Chef-owner Daniel Rutkowski’s inspiration for the name of his restaurant Willow came from the nearby M-119 byway called the “Tunnel of Trees.” Rutkowski loves the outdoors and it shows in the woods theme that carries throughout the restaurant.
Location: Willow, located at 129 East Bay Street in the downtown area of Harbor Springs, Michigan. Find the restaurant’s website here.
Menu: Willow’s menu has a laser-sharp focus on fresh ingredients the chefs transform into Modern American Cuisine. Local produce and farm-fresh ingredients provide the foundation for a menu that the chefs develop around Michigan’s micro-seasons. You’ll find about half a dozen small plates, and an equal number of entrees. While the variety of selections is limited, they have enough choice for everyone to find something they’ll enjoy.
The daily menu also includes innovative cocktails. Each evening several house-special cocktails appear on the menu, such as the Lychee Dream made from Blanco tequila, Cointreau, lychee puree, and fresh sour.
The chef indicates gluten-free, vegetarian, and vegan items on the menu. Willow doesn’t offer a children’s menu.
Thoughts: Chefs Chris and Daniel Rutkowski are brothers, and both trained at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. Their entire culinary team is CIA trained, and many have worked in Michelin-starred restaurants.
You can see Little Traverse Bay from the front of Willow’s porch making the one outdoor table a coveted spot.
The wood theme carries throughout Willow. Not only is does the bar feature wood, but horizontal wooden planks also stack halfway up the gray walls. Golden leather button-tufted booth backs add to the elegance. Modern gray leather chairs complement the wood. Art featuring outdoor themes decorate the gray walls, while small vases of planted grass accent each table.
The presentation stands out at Willow. The food is simply stunning. My Ora King Salmon came trimmed in a quarter circle of pesto aioli dollops that increased in size as they circled the plate. The aioli accented the circular plating. Corn puree formed the base of the cooked to order Ora King salmon. Finally, they crowned the salmon with fresh charred corn kernels and slices of local chanterelle mushrooms.
The grilled peach salad was one of my favorite dishes. Grilling the peaches caramelized the sugar, adding to their sweetness. The salad’s base was local greens, topped with a pecan crumb for added crunch. Crispy bacon counteracted the sweetness of the peaches with a bit of salty. Finally, the chefs dressed the salad with an herb buttermilk dressing.
Our party included a fussy teen who started with “just the small plate of crispy potatoes.” After one bite of her mother’s filet mignon, an aged beef that was so tender you could cut it with a fork, she ordered one for herself. Potato pave with leek ash, and “Detroit” zip sauce completed the plate.
Finally, the chocolate cake presentation was fun. It started with a slice of cake placed on a black plate. The chef put two forks on the dish and sprinkled it with powdered sugar and removed the forks. Slices of strawberry added a pop of color to the black and white presentation.
Price Range: On the dinner menu, the small plates range from $14 for crispy baby potatoes or Brussel sprouts to $28 for an artisan cheese board or steak tartar. Large plates range from $36 for ravioli to $56 for Colorado lamb chops. Desserts are about $12. Specialty cocktails are $15. Dinner for two is approximately $150, including taxes and gratuity.