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Last month, basking in the afterglow of our election victory, the partner and I decided a little rest and relaxation was in order. So off we went on a weekend getaway to the Willows Lodge in Woodinville. They’ve got a lovely spa and beautiful grounds and an impressive array of indulgent packages. They are also home to the mighty Herbfarm, and the less esteemed, but still lauded Barking Frog restaurant. Not wanting to break the bank, we decided the Herbfarm was not in the cards this time out, and made dinner reservations at Barking Frog. After all, this was the former home of chef Tom Black, who had cooked up an absolutely unforgettable dinner at Culinary Communion earlier in the Autumn. And the current executive chef Bobby Moore had recently been invited to cook at the prestigious James Beard House. Promising, right?
Welcome to Disappointment, population Gastronaut. Let me see if I can enumerate how much pure FAIL was on display at Barking Frog. But first, I’ll at least mention a few of the highlights. The space itself is comfortable, and follows the same woodsy, Pacific Northwest theme from the rest of the resort. The ceiling is vaulted with big wooden beams and an open firepit in the center of the restaurant. The walls are lined with seemingly endless racks of wine (and indeed, the 20 page wine list is truly impressive). I enjoyed an outstanding glass of Boedecker Cellars Stewart Pinot Noir in the bar before we sat down for dinner. While we were waiting, we also ordered some Grand Marnier prawns served with slices of orange. Those prawns were easily the best thing I ate at Barking Frog, sweet and nutty and perfectly grilled. Plated beautifully on a bed of microgreens, they were so good we seriously considered ordering more. Probably should have, because that’s where the good times end, people.
Sadly, an unfortunate percentage of the evening’s downfall can be attributed to our awful server. Her recommendations were inept, her descriptions vacuous. When I asked about the Kobe beef cheeks, she failed to mention that the dish would be revoltingly fatty and sickeningly sweet. I would have preferred to have known that before I ordered them, instead of the stock “They’re really good” that I did get in response to my query. The entire mess was braised in an apple cider gastrique and served with fuji apples and Beecher’s white cheddar gnudi. Those gnudi should never have come out of the kitchen. Half of them were burned, and half of them were undercooked. Oh yum. This was made all the more painful when contrasted with the heavenly and memorable gnudi we’d enjoyed at Restaurant Zoë a couple months back.
Prior to the beef cheeks fiasco, we had shared a baby arugula salad with candied hazelnuts and a mild (read: boring) goat cheese. Let’s just go ahead and add candied hazelnuts to the list of things I never want in my mouth again. My partner ordered the seared ahi with bok choy and pot stickers for the main course. It was fine, although the fish was doused in a miso butter sauce that I thought was overkill and the execution was fairly pedestrian. Did I mention the obnoxiously drunk Microsoft kids to my left? We didn’t stay for dessert.
On top of all that, the biggest offense was probably the bill. It was astronomical given what we’d just experienced. Egregiously overpriced. Overall, our stay at the Willows Lodge was a wonderful, romantic and relaxing experience. But if you’re going to visit, save your money for the Herbfarm and definitely skip Barking Frog.