peeve. Not a complaint about the salad itself, which was actually quite good. As to the German chocolate cake, I learned after I wrote my original post that the cake was actually named for a brand of chocolate called German's, which was in turn the name of the man who developed it. And it was a sweet dark chocolate. The frosting is not chocolate at all, but caramel made with egg yolks and evaporated milk. Since I don't care for chocolate (!! cementing my weirdness and worthless as a commenter - and if that blows your mind, I don't really like ice cream either), I wouldn't have known any of this as it is a cake I would never order or make.
The food is hit or miss, but generally good. During slower times, the food tends to be a hit. When it's busy, you're better of playing the lottery.
The service and management is terrible so weekend dinners are an adventure. The last three times my table wasn't ready on time, service was slow and the kitchen couldn't keep up with the restaurant. I haven't made it out of there in less than 1 hour 45 minutes the last three times I went. I spoke with the person who claimed to be the executive chef the last time I was there and we was completely clueless and completely overwhelmed.
I'm not planning on returning.