Nachoquest: Willow

nachos willow
Nachos with Chicken, $12

Willow has been one of those establishments that has me a bit confused. With night and day reviews from the major local media outlets; beginning with the Sun’s favorable bar review and subsequent positive food review on one end, to CP’s rather underwhelmed take on the affair, it’s hard to put a finger on whether Willow is destined to sink or swim. One of their (and by “they” I mean Rye/Stuggy’s/Willow inc.) best mixologists, Julia Momose, has vacated her position and taken up a lucrative spot in Chicago, citing purported differences in credit received for what has been widely regarded as a set of craft cocktail menus to be reckoned with (I even reviewed one such cocktail for the Sun).

On our visit to Willow fairly recently, it started as a straightforward Nachoquest but sort of mutated in real time as we sat there into an “enhanced” Nachoquest as I found myself curious about the other offerings on the menu, cocktails included. A cocktail menu which for whatever reason seemed marginally less inspired than the one reviewed by Wes Case, mostly consisting of basic cocktails with “artisanal” ingredients attached to them (roasted raisin syrup, jalapeno infused tequila, and so forth). Which is neither here nor there, I didn’t have the additional scratch on a lowly blogger’s budget to try any of them, but I was curious about their tacos. Specifically, the $17 grilled tuna tacos platter. Here’s the menu description:

4 tacos, served with queso fresco, fresh guacamole,
house salsa, dirty rice and hot corn tortillas.
sushi grade tuna grilled medium rare served with
cucumber wasabi sauce.

Sounds mighty appetizing does it not? And it certainly looked appetizing on arrival, with some really, really important problems.

First, not enough tuna for four tacos, using a mere three pieces of tuna per taco. Second, the tortillas, while fresh and warm and pillowy, were included on the side. For $17, Please do feel free to assemble the tacos for me ahead of time, especially if I’m going to run out of tuna before the 4th taco is assembled. And while presented with a daftly put together platter of taco fixin’s with sauces drizzled all over them (much like the above photographed nachos we’ll cover in a second) may work for nachos, for a taco I’m supposed to assemble myself I found scooping all of the other toppings, all of which were on a bed of spring mix (or field greens, whatever you’d like to call them), to be problematic. Not a $17 experience, but that’s just me. In other words, I found it to be wildly overpriced.

So there’s that. Now let’s talk about the nachos.

Homemade crispy ?at taco shells, queso, salsa, jalapeño, guacamole, jalapeño infused sour cream. That’s the description, and for $2 more we opted for some chicken too. The chips, aka taco shells, were the star of the rectangular dish; slightly burnt on the edges, a nice big crunch to each and ever one of them – sadly, not all of which were covered with much of anything. Such is the problem with drizzling queso and sour cream (which if infused with jalapeno we detected no such flavor) on a pile of chips, without layering the inevitable naked chips will rear their ugly heads no matter what. Flavor wise the whole symphony was actually pretty good, the fresh jalapenos and well prepared chicken made for what chips we could scoop up little piles of stuff an enjoyable experience. But even with two people, we were done within minutes and found ourselves ordering those aforementioned tuna tacos to fill in the remaining emptiness in our stomachs.

Which is a problem if your appetizer nachos are $12, and you can find something much much more satisfying elsewhere.

So while I, uh, sympathize with Willow’s effort to maintain its standing as some sort of upscale casual/lounge/I have no idea Tex Mex establishment, the price range and payout just aren’t worth it for me. Having said that, the nachos still pretty taste good. And if you’re alone, maybe worth the time and money to fill you up. That’s for you to decide, America.

Three Golden Nachos out of Five

Nachos – $10, +$2 for chicken, +$3 for pork, beef, shrimp
811 S Broadway, Fells Point
Willow on Urbanspoon

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