The vegan restaurant Willow is as stylish as it is quaint. If you're yearning for the comfort of plant-based bistro food, Willow offers you a spot in its cozy pocket in Chelsea, NYC. The decor is understated elegance. Contemporary wood paneling meets marble tables and furniture with clean lines. Its design is both modern and vintage and the restaurant has an ambience of one warm welcome. Willow walks the line between sophisticated but familiar making it the perfect backdrop for a nice lunch or dinner. It is helmed by Beyond Sushi chef, Guy Vaknin and in addition to being vegan, is kosher as well.
The standout favorites included: the eggplant lasagna, truffle mac and cheese, Porcini Chik 'n Masala, and the Chef's Cookie Skillet (a divine dessert served a la mode). Let's dive right in:
Their version of "crispy calamari" is actually mushroom rings that have been remixed in the best way: instead of fish, that earthy, nut taste is replicated with large, juicy king oyster mushrooms. It has a light coat of Panko crusts, and served with a side of marinara sauce and lemon. The texture and taste are both exceptionally pleasing. The right amount crunch and juice makes this a must for every table.
Next up are the the mini sliders that look as good as good as they taste. They are a fantastic finger food that are a great pairing with any other appetizer on the menu. It’s a classic slider: lettuce, pickles, tomatoes, and 'cheddar' all on a impossible vegan patty wedged between sweet, brioche buns.
For the lovers of pasta? Here's a spectacular vegan truffle mac n cheese for you. If mac n cheese is your comfort food- good news! Willow has an amplified version of this favorite food on deck.
The truffle mac and cheese are an old comfort that has been exceptionally updated. Instead of containing dairy, the pasta dish uses truffle cheese + fungi with an umami taste. The mac and cheese is garnished with green onions, chives, panko crust, vegan bacon, smoked paprika and is baked to actual perfection. The one thing that really stands out about the mac n cheese besides the taste is the texture- it invokes nostalgia but its still grown up, the ideal combo.
If you miss the allure of traditional lasagna and eggplant parmigiana the eggplant lasagna is for you. Willow has somehow captured the essence of both while still staying unique with this creation. The eggplant lasagna is not only good for the soul, but you can tell it is made with authentic love too. The pasta is hand rolled and the ricotta and mozzarella are so dairy like you won't believe it is vegan. Inside, are tender, roasted eggplant and a surprising protein packed seitan- both great substitutes for meat. Making this dish hearty, tasty and above all filling.
The Balsamic Flatbread is light making it an ideal accompaniment to one of the soup or salad offerings on the menu. It's easy to picture yourself eating this delicacy in a Grecian picnic spread in the grass. The sweetness of the dried figs, and the earthiness of pistachios, arugula, and artichokes add a complex layer to the ricotta- unexpected but satisfying.
Sauteed broccoli and creamy polenta both complement the chicken marsala. The Marsala itself is a genius twist that utilizes cremini mushrooms instead of meat and features a side of oyster mushrooms. If you are a chicken lover, you will be head over heels for this dish.
Make sure you save room for dessert. Although vegan cheesecake is definitely a hit or miss and an acquired taste- Willow is one place you won't want to skip the cheesecake no matter what.
The Vegan Vanilla Bean Cashew cheesecake is heaven for vegans with a sweet tooth. This cheesecake has a chocolate chip cookie crust and is drizzled in hot fudge. None of that raw, "healthy tasting" flavor (that many vegan cheesecakes end up having) here. This was a hit all around. It is complemented with chocolate coconut truffles- double the vegan chocolate and the fanciness!
The Chef’s Cookie Skillet is insane. You get a decadent scoop of vegan chocolate ice cream on top of the cookie (another food they nailed the texture on! Crispy, gooey and warm, everything you want in a freshly baked cookie can be found here. The drizzle of peanut butter and roasted peanuts makes this dessert absolutely delightful. Truly indulgent in the best way.
When presented with dessert cocktails- always say, yes. The Espresso Martini is always a cult favorite and this was no exception. Insider tip: Try it with a tequila base instead of the advertised vodka base, as the tequila balances extra smooth and nice with the bitter espresso and sweet chocolate. Perfect for any occasion and most especially after a great meal. The Mango Bellini is also amazing.
There's nothing better than topping off your meal with this fruity cocktail.
For the ones who don't drink, fresh juices and non alcoholic versions of your favorite libations await you- just ask your server to modify and the request will happily be obliged to.
All in all, the food is high quality with affordable prices. Willow's cozy, relaxed atmosphere makes it a great place to be amongst people, whether out with family or arranging dates with your friends. Next time you are in New York (but this applies to NYC locals too!) and are yearning for a variety of vegan offerings with a touch of class without the pretentiousness, Willow should be at the top of your list. It is definitely at the top of ours!
Images: Original DR content
Words: DR Staff