Willow Introduces In-House Bistro, Retail Bakery

by ARLnow.com September 15, 2011 at 3:30 pm 5,456 42 Comments

Willow Restaurant in Ballston is expanding — but without expanding its size.

The six-year-old restaurant has launched two new dining/food concepts inside the existing restaurant. The two eateries-inside-an-eatery– called Nosh… A Willowesque Bistro and Kate at Willow bakery — began serving customers last night.

Nosh introduces bistro-style dining as a half-way point between Willow’s white tablecloth main dining room and its less formal and less extensive bar menu. Nosh is located near the restaurant entrance, in a space that was previously “underutilized” as a lounge-y waiting area.

“Set amidst stained glass windows and gleaming black granite tables in Willow’s main vestibule, Nosh will offer a constantly changing roster of small and large dishes fit to carry the Willow name,” according to the restaurant. “No reservations are needed at Nosh, making it the perfect spot to drop by whether you are already in the neighborhood or venturing out from afar.”

Chef and co-owner Tracy O’Grady says that one thing that will set Nosh’s menu apart from other local bistro-style dining establishments is the use of vegetables. While others may emphasize combinations of meats, cheeses and frites, Nosh takes a more balanced approach. For instance, a flavorful chicken sausage is served with a heirloom scarlet runner bean stew and a succotash of corn and zucchini. And while the slow-roasted pork belly may not come with veggies, its offset by veggie-only dishes like the spicy stewed chick peas and kale.

“A far cry from common pub fare, the Nosh menu will feature a wide variety of vegetarian and fresh fish options along with dishes to satisfy any conscientious carnivore,” the restaurant says.

Between Nosh and the main dining room is the new bakery counter, Kate at Willow. Pastry chef Kate Jansen is responsible for the bakery, which will offer its “high-end and beautiful” cookies, cupcakes, bars, brownies, tarts and cakes to walk-in retail customers. Many of the goodies will also be available as desserts to Willow diners.

Most of the items on the bakery menu were not previously offered in the restaurant. Among the offerings are sticky toffee pudding cake, s’mores sandwich cookies, ginger scones, pineapple upside-down cupcakes, key lime tarts, and red velvet cakes.

O’Grady says that Nosh and Kate were conceived earlier this year with all customers in mind, but she’s especially hoping to attract a neighborhood crowd with the new offerings — not just Ballston’s workday professional crowd.

“We need to service the neighbors too, the people who live here,” she said. “It’s been an evolution for us… As the neighborhood grows, we’re growing with it.”

More photos, after the jump.

  • Chris

    I live 2 blocks from Willow but rarely eat there. I had the flatbread, which was not so great and the scallops which were really good. But I find Grand Cru more inviting for some reason. The Nosh menu may draw me back though.

    • Captain Obvious

      I feel exactly the opposite. Grand Cru to me is overpriced and unimpressive.

    • Just Me

      I have been to Willow many times and have always been happy, Grand Cru is also good. We are lucky to have them.

    • Baja

      Willow is fantastic; an upscale dining room with nice, but more casual bar, ‘bistro’, and outside seating – perfect for a marginally more mature, professional crowd than your average R-B corridor restaurant. The dinner entrees aren’t cheap, but they’re certainly not out of line with comparable fare in the area, use great ingredients, and are well prepared (the sausage crusted pork rack is amazing, as is the pepper-crusted steak, among others).

      The bistro and bar menus are quite reasonably priced and are still of high quality – great for after work (good happy hour) or for a more low key weekend meal. I will admit that the service can be hit or miss (we’ve had snobby and completely clueless), but Jim, Sabrina, Elizabeth and Daniel are great at the bar, and Gabby’s our favorite waitress ever (she doesn’t work there full time). The management has always promptly and courteously resolved any issues brought to their attention. We’re lucky to have Willow!

  • charlie

    best restaurant in town.
    enjoy. costly but worth it.

    • Yep

      Definitely the best restaurant in town.
      If this new bistro menu is less pricey and has a tapas type menu I think it will do great. I’ll be going there a lot more if this is the case.

    • Suburban Not Urban

      I think the food is quite good, and maybe the best in Ballston and maybe even Arlington, but if by town you mean inside the beltway or DC Metro, then you don’t get to many good restaurants.

      • charlie

        it is an expression.
        but i do subscribe to car-free life (at least on the weekends) so most of my life is in Arlington.

  • full

    I’ve eaten there twice. Both times the food has been good (and when I sent something back it was immediately replaced iwth something yummy). Trouble is, I felt SICK after each meal. It doesn’t feel like that much food at the time, but I don’t know if they use the old chef’s trick of incorporating tons of butter in their cooking, or what they do, but I don’t think I’ll go back. (and, to quote Queen Latifah, “I am not one of those salad eating chicks….”)

  • G Clifford Prout

    Always had a good meal. Great service.

  • Greg

    I always liked Willow, although I think I’ve only been twice. I’m glad to see they are evolving. I’ll have to try the new space.

    I feel like that’s a tough location, even though it seems so central. Anyone remember what was there before? Gaffney’s? Was it a Bistro Bistro before that?

    • Ballston Chick

      Going backwards I think Gaffney’s, Bistro Bistro, then Jacques’?

      • charlie

        Cappuccino and… Shlotsky’s (partly) and United Airlines ticket office.
        and Wally’s Aquarium before ANY of you moved here (except maybe Bluemont)

        • Bluemontsince1961

          It was Wally’s Aquarium back in the day.

          • charlie

            i knew you’d come thru. that place was so cool. and I’m pretty certain comic-boy-guy from the Simpsons ran the place.

  • Dede

    Wasn’t it an Irish place?

    • Aaron

      Gaffney’s was an oyster bar/seafood kind of place, more like Old Ebbitt’s Grill than an upscale Red Lobster. I regretfully always perceived it to be a lot more meatheadish than it actually was and didn’t become a consistent patron until a year or two before it closed. I wish, in retrospect, that I had never set foot in Rio Grande on any occasion beyond the first.

      I have liked Willow a lot, but my only complaint is that the dining room is just a bit too formal for anything other than three- or four-course special occasion dining and the bar isn’t comfortable enough for a meal in the bar area. Hopefully Nosh will bridge the gap.

  • nugget

    Food at Willow has always been mediocre, especially for the price. Bigger problem is utterly inattentive staff. Hosts, bartenders and wait staff are consistently bad. Once had a barmaid keep filling my wine glass (unsolicited), then try to charge me for it. A friend’s wife found a worm in her salad.

    • Yep

      Weird, I’ve never had that experience. That’s disgusting about the worm if true. Did they at least comp her? How the f could a worm get in a salad?

  • lyon park

    What the hell is a bisto?

    • Yep

      I wondered that as well.

      • Yep

        Oh, they fixed it. Now our comments look stupid.

    • Nope

      What the hell is a lyon park?

  • Art Deco

    Willow is the standard by which I judge all other restaurants in their price range. No one uses the quality ingredients that Willow uses to create their dishes. You have to go to DC to find better and expect to pay dearly for it.

  • Aaron

    Went there once, never been back.

    Others have mentioned it here, the service stinks. As 20-somethings on a date, we could not have been treated more poorly. They just didn’t care. Flatbreads also poor for price. Live in Ballston, but this is on my blacklist/

    • charlie

      well i don’t think it is a place for 20-somethings… if you are a normal regular 20 something… most aren’t dressed right for dinner…
      i don’t know you, so it is more about 20-somethings than you.

  • Spike

    Willow is awful. They think they are upscale. The chef is slightly better than the McDonald’s fry cook. Service is almost as good as 7-11 – good luck with this venture – ugh.

    • Uhhh…

      Seriously? I think Willow is the best restaurant in Arlington by far. What do you think is better? I think the chef at Willow is amazing.
      Offer some suggestions that you think are better than Willow in the immediate Arlington area, if not then why post something like this?

      • Spike

        Well, as a former chef, I do know quite a bit about food quality and service as well. That you think Willow is the best – kudos. It simply is not. Each establishment has pros and cons and while those are personal taste (no pun intended), overall, I stand by the assessment of Willow – and I’ve visited a couple of times to level the playing field.

        • charlie

          are you a former-chef at Willow?

        • Uhhh…

          You still offered no other restaurants in Arlington you think are better. You sound like you have some sort of agenda towards Willow and their chef. I don’t know anyone personally who doesn’t agree their food is fantastic, and I’m a self described food snob.

  • JimPB

    Wow — the appraisals for at the extremes (best, worse). Is there an explanation for such divergent views? The eye of the beholder and/or variances in more objective measures?

    • Aaron

      food is very subjective. My guess: The kitchen has good and bad nights, so lack of consistency is the flaw.

    • Uhhh…

      Well let’s see. I’m see it gets 3.5 out of 5 stars on Yelp. 4 out of 5 stars on Open Table. 4 out of 5 stars on trip advisor. It’s an editors pick on the Washington Post. Not sure how it’s rated in Zagat since I don’t have a subscription. Seems like it gets mostly favorable reviews though. I wonder if the haters are affiliated with other restaurants in the area 😉

  • Ron

    I’ve found the two fish platters fantastic, as has my gf. Highly recommend the proscuitto wrapped tuna steak. The sides are always interesting and something I don’t get at many other restaurants. Wine selection is great for mid priced wine and have actually come home and ordered bottles we’ve had there. The markup didn’t seem to be as bad as other places either. As for comments about service, never had that problem, but we always get the same waiter (Jean Marc) who is from the Bordeaux region of France and always get great service. Looking forward to trying the choc chip cookie with cinnamon!

  • BallstonDweller

    Glad to hear the mention of more vegetarian…their vegetarian options are limited and hit or miss. I would definitely go more if they had more I could eat. I liked the drink selections and ambiance.

  • Rebecca

    Willow is a nice place… the food is good but not amazing (Tallula and Eventide are both significantly better), the prices are too high, the atmosphere is stuffy and the waitstaff DOES seem to look down on younger people. (And yes, we were dressed appropriately for dinner, good grief.) If they want to “connect with the neighborhood” maybe they should try to fix that snobby attitude first.

    • charlie

      i’m sure you are nicely dressed. but honestly i see so many people who aren’t. and i’m pretty relaxed about stuff but shorts and flip flops don’t belong at a place like Willow. jeans just barely. i’ve seen people at WIllow and I’ve wanted to say, shouldn’t you be at Whitlows. The names do sound the same. :0

  • Local Oyster Lover

    Would love it if they served oysters, either at the bar or the new Nosh, a la Old Ebbitt or Gaffneys.

  • Matt B

    I welcome the bistro concept. I one block away from the restaurant. We only go there once in a blue moon. The food is generally good, although consistency is something they have struggled with for several years now. It is a little on the pricy side. When they did the $5 tapas bar menu a year or two ago that was a big hit, so this is likely a good sign.

    They need to channel the success, quality and consistency of Liberty Tavern and Tallula.

  • Michelin Guide

    No one has has the most important question: Will this new venue serve pizza and cupcakes?

  • Shell

    Michelin Guide – LOL YES!!
    Bakery menu shows Cup Cakes To Go

    Pineapple Upside-down Cupcake
    Red Velvet Cupcake
    New Cupcake of the Week

    they caved to the cupcake craziness.

    And does their flat breads count as pizza-ish?


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