my first time at willow road, i hated it. my 18 dollar drink was so small i mentioned something to the waiter (something i rarely do) and he argued with me that it was just the right size. last night, needing somewhere close to grab dinner, we ended up back, strangely, in the exact same seats at the communal table. it was a saturday night and the place was crawling with groups of girls ordering everything without sauce before they went out husband hunting. despite just such a demanding group to our left, our waiter was attentive and i hardly noticed the awkwardness of trying to converse across a wide table sandwiched between two very loud parties. we ordered mussels and charred beans to start. both were delicious, though my husband decided he would have preferred the former served in a broth with bread. tomato. tomato. next we shared the grilled skirt steak which came with a bowl of delicious but supernaturally green sauce and a lovely marrow bone. perhaps i didn't read the menu carefully, but the bone was an unexpected and much appreciated surprise. the meat was cooked perfectly but they got demerits for not serving bread until i asked. really, what are you meant to do with all that fatty drippy delicious marrow if not slather it on some grilled bread? for me, the star of the evening was the mashed chick peas with chorizo. boy food i'd dismissed as "not interested" when my husband ordered it but in the end reality nice, really comforting, really delicious. our neighbors had ordered the sticky toffee pudding, so that was a must, but it was hard to hear the waiter recite the other desserts, so when he said something i could hear, i latched onto it and ordered. peanut butter chocolate cheesecake was a bust. it was watery and bland and not anywhere near as good as the rest of what we'd eaten that night, sorta like they'd ordered it premade from the diner at the corner. our bill was a bit of a shock. we were having such a good time we'd ordered a second round of drinks forgetting the elephant sized price tag from our first visit. yea, there are places where the drinks are worth eighteen bucks. but, not here. as i told the manager/host/don't really know what his job was when he asked about my impressions, "your cocktail program isn't sophisticated enough to warrant a nearly twenty dollar drink."
there are places where an artful bartender will spend ten minutes handcrafting a mini masterpieces for the same price and at willow road my husband got a glass of campari and soda. not fair. and, in my mind, not good business. i eat out a lot. and i don't mind shelling out good money for a good meal. but if leave feeling gypped i might come back, but i'm more likely to return to one of the dozens of neighborhood places where they notice i know my food and appreciate it, where they top off my wine glass because it costs them hardly anything to do so and it builds such good will with regulars, where they don't seem desperate to fish every last dollar out of my pocket. all in all, i really liked the food at willow road enough to come back often, but the casual down home decor seemed at odds with the size of the bill, mostly pumped up by the cost of those damned cocktails. not by a lot, but just enough that i noticed. shame.