No. 95: Willow
Chef Tracy O’Grady left Kinkead’s to open her own place in 2005, and rather than dazzle a Ballston audience with her French classical training, she has followed her mentor’s example by serving up big, crowd-pleasing plates in this dining room done up in the burgundies and golds and geometrics of Gustav Klimt.
Take your cues from the boisterous after-work crowd that huddles around the bar, munching on upscale finger food. The grilled flatbreads—pizzalike rectangles with unpizzalike toppers—are irresistible: The Willow, topped with wild mushrooms, lemon, Parmesan, and white truffles, manages to be indulgent without tasting heavy. Tempura vegetables with lime-ginger vinaigrette and O’Grady’s stellar fontina-and-prosciutto fritters are nearly as good—like her old boss, O’Grady can handle a fry basket.
Less convincing is her knack for juxtaposition. A soup of roasted shallots and Gala apples with duck confit and toasted walnuts is good rather than great—the duck gets lost. Potato gnocchi with cubed potatoes and clams never comes together as a coherent dish.
O’Grady is at her best teasing flavor from a hunk of rib eye, which she cooks in an iron pan, a lemon-scented roast chicken, or a savory plate of smoked moulard duck breast with duck confit.
Her pastry cohort, Kate Jansen, may be similarly stymied at times, but her cookie plates with their blob of custom-made ice cream are the stuff of childhood dreams.