4301 N. Fairfax Drive
Arlington, VA 22203
CUISINE Modern American, International
PRICE $$$ ($21-$30)
HOURS Open for lunch, Monday through Friday, dinner, Monday through Saturday.
NVM AWARDS Best Restaurant 2007
Best Restaurant 2008
Best Restaurant 2009
Best Restaurant 2010
Best Restaurant 2012
NEARBY METRO Orange(Ballston-MU)
By Warren Rojas
Food: 8.3 Ambiance: 8.2 Service: 8.0
My server, obviously assuming that my thousand-yard stare meant I was clueless about what to order, leaned in and shared a little secret. He suggested that chef/owner Tracy O’Grady’s burgers are so outstanding—homemade sauces, gourmet toppings—he deliberately limits himself to only one per week “so when I do eat it, it’s something special.”
You, sir, were not lying.
One monstrous double stack reveals twin patties of hickory-smoked beef gripping caramelized onions, sautéed trumpet mushrooms and melted havarti. A tamarind steak sauce (awesome stuff) rides shotgun.
Seared day boat scallops (buttery yet sweet specimens) are cradled in a nest of fried potato twists, while streams of creamed salsify (mesmerizing), truffles (inky black turned to culinary gold) and butter (rich to the core) flow beneath.
Supremely fluffy chocolate layer cake—“It’s not even sweet. It’s smooth,” one companion (a career chocoholic) decreed—is slathered in hypnotic hazelnut frosting.(November 2009)
By Warren Rojas
Food: 8 Ambiance: 8.1 Service: 7.2
Willow sways between dining showcase for visiting guests and neighborhood retreat where the barkeeps have a gin and tonic waiting for you before you slide onto your favorite stool.
Chef/owner Tracy O’Grady flirted with a craft brew and flatbread deal (sorry it’s gone), but opted to broaden her customer base instead with a slew of mouthwatering bar snacks (portabello “fries,” avocado- and bacon-topped salmon sliders).
Too bad her goodwill is so casually undermined by staff.
During one tragic turn we waited—and waited—for water refills (10 minutes), overdue entrees (over an hour) and even absentee checks. (The entire ugly episode capped by an exasperated neighbor rattling his ice-filled glass at no one in particular, ranting, “I’m thirsty. I NEED something to drink.”)
One summer refresher swirls cucumber and ripe avocado (brings luxurious heft to partnership) in a chilled brew.
Spinach tart, brimming with molten cheese and stout greens, overpowers filet medallions devoid of any real seasoning.
Calamari gets top billing on a signature flatbread. But the real stars are the wonderfully evocative savory, roasted tomatoes and lemon confit riding astride the bubbled-up dough.(November 2008)
By Warren Rojas
Food: 8.4 Ambiance: 8.6 Service: 8.5
The antithesis of D.C.’s power dining spots, Willow seems more comfortable being the type of place where ties are loosened and PDAs gladly cradled in anticipation of a down-to-earth meal.
Co-owners Kate Jansen (pastry chef) and Tracy O’Grady (executive chef) lead by example at their homey Arlington restaurant, stepping out of the kitchen as needed to answer phones, refill water glasses or hand-deliver surprise sweets to birthday celebrants.
Not that there’s any reason to rush right into dessert.
One smoky tomato-and-red pepper potion provides comfort by the spoonful. Chorizo-stuffed olives pack a nifty briny-swine punch. Grilled gouda sandwiches and deviled eggs dial back the healthfulness of a tarragon-shallot-spritzed salad, but who’s counting (calories, that is)?
Lobes of foie gras-stuffed chicken are all airy richness and tender meat—until you happen upon the Savoy cabbage and zucchini salad (strong stuff). The signature sticky toffee pudding cake—“our most popular dessert of all time,” according to one server—summons a spice- and nut-filled pleaser topped with rotating chillers (caramel-crusted vanilla was a favorite).(December 2007)
By Warren Rojas
Food: 8.8 Ambiance: 8.6 Service: 7.2
Willow may no longer be the new kid on the block, but experience appears to have imbued chef Tracy O’Grady with the wisdom required to carry the restaurant into its golden years.
A popular spot along the Ballston corridor, Willow was plagued early on by issues of scattershot service, uneven cooking and just generally too high expectations. Staff now seems to have settled into a comfortable rhythm, popping up at regular intervals or at least apologizing ahead of time if they know they need to sew things up elsewhere before turning their full attention to you. Next up: Stop whisking unfinished plates back to the kitchen, only to return empty-handed (those were leftovers, and they were mine).
The food that does make it out to the tables is typically worth fighting for.
The bread surrounding an applewood-smoked bacon and gruyere BLT is stained sunrise orange from all the glorious bacon fat (jackpot!). Blue cheese-stuffed dates are absolute showstoppers. Salmon baked beneath a parchment-like potato crust (quite tasty) is almost upstaged by playfully sweet ricotta pancakes. Sultry pork chops enveloped in a second skin of homemade sausage (makes its bacon-wrapped contemporaries seem totally lazy) are escorted by a mesmerizing cipollini and salsify tart. Bite-sized peanut butter sandwich cookies never fail to please, nor does the sinfully rich dark chocolate layer cake.(February 2006)
By Warren Rojas
The clientele is definitely image-conscious (jeans are designer, suits custom tailored). The design scheme suggests contemporary chic. And the kitchen can shift gears from playful (grilled flatbreads) to poignant (bacon-crusted salmon) almost effortlessly.
Sounds like the only ones weeping are those that can’t get a reservation at Willow in Ballston.
The thoroughly modern floor plan is big on flow and open spaces. Patrons can select from a plethora of different seating arrangements, including a group of well-appointed tables in the main dining room, a private tasting room (The Cave), a semiprivate side room (the Crystal Room), a hideaway sofa near the bar, and a handful of sweetheart booths in the main lobby. You can also toss back a specialty cocktail or two—bartenders unveil new drinks every few weeks—or grab a quick bite at the main bar.
Fried fontina and prosciutto fritters are extra cheesy and come with an engaging tomato purée. The smoked salmon and potato latkes keep things interesting, pairing the paper-thin cuts of salmon and extra crispy shoestring swirls with a potent horseradish crème fraîche. Most of the signature flatbreads—gourmet pizza by any other name—are vegetarian-friendly and feature dynamic duos like caramelized onions and buttermilk blue cheese (the Blue Fire) or wild mushroom and lemon (the Willow).
A roasted chicken (crispy skin, hints of thyme) displays a distinctly citrus zest, while potato wedges receive abundant TLC from au jus gravy. A monstrous rib-eye comes nicely marbled, smothered with button mushrooms in a red wine sauce and some silky-smooth mashed potatoes (loaded with Gouda). Strong closers include a port-roasted pear topped with a hypnotic blue cheese crème fraîche (the pear is sweet but not pronounced, while the mini pie crust adds a graham-crackery finish) or a dreamy triple chocolate parfait featuring white and dark chocolate and served wtih a shot of hyper tart mixed berries on the side.