The Willow’s Wine Dinner Part II

When we last left off, we had imbibed three good wines and some delicious oysters, goat cheese truffles and tilefish with lamb belly at Chef Travis Myers‘ wine dinner at Willow’s Bistro. This time we’ll start off from the second course and on through to dessert. Let’s do it.

Second Course: Crispy Skin

Harmony Ridge Farms Duck Confit Leg with Chef John Bobby‘s (Rooster’s: A Noble Grille) andouille & gnocchi hash, Shore Farm Organic‘s bok choy, more of Fair Share Farms delicious mircogreens, an apricot & cherry mostarda with Lusty Monk Mustard. This was paired with Hartford ‘Russian River’ Pinot Noir.

In the past, I’ve not been a fan of duck. I don’t like dark meat fowl as a general rule. WillowsDinner4However, I have found over the last bit, that I like duck confit (which means it’s cooked in its own fat), perhaps because of the fat. The closer to the bone the meat, the darker it is. This was a very meaty piece of bird and didn’t hold too much of the dark flavor that I don’t like. Again, a good thing. The mostarda with the Lusty Monk Mustard was a great ‘sauce’ to go with the gamy bird. I did wish there was more of the bok choy, but, again, the secret weapon of the dish was the inclusion of the microgreens. It’s amazing how much difference that itty-bitty plant can make. There’s a strong yet subtle (if that’s possible) flavor that rushes out from the microgreens. Overall, one of my favorite dishes of the night. Definitely, my favorite wine of the evening. I’ve always been a white and sweet wine kind of guy but both Stephanie and I agree that we’re becoming real fans of Pinot Noir. This one, was jammy and we really liked that.There was definite fruit flavor here and it went perfectly with the duck. I kind of wish it had been the wine for the main course.

Palate Cleanser: Moss Farms Granny Smith & Calvados Sorbet

WillowsDinner5Made with Cloister Honey‘s wildflower honey, Sea Love Sea Salt and an apple crisp garnish. This was a perfect palate cleanser. Cool, flavorful, sweet and that little sliver of crisp apple was surprisingly apple-y. I didn’t expect that to have as much flavor as thin it was, but it was great. It did its job, cleansed the palate, gave a sweet break from the savory and wine and prepared us for the main course. No alcohol was included in this course, and rightly so.

Main Course: Carolina Bison 3-hour Braised Short Ribs

The large block of tender bison was accented with a cauliflower puree and wilted Dino kale, roasted parsnips, Let It Grow Produce‘s persimmon preserves, Fair Share Farms microgreens, Sea Love Sea Salt and a savory, natural jus. This is paired with a Ferrari-Carano ‘Trésor’ Red.

The kale with this dish was unusual for me. I find kale to be somewhat offensive, usually, but with the savoriness of the jus and the cauliflower puree, it was more there for flavorful texture than anything else, at least to me. The toasted parsnips are like crunchy WillowsDinner6curly-cues. The bison fell apart as I cut it to take a bite. Its temperature was perfect. Once again, the secret weapon was the microgreens. I know you’re tired of hearing me go on about the microgreens but they are truly an amazing supercharge to the savory dishes we’ve encountered tonight. While we did like the ‘Trésor’ Red, it didn’t have the same depth of flavor as the Hartford Pinot Noir. I mentioned this, but I would have rather had that with this, but the Ferrari-Carano wasn’t a bad choice. It did bring the bison to the forefront and set its profile off. Great dish, Chef.

Dessert Course: Sticky Toffee Cake

Red molasses ice cream, Willow’s candied pecan soil, date gastrique, orange zest, vanilla & date sablès and a pickled Bradford Watermelon rind. It was paired with Gloria Ferrer‘s ‘Va de Vi.’

WillowsDinner7The watermelon rind was chewy and tart. I do think it was at odds with the overall dessert, but it didn’t offend the idea, at all. The red molasses ice cream was hard to keep on the “cookie” top as both slid from the “soil” base and the ice cream was starting to melt. I think the ice cream was the star of this dish, though. So, melting or not; sliding or not, the ice cream was fantastic. The ‘Va de Vi’ is a bubbly blend of the Pinot Noir grape and chardonnay with just a hint of moscato. It went well with the sweeter fruits in the dessert.

We have been privileged to have been involved with so many tastings lately. I don’t report on them to say, ‘hey look what we did’ as much as I am trying to  bring awareness to the beautiful and exquisitely flavored dishes that the chefs in our town are creating. Those chefs taking their visions and creating masterpieces of gastronomical proportions are the ones that stand out; the ones I highlight. As Chuck King, from American Premium Beverage said during this event: “this gives the chef’s a chance to show off,” and I think he’s absolutely correct.

These are called wine dinners but it’s more about the food, in my eyes (and mouth). I will say that Chuck did a great job in picking the right vino accompaniment, though. But, the real star is the food. I believe my two favorite dishes were the fish course (because of the lamb belly) and the duck confit. The duck may move ahead slightly just because of the Pinot Noir. Much thanks to Chef Will Kingery and Chef Myers for being the gracious hosts they are. Much thanks, too, to the talented kitchen staff, the bartenders, the dish washers and the awesome servers that were always there to make sure that our waters were filled, our silverware was always replaced and when minute errors happen, they were the ones to make things right (there was only one little snafu that’s not even worth mentioning, it was that minute). Willow’s is a class act and this was their way of showing off. So, I say show off!!

Willow’s Bistro is located at 300 South Liberty Street, Suite 125 in Downtown Winston-Salem. Keep an eye on their Facebook page, Chef Myers and Chef Will’s Twitter and/or Instagram pages and you’ll know when the next pairing dinner will be.


The Willow’s Wine Dinner Part I

On January 31, we attended a wine dinner at Willow’s Bistro. An elegant dinner with delicious food, lush wines and fantastic community. Owner Will Kingery was a gracious host welcoming around fifty food enthusiasts and letting his star chef, Travis Myers, willows-logo_optshow off his culinary super skills. Chuck King, from American Premium Beverage was there to guide us through the wine adventure while Chef Myers enlightened us to his culinary treats. Some notable food names that were in attendance was Tony and Maria Dilisio, from DiLisio’s Italian Restaurant (I’m sure you’ve read about them here before), local “don’t call him a foodie” food enthusiast, Carroll Leggett and Winston-Salem Journal’s very own food editor, Michael Hastings, who we had the pleasure of having with us at the table at which we were seated.

In this two-part reflection, I’ll give you an idea of what you missed and why you should be on the lookout for the next pairing event happening at Willow’s Bistro.

Amuse Bouche: Roasted Old Salt – Rappahannock Oysters 3 Ways

This was paired with Gloria Ferrer Brut

I believe the consensus around the table was that we all enjoyed the roasted garlic, truffle butter and caviar the best. It was the most balanced. Not that flavor was an issue in any of the three, this was just the clear-cut winner. The bubbly Brut was a good pairing with the oysters.

First Course: Goat Cheese Truffles

Goat Lady Dairy goat cheese rooled in Willow’s own crushed candied pecans, port poached figs & pears, frisée, Fair Share Farm microgreens, Cloister Honey wildflower honey & lemon vinaigrette.  This was paired with Matanzas Creek Sauvignon Blanc.

The goat cheese was tangy but those flavors were tamed a bit by the candied pecans, but I WillowsDinner2don’t mean that it dumbed it down. I just mean that some people don’t like the tang of goat cheese. Instead, they want their cheese to be more savory, yet not void of the creaminess that goat cheese offers. This dish preserved that tang while adding a crunch and when paired with the port poached figs and pears and the honey and vinaigrette gives a breadth of tang and savory.  The Sauvignon Blanc made the whole dish, especially the tangy cheese, sing.

Fish Course: NC Golden Tilefish

Tilefish with a puree made of Evangeline sweet potatos from Hunter Farms, “dip” beurre blanc liquid ravigote (which means reinvigorated) drops, the secret weapon, microgreens and manchego cheese shavings. The best part of the dish – something you’d not expect to WillowsDinner3go with fish – is a bit of Border Springs lamb belly prepared Lexington BBQ “style.” Lamb belly with tilefish? Well, yes, exactly BBQ’d lamb belly with tilefish. It was the fish course, to be sure, but the lamb belly stole the scene. The tilefish was quite meaty and worked with the sweet potato puree and the beurre blanc sauce. That would have stood up on its own, but once you add the lamb belly the flavors jumped into the sapor exosphere. The manchego was a somewhat odd addition and it probably wouldn’t have mattered had it been missing, but what would be missed, the microgreens and the lamb belly. This dish was paired with Stonestreet ‘Bear Point’ Chardonnay.

This was the first three of the six (with a palate cleanser) courses. I’ll catch you up on the rest of the courses in the next post. Part II will be here, soon and i promise it will be worth it!

Tasting the Fresh, New Willow’s

by Timothy G. Beeman II

This weekend I wrote of news that Chef Travis Myers had made the move to Willow’s Bistro. I also wrote a promise that I would discuss the tasting that Stephanie and I were privy to thanks to Chef Myers. I’m here to fulfill this promise. This was no ordinary course menu tasting, but we’ll talk in courses, anyway.

We had two requests: no onions (me) and no beans (Stephanie).

Course 1: Panko crusted fried scallops with Herb Milk Gravy and Pancetta.

12250093_10153635819235490_4054663421084498305_nWhat came first was this fantastic seafood masterpiece. Willow’s always has a scallops special and this was not exactly the special of the day. The special was beer battered but this was what Chef Myers wanted it to be, instead. He wanted it as panko crusted and I think that while it would have been spectacular either way, I appreciated the panko fried version because that was the vision the chef wanted. The scallops were perfectly cooked, tender yet firm, not slimy at all. The flavors in the panko mixed with the herb milk gravy and the salty pancetta were bursting. Exploding even. This was a great start.

Course 2: Salad of artichokes, olives, sun dried tomatoes, aged balsamic and olive oil with traditional bruschetta rubbed with Garlic and olive oil.11223801_10153635840630490_3557084744670625411_n

Stephanie has never been a fan of olives but she took several bites of the kalamata olives that were scattered through. This was partly the preparation and partly because she doesn’t like the traditional green olives enough that she was surprised that there is a meatier taste to the kalamata than the green. I love all olives so that was a no-brainer for me. The sun-dried tomatoes were sweet and candy-like, as they should be. Chef Myers did come out to ask if shallots were okay instead of onions. I gave the go ahead. They were soft and had lost their oniony threat. The aged balsamic and olive oil drizzled about the salad brought all the veggies’ flavors out of hiding and this was a delicious salad. The bruschetta that you find in most restaurants around here throw a tomato salad on top of their charred bread, but according to Chef Myers, traditional bruschetta really only consists of charred bread that is brushed with olive oil and rubbed with garlic. I had a couple of those and I am not a hard bread fan.

Course 3: Seared tuna with an orange soy shiitake mushroom sauce.

12295291_10153635873460490_8751473894985248251_nOne of my favorites of the day, which is saying something because the whole tasting was amazing. The tuna was seared and rare on the inside. The most perfect way to eat tuna, in this author’s opinion, is seared. The sauce was a perfect blend of orange and soy. I will never say that mushrooms are my favorite food; not a fan of them other than on pizza, usually. Shiitakes tend to be a little more delicate, in my opinion, than the regular fungus and these were both delicate and delicious. I ate several of them and I cannot decide if it was that I liked the mushrooms so much or I was trying to get all that orange soy sauce that I could. Not only were the mushrooms better with that sauce, the seared tuna was juicier and more flavorful with it. You could still taste the tuna, to be sure, but the sauce brought that forward and accentuated the flavor.

Course 4: Pear chicken salad with house smoked peanuts, Goat Lady Dairy feta and shallot vinaigrette.12310572_10153635876655490_1494372863990475476_n

Salads are usually not my first choice when there are other choices on the menu. This salad however, would be one that I actually order from the menu, eat and probably order another. The seasoned chicken breast, peppery and bright, was an adept companion to the pear. Pears have a toned down, yet distinctive flavor that allows the chicken to breathe and come to the forefront of the flavor bar. The in-house smoked peanuts created the understated, yet very appropriate, crunch that salads sometimes beg for. The Goat Lady Dairy feta which, while definitely having the feta flavor, was more along the creamy-textured lines of chevre. Add all of this and the shallot vinaigrette and you have a smokey, tangy and salty treat that compliments the light meat and fruit flavors. The field greens were the right choice as bedding for this fantastic dish.

Course 5: Roasted shallot crab cake with orange caper crème fraîche.

12311145_10153635889480490_7501431373814945953_nYou’ll hear this a lot from me in this article but “I don’t usually” eat crab cakes. I think they are usually too gamey and heavy when, to me, crab meat should be lighter in flavor and texture. I think it could be that there is too much breading and not enough crab or just no balance. This, though, was balanced and tasty with the shallot keeping the crab meat honest. Flaky while keeping its cohesiveness. It was also a great size: not too large and not too small, just right. The orange caper crème fraîche was a creamy embellishment to the seafood profile. Orange, to me, is a natural partner with seafood selections. It was light and fluffy with salty undertone from the capers. Then, topping it with the arugula salad brings the peppery green addition to enhance the orange caper flavors and adds an additional, soft-punch crunch to the crusted crab cake. While I don’t usually eat crab cakes, this was a fantastic course.

Course 6: Deep fried alligator with honey chipotle red cabbage slaw and honey drizzle.

My favorite dish of the day, this. I believe it to be the most unique, as well. Only once had I ever had alligator and 12294721_10153635896350490_2675521069815636165_nthat was close to twenty years ago, in Florida. Stephanie had never had it. The texture of the alligator was something different. It was like a mix of chicken and fish. It was stiff meat (a la the chicken consistency) that still flaked like a piece of cod or flounder. And based on that description you would expect the flavor to be similar. You would be correct. There is no true line in the flavor, either. There is a fish flavor and a chicken flavor. But, there is much of each. You add the crunchy deep fried shell and the honey drizzle and that sweet bee nectar makes this deep fried treasure truly pop while melting in your mouth. But, wait, there is more. The honey chipotle red cabbage slaw was delicate but made a statement on the meat. Instead of canceling each other, the sweet and heat create a flavor profile that was unique and possibly understated. Without it the overall dish, while still flavorful, would have been missing a major element. An element that brought a different, softer crunch that compliments the breading of the alligator. Chef Myers told us that he wants to change the slaw to something different but this, to us, was a perfect pairing.

Course 7: Whipped pimento cheese, pepper maple bacon, fried green tomatoes and arugula salad on charred bread.

12279016_10153635922485490_2396381730461545395_nBy this time we were getting quite full. But we were still interested in all the flavors that Chef Myers was throwing at us. Southern and somewhat tame, this, the food finale of the extravaganza, was still no slouch. Mistake not that for weakness; this was a great and needed finish. First, there’s the whipped pimento cheese. Light, fluffy, cheesy, creamy. Thick-cut pepper maple bacon. Crunchy, peppery arugula salad. Fried green tomato discs. A slab of charred bread. To quote Chef Myers: “everything is better on charred bread.” I do not eat fried green tomatoes but I had one and some of another. Stephanie, who loves them, thought these were just right. The sweetness of the tomatoes jumped in and meshed wonderfully with the spicy, sweet and savory bacon to make the whipped pimento cheese shine. After cutting off a few pieces of the bread, I found myself using the bacon to scoop the cheese like a spoon and sprinkle the arugula on top to create a flavor meld that didn’t need the bread. I would have eaten the whole thing, by myself, had we not been fed so well.

Bonus: Red wine sangria with lemons, limes, oranges, blueberries, blackberries and cherries.

Really, I’m just going to say that the sangria was some of the most flavor-rich that I have ever had and I love a few12241462_10153635886335490_8398791406601996672_n other establishments’ red sangria. It is all in the intensity of the wine and the medley of fruits. I just wanted to include the picture to demonstrate yet another reason to visit Willow’s.

I mentioned in the preceding article that the word that Chef Myers stated more than any other in the conversation we had was “passion.” He demonstrated this passion in every dish – possibly every bite we took. He accompanied every single dish we were given and explained the dish, the flavors he was looking for, the reason he chose it and the passion he had for it. Each dish was a tour of flavors and Chef Myers is an experienced and passionate tour guide. Even after the food was on the table he made sure it was plated correctly (and picture worthy) after transport and before we ate any of it.

The bottom line is that Chef Will Kingery and Norb Cooper have unearthed a beast in Chef Travis Myers. Their risk-taking faith in Chef Myers is going to prove to themselves and the culinary community that he is a true diamond in the rough. The customers of Willow’s, those faithful many, will continue to come, they will begin spreading the word that The New Kid is making waves, new culinary seekers will come. You should be one of those. Salute Chef Myers and thank you for hosting us.

Chef Travis Myers: Willow’s Fresh Breath

By Timothy G. Beeman II

Big news came through the local culinary wires a few weeks back. That news created a wave of conjecture and wonder in the Triad restaurant world. The news was that Chef Travis Myers had left River Birch Lodge, where he was a staple for ten years, a reason for the success of that particular restaurant and a reason that people came back. But, the speculation did not stop there. Why did Chef Myers leave? Is he starting something new? Is he leaving the area? Gossip and rumor would be an exaggeration but to say that curiosity was abound, that would be accurate.


©Competition Dining

I had gotten a chance to talk to Chef Myers, in confidence, just a few days after the news broke. He informed me as to what his plans were and I was instructed to keep that on the down-low and that is never a problem with me. I like to report when there’s something to report. That time was not the right time. Now, however, is that time.

I have always been a huge fan of Willow’s Bistro in Winston-Salem. Let me rephrase that. I have always been a fan of Chef Will Kingery, owner of Willow’s Bistro, King’s Crab Shack & Oyster Bar and Silo Bistro & Bar. Willow’s, it should be noted, is Will’s “baby.” It is the upper-scale casual that people in this town needed and it continues to need and want. When Chef Myers told me that he was going to Willow’s, I was a bit concerned. The concern was three-fold: was Will getting rid of Willow’s and if not, how was Chef Myers going to be utilized and would it work? In the end, I figured it certainly would.

Stephanie and I had an opportunity to sit down with Chef Myers this past week and we discussed the move, his role, his life. One of the first things that he said to us was that the atmosphere was welcoming and within a few days he felt like he had been there for years. Will had basically given him the freedom to conduct business as he saw fit, be more than a chef, be an operator. He talked about plans for food, of course, but he also talked of plans to the ambience and décor of the restaurant. Not, mind you, changing Will’s vision but enhancing it. He understands Will’s love and devotion to this restaurant and shares that vision. But, Will, besides being a great chef, is a business man who has three restaurants to manage and willows-logo_optwho knows if more is not out of the question. He needs the room to operate these ventures and Chef Myers is giving him room to do so. With Chef Myers in there, Will doesn’t have to worry about his “baby” being lost.

Possibly, too, Willow’s was starting to get complacent with itself. Chef Myers will be that shot in the arm to make sure that Willow’s not only maintains that upper-echelon of service and quality that has made the restaurant great in the past, but also helping it reach new heights. Chef Myers certainly is not in this just for the paycheck. Granted, that helps. However, one word that he mentioned at least eight times in the conversation was “passion.” He is passionate about his food, about his role, about this restaurant. He also demands passion from his kitchen staff. Cooks are one thing, but Chef Myers doesn’t want a cook, he wants chefs. He wants people that are passionate about their food. That translates to works of art that not only satisfy customers but satiate them. The fruit of his chefs’ labor makes the customers come back, rave and spread the word. Cooks aren’t going to do that. Chefs are going to do that.

Chef Myers also gave praise to the other managers of the restaurant. The bar and Front-of-House is overseen by him, but he works with the managers to make sure that all is running smoothly. There were a few housekeeping items that he had to take care of when he first showed up, but they were mostly minor and it only added to the mood and quality, as a whole. Minor things like door stops, paper towel types and dispensers, items seen by the customers in the kitchen. Nothing, at least on the surface, anyone is going to really notice a change of, but will just feel that the restaurant is better. The menu boards, the liquor selection, the vendors and suppliers. Seeming small touches that will create a world of difference that you will probably never notice happened, just notice that things are better. He says that he and the other managers, including the GM all work together, bounce ideas off each other to make the restaurant the place to be; a destination.

I asked him what took him away from River Birch Lodge and he said he was planning on leaving anyway to try to start another business and was approached by Will and his partner, Norb Cooper, about coming in and seeing if they could make a partnership work that would improve the restaurant, make them some money and give Chef Myers a project he can take, put his mark on and make an impact in the community with, not unlike how he did at RBL. Also, upon Chef Myers’ arrival, not only did the quality of the food return to what made the restaurant great, but its social media presence has been elevated to “through the roof” levels. Chef Myers’ Instagram, Twitter and Facebook feeds have been decorated with some of the most amazing photos of his culinary creations. That may seem minor, but even though you cannot taste pictures, people taste with their eyes. The right food styling can do wonders.

When asked about his goals he says, “I want to make smart decisions in the kitchen and buy the right product. Some things I’m going to buy are going to be more expensive, like artichokes that are marinated and seasoned instead of the canned stuff that we’re using now. I’m going to have to pay more to get local cheese; we’re going to get Humboldt Fog in and Goat Lady Dairy.” The old adage is “you get what you pay for.” It is that way whether you’re in the restaurant business, the travel business, anything. You cannot skimp on quality. He goes on, “We’re going to start butchering in-house. We do some now, but we’re going to do it all. We’re going to grind our own meats, too.” When asked about the alcohol choices, he said there was going to be a slight overhauling of the selection. “We’re going to do wine dinners and liquor pairings. We’re going to do more public events outside. We need to expand our liquors. I can do this but it has to be in stages.” Local ingredients have always been an essential element of Willow’s theme and Chef Myers is vehement about perpetuating and improving on this premise.

It is quite apparent that Chef Myers is indeed “passionate” about his job, his food, his reputation and the reputation of Will, Norb and Willow’s Bistro. He is not supposed to be there until noon just a few days a week but he usually comes in at 8am, even on his days off. He wants it to work. He loves what he does. He is passionate about Willow’s. That is great news for the customers and lovers of food. That is great news for Winston-Salem. That is great news for the South of Business 40 (#SOB40) area.

You may notice that I didn’t talk much about the food itself. I talked about Chef Travis Myers and what he means to Willow’s and what he will bring to the restaurant. There’s a reason for that. Keep an eye on The Man Who Ate the Town: A Food Blog, as there will be a review of the tasting that went along with the conversation, accompanied by pictures. This will be very soon.