Federal Way chef, Shawn Kuo, is not fucking around. A Korean chef with a background in French Cuisine making American sandwiches and Chinese Food in a convenience store off the 99 highway. Strap in America…
Birthday dinners, specifically mine, are what I look forward to every year, because I’m a millennial and I’m all about making memories.
My lovely wife has tolerated my snobbiness and allowed me to plan part of my birthday weekends since we started dating. She knows, as long as I have good food, I am a happy camper.
This year, she asked if I wanted to go to Portland for the weekend so I Googled, “Chef’s tasting menu in Portland”, before I gave her the yay or nay. After coming across Willow, I noticed that they offered a six course tasting menu for a meager $50. To be honest, I was immediately skeptical and didn’t bother looking any further at the time. You have to understand, after happily splurging $170 of my fantasy football winnings on the Kaiseki dinner at Chef Shota Nakajima’s, Naka (now reopened as Adana) and experiencing the $120 per person Chef’s Counter meal at Scout that my wife, (I’m sure, happily) paid for, for my birthday gift last year, the food snob in me figured that there was no way that Willow would live up to a couple of my most memorable chef’s tasting meals. Definitely not at a $50 price point. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe that you HAVE to take a payday loan out to experience a great meal. Trust me (Donald Trump voice), I frequent a taco truck located next to a swap meat on a highway where the Green River Killer used to pick up his”dates”; (Tacos El Maestro in Tukwila, WA. – Get the tripe tacos and a side of grilled onions. You’re welcome!) I’ve also spent more money during happy hour at Applebee’s….Don’t judge me.
What I’m trying to say is that Willow shouldn’t have been half as good as either Naka or Scout, but after seeing mostly positive reviews online, and positive feedback from my Portland native boss, I decided that Willow is where I wanted to dine.
Space is very limited for the 6:00pm and 8:30pm slots, open from Wednesday through Saturday, so reservations for at least a couple of months in advance are highly recommended for the 11 seats available at the chef’s counter during each session. We made reservations about a month and a half in advance and lucked out by snagging the last two seats for Saturday’s 6:00pm dinner.
After heading down to Willow (located in Southeast Portland) and making our way upstairs in the converted home, we were greeted by Chef John and directed to our seats at the chef’s counter.
The intimate counter setting allows you to see all of your courses being carefully prepared to the tune of Chef Doug’s playlist in the background, which makes for an awesome experience throughout the meal.
There are three beverage pairing options for very reasonable prices, $25 for wine or beer and $22 for the non-alcoholic pairing. We opted for the beer pairing which helped cool us down in the midsummer heat. The pours were very generous and complimented each dish perfectly. We noticed the other beverage pairing pours were very generous as well. These guys are definitely not short changing anyone. Chef John’s knowledge of each drink pairing was particularly impressive as well. He doesn’t skip a beat.
The highlights of the meal were the wagyu culotte (top sirloin), which was sous vide to an exceptionally tender and juicy medium rare, served with peaches, tomato and feta. The albacore belly was poached perfectly and the watermelon float with buttermilk ice cream was a delicious take on a fun summer favorite.
After finishing off the last bite of our final course, we were offered coffee and caramels to end our evening in the living room. Listening to Lil Yachty’s “Broccoli” , buzzing on the beer pairings, I wondered again why Willow only charged $50 for their menu. I would have paid double for the meal without hesitation. That being said, I am definitely not complaining about the price point since it means that I can enjoy dining there more than once a year.
Chef John and Chef Doug were an inspiration to me. They are making exceptional, locally sourced food experiences accessible to the working class people like me. People who truly appreciate food.
A big thank you to my wife for allowing me to make memories with you on my birthday 🙂
Find out more about Willow at this link.