There's nothing I dislike more in a restaurant than expensive dishes that I can easily duplicate at home (and probably make better myself). That's why I really like Willow Restaurant in Arlington, VA! Their menu is constantly changing with interesting variations on some classic dishes, but they're not your run-of-the-mill dishes -- the kind that a quick search on the internet turns up a similar recipe in just a few secones.
Take for instance, the homemade sausage-wrapped rack of pork. The pork is cooked just a little pink in the middle, juicy and tender. The homemade sausage packed around the pork is moist, and adds just enough spicy flavor to the dish that it doesn't overpower the pork. Add to each bite a little slice of the caramelized cipollini onions on the side, and you've got a very good fall dish. Yes, if I had enough time, I could probably duplicate this dish on my own, but only after preparing all of the ingredients for a whole day.
I haven't really had anything I dislike at Willow yet. So far, between Amy and I, we've tried a good variety of dishes at Willow. Our favorite appetizer by far is the Fritto Misto platter, which is a bunch of little fried appetizers including cheesy prosciutto fritters, chorizo-stuffed olives (by far the best thing in the dish), and blue cheese-stuffed dates. These were so good the first time we tried them, that we ordered them again on our second trip.
One thing I noticed on the menu, the chef sure likes to wrap meat. Half of the dishes were some kind of meat that was wrapped in something, or a meat wrapped in another meat, or some other combination like that. Luckily I like meats wrapped in stuff, like the pastrami-wrapped albacore tuna, which reminds me a lot of the old speck-wrapped white tuna at Komi that I miss so much, or a potato-wrapped salmon. The salmon came with these amazing little ricotta cheese pancakes, that added a nice tang to the dish. The wrapping is mainly a presentation thing, I believe, for which the Willow chefs get top grades.
I don't usually care much about atmosphere, but I have to say that Willow has done a good job creating a nice dining environment. The dining room is quiet, but not so quiet that you can hear the conversations going on next to you, and the tables are also nicely spaced so you don't feel cramped. The bar area is fairly large and seems to always have space to sit. Last Saturday night, I couldn't get a reservation for a table, so instead, any and I just went and dined at the bar.
Service goes above and beyond as well, and the servers have a lot of information about the food and wine being served. Out waiter for our first visit was particularly knowledgeable about the wine, suggesting a buttery Pinot Blanc to go with our seafood dishes while telling us about the vineyard, how the wine is produced, as well as hints on serving temperatures.
With the food so good and portions as large as they are, it's hard to save much room in your stomach for dessert, and therefore, I haven't had as much experience with them. But do yourself a favor and try the sticky toffee pudding cake, a small moist cake topped with ice cream and covered in caramel sauce. My only complaint is that Willow doesn't have any cheese to go with their very excellent wine list. I was really craving cheese one night rather than a sweet dessert, but they don't appear to have any.
As I said before, portions are very large and the prices are very reasonable because of that. The most expensive entree, the pastrami-wrapped tuna, is $27. Wines can range in value. Looking at the prices of Willow's wine list from their web site, I see some wines are only $10 over retail, but others have a much higher markup. With a bottle of wine (and sometimes more), a single dessert, apps, and entrees for two, our average check was about $140 -- well worth the price in my opinion. There's nothing worse than getting a check at the end of the night and thinking that the meal wasn't worth nearly as much as you're paying, but at Willow, that thought has never crossed my mind.
4301 Fairfax Drive
Arlington, VA 22203
Dress Code: Business/Dress Casual
Parking: There is a parking lot around the corner on Taylor St. Parking is free with validation from the restaurant.
Closest Metro: Ballston
Reservations: Taken and recommended. Although there's usually space at the bar if you can't get a reservation.
Baby-Child friendly rating: 1 diaper.
Amy's Bathroom Rating: Very nice and kept clean.