Restaurant Week Summer 2014: Pizzeria Orso and Willow Rocked It

During this past week, I went to Pizzeria Orso and Willow two times apiece. On one visit, I got the three-course Restaurant Week menus for $35.14, and on the other visit, I ordered a few small plates a la carte (this was at both restaurants). The results:

Pizzeria Orso

Visit One – Knowing it was Restaurant Week, I got to the bar early, and yearning to be a hipster, I ordered a shot of Jameson ($7) and a bottle of Highland Brewing Company Gaelic Ale ($5, sorry folks, I don’t do PBR or Natty Boh) from Ashville, NC. Truly, the Jameson brought out a malty component in the Gaelic Ale, so it was a nice pairing. Then, things started appearing (I was fingered by Will Artley): a daily special of Risotto with Shrimp, Asparagus, and Sun-Dried Tomatoes which was absolutely delightful and the highlight of the meal, a trilogy of Lamb Meatballs, each served in its own little compartment with a few little extras (a reduced sauce, halved cherry tomatoes, etc.), and a delightful Grilled Butternut Squash and Lentil  Salad  that amplified the simplicity of the squash. I added these up, and put everything dollar-for-dollar on the tip in addition to the normal tip amount. Needless to say, there was attention to detail with these dishes, but I looked around, and they were the exact same thing others were getting (I have absolutely no moral problems accepting the chef’s recommendations as to ‘what’s good tonight’ *as long as* I pay for it all.

Visit Two – My second visit was on Saturday, and Matt (my son) and I got the Deal of the Century: Pizzeria Orso’s Restaurant Week special: 2 appetizers (anything on the left page – which does not include salads), any 2 pizzas, and any 2 desserts for $35.14 … *total*. That’s thirty-five dollars for two diners! I again started with the Highland Brewing Company Gaelic Ale, and then we split everything else: Grilled Octopus with artichoke purée and white bean ragu, Spring Corn Agnolotti with smoked eggplant and pea sauce, a Fun Guy pizza with wild mushroom, mozzarella, fontina and parmesan, a Crudo pizza with tomato, basil, mozzarella, prosciutto, arugula, and shaved grana, a Tiramisu, and a Carrot Cake. For $35.14, I felt like a thief having had all this food – it’s the best Restaurant Week deal I’ve ever seen, and if they run it in the future, *get it*.

Willow 

Visit One – Yeah, I had the hipster thing going on again, with a shot of Jameson and a pint of Bell’s IPA (I don’t remember the price of these drinks), but when I did get around to eating, I opted for the Restaurant Week menu ($35.14). For my app, entree, and dessert, I got the Summer Picnic Salad – a fantastic salad (with watermelon), the picture of which was the thing that originally enticed me to come in, and then one of the best renditions of Fried Chicken I’ve had in the area. While only two pieces, it was something closer to a half chicken because of the way it was butchered. I believe this, or some variant of it, is on Willow’s regular menu, and I cannot recommend it highly enough: Get it the next time you come in and sit at a table – I promise you’ll thank me. And for dessert, Peach Shortcake. For $35.14, I could not have been happier, and while I’m typing this, I’m literally salivating thinking about that fried chicken.

Visit Two – On Sunday, I stopped in again because it had occurred to me to do this article (two restaurants, two visits each, one visit, RW; the other, not – seemed like a good idea to me). I started with a Pimm’s Cup ($10) – delicious, but boy I could swear it was made with celery soda instead of the advertised ginger drink (regardless, the final outcome was worth ordering). Then I got three little plates from the “Nosh Bar Menu” which, surprisingly, filled me up to the point where I couldn’t finish them all: the always-wonderful Gougères ($6.50), one of the best food items in town for the money, and a monstrous plate of about eight baseball-sized cheese puffs (I suppose they’re more adequately called cheese puffs, but when they’re “on,” they’re darned close to being large Gougères), served with a ramekin of addicting black truffle sauce. If you’ve never had these, do yourself a favor and get them. Then, Polyface Farms Deviled Eggs ($5.50), a surprisingly generous order of perfectly made (albeit too cold) halved eggs – it just needed a good fifteen minutes to warm towards room temperature. Finally, the most sophisticated dish I had all week, and surprisingly, the only real miss of the week (albeit not by much): the Trio Of Corn ($9) which was flan, somewhat spicy grilled corn off the cob, and corn ravioli. The only reason this was a miss was because of a lack of adequate seasoning which, in reality, means “salt.” Between the flan and the ravioli, there was plenty of butter in this dish, and *lots* of fresh corn flavor – what more could it possibly need than salt? And, perhaps a better question: Why didn’t I simply ask for a salt shaker? It’s a good question, and I don’t have a good answer for it.

Well, there’s my Restaurant Week for Summer of 2014. Two restaurants that deserve merit badges for both their Restaurant Week menus, and their a la carte small plates, despite them being absolutely slammed all week. I could not have been happier with Pizzeria Orso or Willow – two of the best-kept secrets in the DC area (you can’t really call Pizzeria Orso a secret, but its lunch special certainly is, and I haven’t even gotten into that).

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