January 2006 100 Very Best Restaurants: Willow
THE SCENE. Gustav Klimt meets modern Continental in this sprawling warehouse of a restaurant, evoking 1930s Vienna with geometric textiles, shades of gold, plum, and burgundy, and curvy wood furniture. It's a fitting set piece for chef Tracy O'Grady's first restaurant, which aims to attract those older, more settled customers who followed her during her years at Kinkead's even as the place makes overtures to the young professionals who make up the new Clarendon.
WHAT YOU'LL LOVE. Although Italy, France, and Spain are her inspiration, O'Grady's cooking possesses a haven't-been-there, haven't-done-that quality. Still, it's the simple fare that's most satisfying. Like her old boss, Bob Kinkead, she's a whiz with anything fried or crusted. And the convivial lounge and bar is just the place to nibble on these morsels.
WHAT YOU WON'T. The overflow dining room feels like social Siberia—and it's cold enough you may need a shrug, too. Servers are hit and miss, with some more knowledgeable than others.
BEST DISHES. Crunchy fritters of ricotta and zucchini and prosciutto and fontina; wild-mushroom ravioli paired with fried veal sweetbreads; the Willow flatbread pizza, which defies all clichés with toppers like wild mushrooms, lemon, and white-truffle essence; memorable mustard-crusted pork Milanese with caramelized onions; bacon-crusted salmon; pastry chef Kate Jansen's beautifully crafted cookie plate with a blob of chocolate hazelnut ice cream at its center.