Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Early Birthday Dinner with the Fam

Seared yellow fin tuna with lentils, turnip gratin and broccoli rabe.

Seeing as Malia and I are going to be throwing our own party next weekend, we wanted to share a quiet bday dinner with our family. Malia and I had heard good things about Willow Restaurant, conveniently located by the Ballston Metro. I was a little worried I wouldn't be able to enjoy dinner, because I had been suffering a nasty cold, but luckily the weather decided to warm up just for me (right?)

Cornbread, asiago cheese biscuit, and sweet wheat roll.

The entrance of the restaurant was warmly lit by candlelight highlighting the rich wooden floors. The red hughes are inviting, and the casually dressed wait staff give the place a comforting atmosphere. Unlike some upscale restaurants I felt like I could actually eat here.

Surveying the menu, I spotted a butternut squash soup, one of my weaknesses. I knew I would have to start with that, as well as their wild mushroom flatbread to be shared with the table. Malia ordered a beet salad, Veronica and my dad, the organic field greens salad, and my mom, the salmon carpacchio. My dad ordered a bottle of prosecco to celebrate our almost 24th birthday.

Butternut squash soup with scallions and toasted pepitas.

Beet (they're hidden) salad with pears, candied walnuts, blue cheese, and frisee.

Smoked salmon carpacchio with sour cream, beets, and potato latkes.

The Willow - flatbread with fontina, wild mushrooms, and truffle butter.

While we waited for our sparkling wine to arrive, we were served three different rolls. I love it when restaurants do something special like this. Individual wheat rolls, cornbread, and an asiago cheese biscuit were served to each of our bread plates warm from the oven. The overall favorite was the wheat roll, a soft slightly sweet bread that really hit the spot. The cornbread was nice with a kernel of fresh corn here and there. The asiago cheese biscuit was a little dry, but the tangy cheese was a nice touch.

Our wine was brought out. The sommelier was very informative, sharing that this bottle was one of his favorite proseccos because it has a lot of flavor compared to others. He let us keep the tag that tells you exactly what row of grapes the wine was produced from - pretty neat!

The appetizers came out quickly thereafter. My mom enjoyed her salmon, but felt that the accoutrements of beets, sour cream, and potato latkes took away from the simple yet elegant flavors of the fish. I enjoyed the soup, but felt that the butternut squash flavors were slightly overpowered by the cream in the dish. The scallions and pepitas were a nice textural and flavor contrast to the sweetness of the soup. The field greens and beet salads were enjoyed by all parties, with a special fondness for the roasted almonds found in the former. The flatbread was my favorite appetizer - the dough was crisp, the cheeses sharp, and the mushrooms earthy. I was sad that our waiter forgot to wrap it up for us to take home.

Flounder with crab and artichoke heart crust with zucchini, tomatoes, gnocchi, and littleneck clams.

Potato wrapped rockfish with brussel sprouts, bacon, and ricotta pancakes.

Pan seared scallops in a potato 'boat' with broccoli rabe.

Our entrees took quite some time to arrive after we had finished our appetizers. While the hostess came over to let us know our entrees would be out shortly, we weren't super impressed with our server. We weren't sure what caused the delay, but were quite ready to dig in when our plates were set down.

The portions are rather large, without sacrificing quality of flavor. Often times I feel that restaurants pile their plates with food without paying as close attention to the quality of the preparation. This was not the case at Willow. The presentation of the dishes was beautiful. I especially enjoyed the potato basket that my mom's the sweet buttery scallops were served in. Her dish was probably the smallest, but still filling.

My dad really enjoyed his potato crusted rockfish. Strings of potato are wrapped around the fish which is then seared or baked, creating a crispy exterior that contrasts the sweet soft flesh. This dish was served with some light and fluffy ricotta pancakes.

Malia's yellow fin tuna was a little well done for her medium liking, but overall the flavors were great, especially the salty and smoky lentils. Veronica and I enjoyed the light yet flavorful crab and artichoke heart crusted flounder. The tomatoes, zucchini, and basil gave it a definite Italian flare. The butter added a richness that wasn't overpowering and was nicely complimented by the lemon juice and briny capers. The gnocchi were a nice treat, but a little too starchy.

Overall, we were thoroughly stuffed. I would definitely go back, and would love to try some of their desserts. I have heard the sticky toffee pudding cake is divine.

Time to blow out the candles!

While the thought of ordering dessert was tempting, we had a delicious cake waiting for us at home, baked by my mom. Homemade desserts baked by your mother just can't be beat. I had been craving gingerbread all winter and had yet to taste any, so my mom was gracious enough to fulfill my request. Malia was down for some ginger cake as well, with cream cheese frosting being her favorite! Malia also had the honor of blowing out the candles for the both of us, as I did not want to contaminate the cake for everyone. My mom had to help her. She is not used to blowing them out all by herself. Hahaha.

Ginger cake with cream cheese frosting.

This cake packed some punch with a whole cup of fresh minced ginger going into the batter. The spiciness was awesome, and the molasses gave it great color and depth of flavor. The cream cheese frosting was sweet and tangy - the perfect pairing for the ginger cake. I could seriously eat this frosting all by itself. Super good for me, right? But it's my bday and I'll do what I want to! Hands down this cake takes the cake. It was the highlight of the evening for me (oh and the wonderful company of course).

Ginger Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Ginger Cake:


3 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
8 oz (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted
1 1/2 cup sugar
2/3 cup unsulfured molasses
2 large eggs
1/3 cup hot water
9 oz fresh ginger, peeled and minced (1 cup)


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Whisk dry ingredients in a bowl. Cream butter and sugar wiith a mixer until light and fluffy. Add molasses to butter mixture and then eggs one at a time.

Reduce speed to low and add dry ingredients to bowl in 3 additions. Alternate with hot water, ending with dry ingredients. Pour batter into 13x9 in pan. Bake for 30 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean. Let cool fully before frosting.

Cream Cheese Frosting


1 stick butter
1 8 oz package cream cheese
1 lb confectioner's sugar


Let butter and cream cheese soften at room temperature. Combine butter, cream cheese, and sugar. Blend until smooth.

2.5 out of 3 JAMs

4301 N Fairfax Drive
Arlington, VA 22203

2 out of 3 JAM

1 comment:

Malia said...

Yea, yea make fun of my inability to blow out the candles. What can I say, being a twin has prevented me from ever needing the lung capacity to blow out an entire cake full of candles. Lol. Delcious, delicious, delicious meal! ;)