I went to Willow Road recently with a vegetarian friend and was utterly disappointed with the experience. Willow Road is housed in the Old Nabisco Factory in the Meat Packing District and serves American food until 3 AM every week day. We were told that Willow Road is the name of the overhead walkway that connects the two buildings on either side of 10th Avenue between 15th and 16th Streets, hence the name for the restaurant.
It had a reasonable number of vegetarian options on the menu, so my vegetarian friend and I were excited about going there. We liked the feel of the place when we went in – high ceilings, young crowd in groups – small and large, very lively. The experience however, was mostly downhill after that but for a couple of good dishes and the manager being nice and attentive to our concerns and dissatisfaction. I must add that my friend and I were keen to eat vegetarian and low-carb, so some vegetarian options on the menu (i.e., mac ‘n’ cheese, roasted potatoes etc.) were not really options for us.
Here is what went wrong at Willow Road that made us not want to go back to Willow Road for a long time:
- We went in at 9.15 PM and placed our order at 9.30 PM when our server mentioned that they had run out of the kale salad and the skate. We were really keen to try the kale salad, but settled for some other vegetarian dishes. Isn’t it strange that a restaurant that is open until late would run out of a couple of dishes as early as 9.30 PM?!!
- We ordered the mushroom spaetzle (vegetarian again), but were told at 9.45 PM that the restaurant had run out of this dish too!!! The server mentioned that they could make a mac ‘n’ cheese for us without the sausage, but we were not in the mood to eat mac ‘n’ cheese that night. We ordered a baby green salad with pistachios and smoked pecorino and that was the star of the evening!
- We wanted the beluga lentils without bacon,but were told that it’s not possible. Seriously, how tough is it to prepare lentils and parsley without bacon? Or rather, is it inefficient to add the bacon to a dish later?
- We ordered an artichoke dish that came with fregula sarda (similar to Israeli couscous). We thought it would be mostly artichoke with some fregula sarda (or 50-50 at the very least!), but turned out to be the other way round. We would have been fine with the proportion of pasta to artichoke, had the artichoke been completely edible. There were hard, inedible, and fibrous parts of the artichoke. We were not charged for this dish eventually.
- The charred bean salad had charred string beans (and not cannellini beans / fava beans as we had imagined / construed from the description on the menu, but that is our problem, not theirs). The skin of the beans was well caramelized, but the dish did not taste balanced and had a heavy flavor of soy sauce. We could see the mustard and pepitas and the smoked paprika, but could taste none of those flavors.
- I opted for the spiced lamb burger bites (sliders, really) with sumac aioli (yumm, I thought!), but was disappointed that the aioli on each slider was barely as large as a dime – not even a nickel! The lamb was rare with a thin crust and had little to no flavor (where was the spice??). And yes, there was a tiny sliver of a red onion – nope, no caramelized onions to boost flavor. I did get more aioli when I asked for more, yay!!!
- The server mentioned at the outset that everything is family style – i.e., sharing. In that case, we expect that the dishes would arrive with serving utensils, but alas that was not the case….
- Once the manager realized that we were not happy with the turn of events, he came over to our table to understand our concerns. He was attentive to us and was nice in general, but could not do much to make our experience better that evening.
Here is another thing that perplexes me: Willow Road (on its website) claims that its a Diner’s Choice restaurant on Open Table for 2013, but the Open Table list for the same does not include Willow Road – so, did Willow Road get a Diner’s Choice award in 2013 or not? If yes, in which category – good for groups / hot spot / late night find?
Here are some pictures of the food that arrived at our table that evening: