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Willow, Chef Tracy O'Grady and Pastry Chef Kate Jansen on N. Fairfax Drive in Ballston - Closed

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a clever plant in ts chat about willow. i don't know what's up but i think maybe its tracy mcgrady's new venture.

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RE: Your Fantasy Restaurant Job: Recently defunct Gaffney's in Ballston is in the process of being reincarnated into "Willow"- I work in the building and have spoken a couple times to the two women owners- they've both worked at Galileo, one was at Kinkead's for a long time the other was one of the originators at Firehook Bakery and spent a year in Tuscany. Their intent is to have EXACTLY the sort of place you describe. I can't WAIT for them to open!

Tom Sietsema: Wow! (And good gossip. I'll have to check out the details.)

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i thought the same thing but dismissed it as my skepticism. glad to see that i was not the only one.

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I thought you meant this guy. laugh.giftongue.gif

a clever plant in ts chat about willow.  i don't know what's up but i think maybe its tracy mcgrady's new venture.

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Here's an excerpt from The Buffalo News a few weeks ago (online version expired):

Fans of South Buffalo native Tracy O'Grady -- the Washington, D.C., chef who was the U.S. entrant in the prestigious Bocuse d'Or cooking competition in France in 2001 -- will be happy to learn that she is opening her own restaurant, Willow, in Arlington, Va., on Sept. 6.

O'Grady, a former executive chef at Kinkead's in Washington, will partner with pastry chef Kate Jansen in the 150-seat restaurant.

Talk about pressure -- the same day that the restaurant opens, O'Grady will be married to Brian Woken, director of operations for the new restaurant and former executive chef at Butterfield 9 in Washington. After the ceremony, she'll change from her bridal gown to chefs' whites and prepare dinner for 500 customers.

As a fellow Buffalo ex-patriate, I'll keep my eye on this one.

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Spent an enjoyable evening at Willow's bar yesterday. This is definitely the nicest restaurant yet to occupy this ill starred space across from Rio Grande opposite the Ballston Metro station, so I fervently hope it will be successful. All indications are that it will be. The wine list is selective but covers the bets both by the glass and the bottle. The food concept is "modern continental" meaning they are dusting off some of the standards from before the new wave(s) of cuisine started battering the restaurant shores in the 70s. Thus no fru fru nouvelle, no (con)fusion, no asian/latino/carricom types of dishes except for perhaps a nod via the utilization of an ingredient from these styles. Heavy on French and Italian influence.

 
I had a rib eye steak served with a very savory mushroom/red wine sauce. The cut was not as thick as I would have preferred, but it was cooked exactly the way I asked. Started with the clams casino which are frankly the bomb! Very lemony and bacony and they don't fuss with the classic recipe. My wife had a pork chop milanese served just like a veal chop -- pounded out a little on the bone -- and from the bite I managed to steal, was quite delicious. Again not pretentious, just very well prepared. Came with a little spinach tartalet and my steak came with a small potato gratin. Due to the fact that I was still fairly full from the Po' Boy I had earlier had to leave dessert for the next visit, but they had some decadent sounding dishes such as chocolate tiramisu napoleon. Additional starters include a selection of grilled flatbreads -- influence, no doubt, of co-owner Kate Jansen, formerly of the Firehook Bakery.

 
The business was not exactly brisk last evening so I had a good opportunity to chat with the amiable staff -- mostly with JB the young but well-versed bar tender, who I believe hails from Evening Star. I pressed the manager to get their website up ASAP. Apparently the menu will change frequently on the basis of availability of ingredients. Come one, come all to support this promising new establishment!

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Correction: Bartender at Willow formerly from Stardust vice Evening Star. All other "facts" in post above verified again last night in another very pleasurable evening passed at Willow. Sampled the "Blue Fire" grilled flatbread -- onions blue gorgonzola and thyme-- very yummy and along with the clams casino (getting addicted to these), washed down with a few glasses of Piedmontese Rorero Arneis proved to be a nice supper.

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Went last night, figuring their participation in the Katrina benefit night was a good excuse to try them. I wasn't expecting such a formal looking space. It's very nice, though, with plenty of warm lighting and wood. As Johnny said, the menu is mainly about classic French and Italian cooking. A couple of us shared a wild mushroom grilled flatbread to start that was phenomenal. The hint of truffle oil and the generous use of thyme really brought out the flavor of the mushrooms. I tried a bit of the gnocchi (in a fondue) as well, which I thought were as good as Palena's. For an entree, I had bacon crusted salmon with broccoli rabe, port sauce and cauliflower gratin. The bacon crust was excellent, sorta like it was coated with crispy bacon bits (but the salmon a bit overdone). Thought the best entree at our table, though, was the one vegetarian dish on the menu: a lentil ragu with some incredible artichokes (seemed like they were cooked with orange and something else I couldn't identify). A promising place.

Edited by cjsadler

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  I tried a bit of the gnocchi (in a fondue) as well, which I thought were as good as Palena's.  

This is a monster statement! Good to hear I work across the street and will have to try it sooner rather than later.

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We tried Willow on Saturday night. I agree with the poster that it is the nicest looking of the restaurants that have occupied this space. We started with the caesar salad, which were ok but somewhat overwhelmed by lemon. This was listed on the menu description, but it was far stronger than expected. The soups were quite good - a butternut squash bisque with shrimp and a corn chowder with a small crab cake. The entrees were also ok, but somewhat disappointing. The pork was breaded and a bit overcooked, which was surprising and detracted from what was a very nice cut of meat still on the bone. The spinach tartlet was a highlight, however. I could eat a larger version of that as an entree, and would love to be able to replicate it at home. My daughter and I shared the halibut with orzo. The fish itself was cooked perfectly and it was nicely complemented by the oranges and sauce, but there was way too much sauce on the plate and the sauce was too thin. The orzo was floating and the serving size was meager - there were barely two or three teaspoonfuls on the plate. We were also underwhelmed by the desserts. The triple chocolate mousse was served in a smaller wine glass and seemed almost too dense for a mousse, although we did order it without the berry sauce. The chocolate tiramisu napoleon looked and tasted neither like tiramisu nor a napoleon. While the cake part was ok, the thin chocolate wafers that separated the layers were inedible - we were not even able to cut them with a fork. All that said, we will try Willow again. We live in Arlington and are always looking to support local establishments and realize that new places usually need some time to grow.

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I had a great lunch in the bar at Willow today. The Mushroom bisque is solid and hearty, and the apple wood smoked bacon and gruyere sandwich was really tasty and came with a side of beets and picked string beans. Very tasty all around and that include the bartendress.. :lol:

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Very tasty all around and that include the bartendress.. :lol:

So Lindsey is back...She was under the weather yesterday and had to go home before I got there.

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Weeping Willow

Looking back, my expectations were somewhere along the lines of BalckSalt or Tallulah. I expected to find an outpost on an otherwise hollow corridor, at least culinary-wise.

Ask my dining companion, I even said in an e-mail before dinner that I was in the mood for "ham-fisted", feisty food. I wanted salt, I wanted starch, I wanted the opposite of Palena, Komi or Sushi-Ko...

I really dislike writing with so much ire, but actually this time, I think it's in your favor.

The meal started with appetizers, as usual:

Fried Zucchini & Ricotta Fritters, $ 7, oddly had an essence of lemon custard and came with a nutty-tasting dipping sauce of tomato and red pepper romesco. It was akin to something you'd find passed at a rather large book party catered by a corporate entity. Willow’s Clams Casino,  $10, were the best of the starting courses (I liked the clams themselves well enough). They're traditionally prepared with applewood smoked bacon, leek fondue (translation: leeks that looked and tasted liked scallions*) and lemon bread crumbs. I will say this, there is a huge abuse of something wonderfully simple at this place: lemon juice.

Trailing behind was the signature (Willow) flatbread, $16, which is matzah meets Cosi with wild mushrooms, lemon (a-fucking-gain), fontina, chives and white truffle essence. This dish reminded me of drinking a $200 bottle of wine with a microwaveable chicken potpie. Why? Because it was missing a huge element of acidity. It was screaming for really well-aged red or perhaps pickled fiddleheads. And there's a point where you just want to give the person with the bottle of truffle oil your middle finger... That flatbread is way overpriced.

The main we shared was the best dish of the night, but I can list at least two dozen places I'd go to get scallops again before this place.

The dayboat scallops were properly cooked and extremely generous in size. Three scallops, each resting on a slice of red-skinned potato with applewood smoked bacon and more wild mushrooms, afloat an overly buttery sauce. I think they were fine, but priced in the mid-twenties, there are other places I prefer to patronize.

Dessert (the pastry chef is one of the co-founders of Firehook Bakery, and I'm sure many of you know the history of Tracy O'Grady) was a pineapple semolina cake with ginger ice cream. It's essentially pineapple upside-down cake made with semolina flour, and I found it tasty, but a touch on the dry side (could perhaps use some alcohol).

Aye-yay-yay.

The space itself, the ambiance and Ballston are too depressing to touch on right now. The service at the bar, particularly one guy, was small town-enthusiastic, and he kept calling us grown adults, "kids."

I'm not weeping, I just won't go back.

The more apropos name might be Billow.

*whatever

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Has the pleasure to dine with three friends at Willow this Monday past. A rainy, damp night and Chef O'Grady made up for it. Shared the Willow flat bread - well worth the $16.00. For openers the wild mushroom Ravioli - on the mark. The rib-eye was beautiful - well sauced and well presented. Personally would have preferred a slightly thicker cut @ $26.post-633-1131072346_thumb.jpg The sides were perfect. Party also had the scallops which went over very well. post-633-1131072382_thumb.jpg The Pork rack didn't quite make it. post-633-1131072417_thumb.jpgWine list is short but with good selections. The wine guy was very helpful. We stated with the 2002 Les Combes Coteaux Languedoc and then the 2001 Atalon Napa Cab. The bread service was a little weird. One small roll per place and then a battle to get replacements. I have read a similar comment elsewere and wonder what is going on. Also the wine list pricing on the web and in house are off. Its a bear to keep them updated but must be donel. We finished with the tiramisu and chocolate parfait. A fine ending.post-633-1131072450_thumb.jpgpost-633-1131072477_thumb.jpg

All in all a very good experience - and a difficult audience - two dinners have worked in French kitchens with ten M stars between them. You have to show some stuff to make them happy. Chef O'Grady has the guts to go it alone. We hope to be back and wish her and her partners a long run. Still a few bugs to work out. But only with less then two months open sure she will get it right.

Edited by Jmahl

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I had the pleasure of enjoying a very good meal at Willow last night. Based on previous posts, I wasn't really sure what to expect, but I'm happy to report that food and service were on the mark.

Started with a glass of La Bete, La Fete “Cuvee Lambray”, Oregon, 2003 - mainly because I like the name, but taste wasn't bad either.

Five of us dined in the chef's tasting room (only because of a friend's acquaintance with someone on the management staff) - ordering from the menu. The room was very nice, cozy, but spacious for a party of our size.

The warm seckel pear and drunken goat cheese tart was my choice for a starter. The tart was as described - thinly sliced pear topping creamy goat cheese in a flaky pastry. Endive leaves sprinkled with toasted hazelnuts surrounded a salad of julienned endive and red onions dressed with a sherry vinaigrette. I also tasted the butternut squash and pumpkin soup and it was delicious - creamy and full of smoky, roasted flavor - proof of the server's earlier comment that Chef usually does a pretty good job with the soups. The scallion and Gala apple soup sounded interesting too... Others ordered clams casino and smoked salmon - no complaints were heard and clean plates were all that were left from the first course.

I, like others above, ordered the dayboat scallops (I had 5 in my order, wonder if Meaghan ate at the bar or if others complained about the scallop-to-dollar ratio too...) and thought the entire dish was wonderful. The scallops were huge and perfectly cooked - crispy and a beautiful golden-brown, top and bottom, but inside, mm - perfection! The sauce was light, and the mushroom and bacon accompaniment complemented nicely).

Others in the party ordered the lemon roasted chicken (2 VERY generous pieces), ribeye, bacon-crusted salmon, and (I believe) flounder.

Finished with the cookie and ice cream plate - bittersweet chocolate and peppermint ice creams accompanied by 4 mini cookies - peanut butter sandwich, a fantastic shortbread, less interesting chocolate sandwich, and a meringue strawberry cream sandwich.

With dinner - Vin de Pays des Herault, “Les Heretiques”, Iche, France 2003 - another one that caught my eye because of the name - but in addition to an interesting background story, it was also a decent drinkable red.

Service was attentive, professional, and efficient. There was a slight lag between first and mains, but not enough to be a problem. The bread was the only curiosity - as mentioned, small rolls, constantly refreshed, but I would have expected more variety or something more interesting from the founder of Firehook!

I thought the space was very tasteful and elegant. I could see going back to the bar for a glass of wine as well as enjoying another meal(s) there.

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My wife and I stopped by Willow after completing what I hope is our last Christmas shopping. We were both very happy with the service, and food.

For starters I had the Wild Mushroom Ravioli with Crispy Sweetbreads. This dish was nearly perfectly executed. The sweetbreads were perfect, my anti-offal wife even enjoyed the piece that I gave to her (until I told her that it was a sweetbread). The one complaint I had with this dish is that it is not served with a spoon. The loose filling makes it risky to pick-up the ravioli with a fork, lest it slip off the fork and fall back into the sauce causing it to splatter (no this did not happen to me).

My wife started with the Fontina and Proscuitto Fritters. These were delightful. The spicy sauce on the side brought it together perfectly. She said that the last bite was as good as the first, which is not always the case when eating breaded and fried food.

She wanted the Scallops for an entree, but they were not available. Instead she opted for the chicken. The bird was moist, with generous portions. She was less impressed by the carrots, as they did not really go well with the lemon sauce. I would agree, but I hate carrots so it would be very difficult to prepare them in a way that I would like.

My entree was the Bacon Crusted Norwegian Salmon. This was a nice entree. The crust was delicious, with just a hint of bacon, but also with plenty of fresh thyme, and crispy bread crumbs. This dish comes with two sides, garlic spinach and a gratin of artichokes. The spinach was nice and added to the overall flavor of the dish, however, I was flummoxed by inclusion of the artichokes. They were very nicely prepared (however, my wife did not like the breadcrumbs, but she is a purest about artichokes), but it was served as a separate dish, and did not add much to my over-all impression of what the chef was trying to convey.

We decided to share Kate's Cookies and Ice Cream. It was a nice way to finish the meal. I particularly enjoyed the peppermint ice cream that was matched with a scoop of chocolate. The cookies were also quite nice, my favorite being the cut out.

All-in-all it was an enjoyable night. I will say that the room is way too noisy, and they should do something to try and abate this. Otherwise I have no real complaints. We will definitely be making a second trip.

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Went to Willow last night, for the first time, with 2 friends. Overall: ok but not great. If I go back, and I assume I will because it is nearby to me, I will go to the bar and not the restaurant. My friends and I were in the "overflow" dining area, which needs some kind of decorating help. The reviewers are not kidding when they say you won't be too happy if you are in the overflow area. If you sit there, it feels like you are at a conference or banquet that was oversold, so the hotel had to open the extra room divider and you are sitting in never never land, missing out on the real event. The tables in this area are too close together, which made it all the more fun when, 5 minutes after we had sat down, a waiter tried to squeeze between our table and the adjacent one, carrying a chair over his head.

Not all of the menu items are available for restaurant week, (for example, not included are: the Willow flatbreads, the scallops, and the poached pear). The restaurant week menu is, however, pretty good, and offers a good cross section of the menu. There was a wine pairing option for an additional $15, and 2 of us had the wine pairings. The wines were ok but not great and I would not order those wines again, and there was only one wine offered per course, which meant my friend had port with his lemon sorbet. Not so great.

The service was ok, but not coordinated, too many people asked if we wanted to order drinks (after we had) and no bread was offered to us. I know the restaurant wants everyone to order the flatbreads, but would it be that hard to offer breadsticks or something?

The food: I had: the smoked salmon with potato latkes; roast chicken, and a walnut brownie with ice cream. The smoked salmon was very good (but the latkes were too dry to add much to the taste sensation), the chicken was great (and I liked the carrots!) and the brownies were ok, a little dry, but made better by the ice cream. I can't recall the wine pairings, except to say there was a white wine with the appetizers, a red with the mains and port with dessert. The port was nice with the brownies. Another friend (also having the restaurant week menu) had mushroom bisque (very good), the bacon crusted salmon (very good and served with a side of some kind of cauliflower puree and wilted spinach) and sorbets (fine, but not good with port!). My friend's wife did not choose from the restaurant week menu; she started with the potato gnocci (delicious), then had the scallops (really tasty and very, very large, but there were only 3 on the plate and while they were large scallops, I think there should have been at least 4 on the plate). She had the triple chocolate parfait for dessert, it was good.

The service was fine. Nothing remarkable. I will go back and sit in the bar area, where I think I will feel like there's better atmsophere and better value, somehow. Right now the food is better than the overall experience, but I'm still happy to have Willow in the area.

Edited by cucas87

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