Willow Road has skyrocketed to the top of my list of recent favorite restaurants. I love the food, I love the interior design – the city mural spanning the main wall is particularly awesome – I even love the playlist they have running in the background. Someone at Willow Road definitely knows good music. In general, there’s just something so simple and chic about this place – they really have a strong and clear identity that seems to shine through everything. As a dedicated Top Chef viewer, it’s additionally exciting that the chef de cuisine is Top Chef alum Grayson Schmitz. With the design of the open kitchen, you can catch a glimpse of her, or executive chef Todd Macdonald “doing their thang.” Though at first the food doesn’t sound all that interesting, MacDonald has really taken American comfort food to the next level. There’s just a refined lightness to all the dishes, dishes that could easily be boring and heavy. In the end it’s the perfect spot because it’s the kind of place you could convince anyone, even an unadventurous eater, to try, without having to compromise on surprising and sophisticated flavor.
Twenty Greens Salad: This is quite possibly the best salad I’ve ever had. It’s really simple – herbs, pistachios and pecorino. The salad is light and flavorful, and it isn’t often that you find yourself licking the bowl from salad. But that was the case here. The menu has since changed slightly and the current twenty greens salad contains herbs, pecans and ricotta salata. I’m sure it’s just as fresh and incredible!
Duck Fat Crisps: Really thin and airy, these salty crisps kind of just melt in your mouth. Aside from being texturally perfect, the duck fat seems to really give them a great flavor. Often times it seems essential for a chip to be served with some kind of dipping sauce, but with these it’s not necessary. They’re really just simplistically good!
Willow’s Mac N’ Cheese: Not your traditional mac and cheese, this dish is made in a very light cheese sauce with grilled ramps, lemon, fennel pollen and parsley. I love how different and elegant this is without entirely losing the cheesy flavor that could deem this a macaroni and cheese. There are a lot of really warm and rustic flavors here. It’s not the dish I’d order as my main meal, but I would definitely have it on the table.
Spiced Lamb Burger Bites: These are more like lamb meatballs, than burgers, but boy are they good! It is one delicious bite (or two-biter) covered in a flavorful sumac aioli, cilantro and iced red onion. The lamb is cooked perfectly and flavored right; these are definitely not dry by any means, which can often be the issue with lamb burgers. I loved these! My only complaint was that there were only three.
Buttermilk Fried Chicken: This is not your traditional fried chicken, but certainly one of the best I’ve had. The version here is covered in jerk spices and orange blossom honey. It’s salty and spicy with a slight sweetness, and I thought the white and dark meat were equally flavorful and juicy. They give a nice portion size too – a leg, thigh and breast. I even liked the casual and fun presentation. The only thing that’s annoying is the chicken leaves your fingers sticky, so you need to make a rush to the bathroom when you’re done.
Willow Road: 85 10th Avenue New York, NY ($$-$$$)