If you have a special occasion in mind or just want a nice night out, venture to an elegant place that takes an American interpretation of French and Italian cuisine. At Willow Restaurant, the role of contrast in both the atmosphere and the dishes make for an exquisite dining experience where one has to expect the unexpected.
The atmosphere combines a traditional elegance with modern elements. The dark wood panels that divide sections of the restaurant give a look that is both polished and soothing. While the white table cloths and pin cushion chairs give an haute look, the chairs’ black trim, as well as the deep red walls, help to contemporize the interior.
A similar contrast is found with the restaurant’s two entrances: in the indoor entrance (attached to a building complex), customers are welcomed by a French-looking 1930s-esque portrait with an ornate frame. But from the outdoor side, an arrangement of tea candles that are perched on a fancy black frame against deep red wall makes way for a newer style.
The concept of contrasts also makes its way into the food. For an appetizer, the Seared Sea Scallops and Creamy Tomato Gratin ($11) is highly recommended. The scallops, which come in a dainty white ramekin dish, are mixed with fried croutons, red peppers and a creamy tomato and basil sauce that’s reminiscent of Italian cooking. It’s coupled with several pieces of bacon, which adds a hearty punch and an American flair to the soft, flavorful scallops and creamy sauce.
For lighter fare, the Summer Corn Chowder ($8) is sheer comfort food. The creamy soup comprised of square chunks of potatoes and sweet corn is a delightful combination alone, but the unexpected garnish of scallions and fried yucca strips that top the soup add a fine, crunchy texture that really complements the soup.
The restaurant’s grilled flatbreads (a fancy name for a thin-crust pizza) are a summer favorite. Try their signature, The Willow ($15), one of the handful of dishes distinctly marked as vegetarian. It is topped with mushrooms, thyme, fontina and parmesan cheeses. The large, square platter is enough for one person, but is also easily designed for sharing.
Another vegetarian dish that serves as a heavier entrée is the Ratatouille and Ricotta Cheese stuffed Squash Blossoms ($19). What originated as a southern French peasant dish of stewed vegetables has changed form for this recipe. Willow’s Ratatouille (not the new Disney/Pixar film), fills two green squash blossoms with finely diced vegetables and wraps them in an oily tempura shell. The filling’s creamy sauce makes for a cohesive element that combines the lively flavors from the diced vegetables. The drumstick-shaped tempuras are gracefully placed on top of a circular cornbread cake.
The Pepper Crusted Filet Mignon ($34) is simply amazing. The meat is just as smooth in flavor as it is tender and juicy. It’s topped with mushrooms in a sharp, red wine sauce that adds an appropriate character to the filet. The dish comes with a potato and smoked Gouda tart reminiscent of a quiche, but without the spongy, eggy consistency. It’s also sided with spirals of sweet, fried onion rings and a leafy, tangy-flavored garnish.
Save room for desert — one shouldn’t leave without trying the Grapefruit-White Chocolate Mousse cake ($7). The teardrop-shaped layer cake joins bits of grapefruit with mousse in an intriguing and original combination. Served on a large plate, the slice is surrounded by circles of passion fruit sauce and pieces of grapefruit. To top it off, thin strands of caramelized orange rind are placed on top.
With pleasant service and a unique spin on traditional dishes, a fine dining experience at Willow Restaurant will surely be coupled with a fine time.
4301 Fairfax Drive
Arlington, VA 22203