"If it's supposed to be a fine-dining restaurant, why's it called Barking Frog?" -my son James
The first time I went to Willows Lodge's Barking Frog restaurant, it was with my husband about two years ago. It was the first time we stayed overnight at the Woodinville, WA lodge for free too. My musician husband plays in the Thursday night band. They played for a weekend employee event. Payment was a free overnight stay and a $125 restaurant comp.
We weren't bowled over by the fine-dining restaurant. It was too fancy for us. The menu items were just too complicated. Seasonal, fresh, organic, went well with a variety of wines, sure, but just too weird with way too many weird ingredients. It wasn't bad. It just wasn't... us. We're spaghetti and meatballs, clean, fresh, simple flavors, don't mess it up by mixing in too many ingredients.
I think a part of the problem then was we weren't opening ourselves to trying new things. We tried only to find main entrees that we could relate to, like, say, a filet mignon, and then tried to enjoy it but couldn't because some blackberry sauce with fennel garlic bulb aioli was taking away from the basic flavor we were used to and entrenched in.
This time, I made a point to really open my mind, forget my favorites, and just try dishes that seemed--as the sum of their myriad, disparate parts--interesting to try and so much better than I'd originally given them credit for.
The restaurant was running late when we arrived for our 7:30 p.m. reservation last night. We were seated in the small lounge and given a free appetizer of our choosing. My husband couldn't settle on anything to share. Originally, I was going to go for the grilled foccacia, prosciutto, blue cheese, fig jam, hazelnuts and grape must syrup. Far out, right? The fig and prosciutto drew me. But I knew my husband would not go for the blue cheese; he hates blue cheese. So, because I heard a couple waiting before us talking about it, when the server approached for our order, I automatically blurted out, Steak Tartare.
Ahi tartare, I'll eat. I like sushi. But raw beef? Ew.
Still, I figured Barking Frog is a high-end establishment and wouldn't serve questionable meat. Plus the raw quail egg intrigued me (reminded me of the Korean Bi Bim Pap a little). Fighting my fears, I went for it and was rewarded with the best raw meat dish ever, even better than any raw ahi served in Hawaii. My husband went crazy for it. Thing is, you had to put a little bit of the Steak Tartare, the picked white asparagus spear, the red wine onion jam, and the Dijonny mustard on the slices of grilled bread to truly enjoy what the chef intended you to enjoy.
The meat was meaty, not gross-meaty. If that makes sense.
I hate beets. With a venom. But I've only ever had canned beets. I've been told farm fresh beets are best. Especially when paired right. When these roasted beets (red and golden) are paired with Micro Arugula, raspberries, Marcona Almonds, deep-fried goat cheese balls, blackberry vinaigrette, they're sublime. The creaminess of the goat cheese and the faint tart-sweetness of the berry vinaigrette removes any hint of dirty in the beets and brings out their earthiness. I could've eaten another plate of this.
My husband didn't notice I'd ordered the beets until they arrived, then he tried to eat all mine--and he's not much of a fan either--even with the goat cheese and he hates them.
Another food I'm not terribly into is halibut. It's bland and eh to me. Very little flavor. Easily overcooked. Yet, for my main entree, I ordered Oven Roasted Alaskan Halibut with pancetta, morel, cipollini onion, English peas, English pea sauce, and Fingerling potatoes.
I never order halibut!
I'm so glad I did this time. The top had a nice, flavorful, salty enough crust, but the thick, almost translucent meat underneath was perfectly cooked, very flaky and required the creamy lusciousness of the English peas in their sauce and the salty bite of the pancetta cubes.
I almost licked the plate.
For dessert, there was nothing else to order but more of the unconventional. I was searching for a strawberry shortcake. But I'm at Barking Frog, not Red Lobster. So after going back and forth between the blueberry soup (there's olive cake in there with lemon thyme sorbet and lemon curd) and Peach Melba Coupe, I went with the Peach Melba Coupe, hoping the peaches were ripe. I liked that it had white peach sorbet, honey ice cream, whipped raspberry, raspberry coulis, and Caramel Krispies.
Our server said it was all kinds of wrong, listing each ingredient with "love" being the last. Indeed.
After I first took a bite, I closed my eyes in ecstasy as my husband laughed. It was that perfect. So peachy, so light balanced with a tartness of the raspberry and so decadent with the creamy whipped raspberry.
I even finished off my husband's Syrah.
Definitely an improvement the second time around.