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Photo courtesy of Willow’s Facebook page

We had yet another fantastic Restaurant Week meal at Willow in Arlington on Thursday. It was my first visit (Anupama’s been twice before) and I had been dreaming about the description of the vegetarian entree since looking at the menu a few weeks ago.

We were greeted by a jovial server whose good cheer lasted throughout the meal despite the Restaurant Week rush. Skipping the sad dry bread at the table (which turned out to be a wise appetite-saving measure), we hit the menu to make our only tough decision: two diners, three vegetarian appetizers. We settled on a summer vegetable pistou gratin with pesto and gruyere and a tomato, almond and basil gazpacho, but not without some regret for having to exclude summer corn chowder.

Note: Because Willow clearly marks all of its items as V for vegetarian and GF for gluten-free, there was no risk of ordering often sneakily non-veggie items like soups and risotto. If only more restaurants would do this, things would be much simpler for diners with dietary restrictions.

The pistou gratin wasn’t what either of us expected, exactly, but it’s never a bad thing to get a ramekin covered in golden bubbly cheese:

Summer vegetable pistou gratin

Once we dug below the gruyere, we found bright, tender-crisp carrots and beans in a basil pesto broth and chunks of soaked through bread. The combination was pleasing and gave us the idea of adding a little pesto to clear summer soups.

The gazpacho was even more inspirational, with bites of sweet almond mixed in with tiny chunks of tomato, cucumber, radish and celery in a flavorful tomato puree, topped with avocado cream and crispy quinoa. The combination of flavors and textures really set this gazpacho apart from the many other versions we’ve tried, and we’re definitely going to give it a shot at home.

Gazpacho flavor explosion

The much-anticipated entree held up to our expectations. The squash blossoms were nice – crispy, light, and filled with ricotta and red pepper zucchini ratatouille (there were those tiny chunks again!).

Fried stuffed squash blossoms on top of amazing corn pancake

However, the corn pancake hiding under the blossoms on a bed of julienned zucchini actually ended up stealing the show. It didn’t look like much, but the fluffy, savory pancake with browned edges and sweet corn kernels left us wanting a whole plate. This would be a great brunch item. In fact, Willow shares some of its recipes and we found this one online so we’ll be trying it out for brunch next weekend and letting you know how it goes!

For dessert we chose the layer cake of the day, which was banana with white chocolate buttercream, and tiramisu pie.

Banana layer cake

The pie was a bit disappointing, but boy does Willow know layer cake. The banana cake was fluffy and moist, the buttercream was light-as-air and not too sweet, and just the right amount of rich chocolate ganache and caramel drizzle was added to round things out.

We’ll definitely keep Willow at the top of our Restaurant Week list, but we’ll likely head back sooner. Their emphasis on local seasonal ingredients means that the menu changes often to feature vegetables at the peak of their flavor, and we’re eager to see what Willow has in store for Fall!

4301 North Fairfax Drive  Arlington, VA 22203
Near Ballston Metro
(703) 465-8800

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