Willow, Ballston, VA

Every time I go to Willow, I keep wanting to break away from the bar menu, but I can’t: it’s too cheap, and it’s too good.

Warm Gruyères Cheese Puffs ($5) with black truffle butter is a huge portion – about six or seven tennis ball-sized puffs that gougère themselves as you bite into them. I’ve had these numerous times in the past, and they’ve always ranged from very good to outstanding (last night they were very good).

Pork Spring Rolls ($5), however, were outstanding. A pile of bite-sized, perfectly fried, crispy rolls with a dipping sauce of soy, ginger, and lime mignonette. Get these.

So Willow finally had the audacity to raise some of their bar-menu items from $5 to $6. (About time, I say.)

Tuna & Bacon Sliders ($6) had the tuna and bacon combined and minced into something of a salmon-cake texture. Two little sandwiches, topped with some avocado mayonnaise and served with a bit of fried basil (!) that is simply Rasika-esque.

Swordfish Tacos ($6) were as great as the spring rolls, two of them, with spicy slaw and mango vinaigrette. I cannot think of a fish taco currently being served in the area that I like more than these. Get them.

For the third time in four nights, I had a flatbread (the other two being at American Flatbread and Birch and Barley), this time a half-portion of The Willow ($9) with wild mushrooms, lemon, thyme, Fontina, Parmesan, and white truffle essence. I was hoping for a bit more lemon-y cut, but this is primarily a cheese-based flatbread (not a bad thing, but I’ll try a different one next time around — they currently have eight flatbreads on their menu). And then there’s the dining room menu which remains neglected by me, and is fading into a distant memory. I’m sorry!

One day, one day soon, I will order another entree at Willow, my favorite restaurant in Ballston (by far, unless you consider Pupatella part of Ballston). It inexplicably remains one of the most underrated restaurants in the DC area. If you haven’t gone there before, go and sit at the bar, have a chat with Jim & Company, and dine like a prince for a pauper’s sum.

As a side observation, it’s interesting to see how young the bar crowd is compared to the dining room crowd (I’d bet the average age discrepancy is pushing twenty years); the two areas are very separate, and it’s almost as if they’re two completely different restaurants.

Parking is $3 in the garage below.

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