By Nancy Tannler
2005 SE 11th Ave,
Open five nights a week.
For reservations: willowpdx.tocktix.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
When The Southeast Examiner was invited to meet the chefs and sample food at Willow Restaurant, the mystery of locating it was the first hint that this would be a different kind of experience. Up the stairs over a coffeeshop in Ladd’s Addition, the intimate setting of Willow resembles a modern living room and dining area with a view of the Portland skyline and the chefs busy at work.
On this day, chef/owner John Pickett welcomed the press into their newly-opened restaurant before seating us around the lustrous burnished wood, semi-circular counter. In the kitchen, chef/owner Doug Weiler served up remarkable samplings of Willow cuisine while we experienced the ‘barrier-breaking’ concept they are offering Portland diners.
The restaurant is a fine-dining establishment that offers a six-course prix fixe menu with surprises. They will be offering two seatings an evening at 6 and 8:30 pm. (Vegetarians or those on a restricted diet can make accommodations in advance.) The interesting twist is that the servers are the chefs. This arrangement lends itself to a dinner party atmosphere where diners can mingle from the cocktail living room/lounge area to the table and with each other and the chefs. The idea is to break down the wall from kitchen to table.
Both chefs are well-trained with thirty-five years of experience combined. Weiler is a graduate of Johnson Wales U and Glyph and Pickett are from CIA, Biwa, Ración. They have been building on the success of their pop-up dinners to access how this unique style of dining experience would be received.
“We have really enjoyed serving, cooking and conversing with out guests,” John said, “while they participate in the ultimate dinner party without all of the clean up.”
Willow regionally sources its food, wine and craft beer while serving house-made non-alcoholic beverages. The chefs’ plan is to execute dishes representing the great bounties of the Willamette Valley and the Pacific Northwest.
At the meet and greet, we were served delectable items being served that week. We started with the “Doug” mc muffin: Mini English muffin, rosemary and garlic whipped egg yolk, sweet and sour cippolini onion powder and a squash glaze.
Next was vegetable “poutine”, mushroom mousse, squash purée, beet pudding, chewy beets, pickled cauliflower, shiitake mushrooms, charred carrot chips, kale chips, potato parsnip cracker, mushroom gravy.
The short rib steak was wrapped in collard greens, with whipped horseradish yogurt, onions and bordelaise. The dessert was a smores ice cream sandwich (chocolate macaroon cake, graham ice cream, hazelnut praline, malt Swiss meringue).
This alternate dining model: small, reservation-only restaurants where chefs are plating, expositing and serving food and drinks to each customer – allows restaurants like Willow to serve a gourmet meal without breaking the bank, $50 per person alcohol and non-alcohol pairings are separate. See willowpdx.com.
The restaurant has ten seats and does two seatings per night that are available by reservation only.