The Willows is a fairly new fine dining establishment located at 900 Culver Ave in Utica. My wife and I decided to head there on the last Saturday in March to celebrate the end of another long, snowy, cold, snowy, dark and snowy upstate winter. Turns out we were a bit premature in our reasoning, but the food was tasty anyway.
Our reservations, which they encourage, were for 6:30 but we arrived early for a drink at the bar, which never materialized as our table was waiting for us when we got there. We chose this particular place for one entrée we each wanted to try, eschewing our normal custom of getting separate dishes so we have more to sample.
Dimly lit, the dining area is small but loud as sound becomes trapped in its somewhat circular build. We took a small table for two in the center and enjoyed a cast iron meatball parmesan appetizer, accentuated with sweet pepper and onion relish, shaved sharp provolone, and herb oil crostini.
One of my faults as an eater, when trying to actually analyze food instead of just wolfing it down, is my tendency to obliterate my palette by wanting spicy food at the expense of subtle layering that may make the meal more enjoyable. This night was no different as I zeroed in on the word “Wasabi” in the description of the dish we each had in mind:
Honolulu Fish Co. #1 Sashimi Grade Tuna Steak, Wasabi and Lobster Mashed Potatoes, Shiitake and Spinach Sauté, Charred Scallion, Citrus and Sesame Glaze, Seafood Wonton.
They weren’t lying about the tuna being sashimi grade. It was cooked perfectly to my liking (medium-rare) and was nicely complimented by the spinach sauté. The wasabi and lobster mashed potatoes were the highlight for me. I have had lobster in many forms but never as an ingredient in mashed potatoes and the wasabi brought the heat. The seafood wonton was extremely crunchy and a nice topper to the meal.
For desert I had a slice of homemade brownie/ice cream/wafer combination I can only describe as the most concentrated blast of chocolate I have ever recall having. I do not have what people call a “sweet tooth” and generally only eat desert on special occasions, so I am not confident it was the best use of layering in a chocolate based desert in history, but it at least deserves special mention on websites that track such things (I figure there must be one by this point).
If you are looking for a date destination in the Utica area I recommend checking this place out. The Willows is open Tuesday-Saturday, 4:30pm-9:00pm, and their menu can be found online.
Meet Guest Blogger Aaron Postiglione, a Local Food Advocate for the Utica area
Until his mid-twenties Aaron Postiglione thought fast food and late night microwave burritos was considered good eating. That changed when he met the woman who would become his wife, who a) has some food allergies to contend with and b) spent five years working at a high-end restaurant in NYC, peppering the chefs with questions before, during, and after her shifts. He has no special food training, just taste buds, an English degree, and a willingness to try almost any dish and write about it.