Santa Maria Sun / Eats
Welcome Willow, Nipomo's newest restaurant
BY WENDY THIES SELL
The new Willow restaurant and market, located at the corner of Willow and Pomeroy roads in Nipomo, opened to a packed house of eager and curious customers on Aug. 29.
I was invited to attend Willow’s “soft opening” two nights earlier. I enjoyed my three courses: the heirloom tomato and burrata salad; diver scallops on pork belly; and olive oil cake with berries, paired with Harvest Girl chardonnay and Chamisal pinot noir, while sitting inside the cozy dining room.
Then I returned a few days later for lunch with family and friends. We sat at one of the dozen tables on the fantastic patio, complete with large umbrellas and space heaters.
We devoured the addictive Willow guacamole and homemade tortilla chips, and I ordered the delicious Chef’s Burger. My glass of Margerum rosé was cool and refreshing on the 90-degree day.
Sonny Smith—who owns Sun Coast Farms, a Santa Maria produce grower, shipper, and processor—bought the building about a year and a half ago, renovated it, and opened Willow. It’s conveniently located off of U.S. Highway 101 using the new Willow Road interchange.
The 5,000-square-foot building holds a high-end specialty market with an impressive array of hard-to-find artisan wines and craft beers, a deli, and a beer and wine bar, in addition to the restaurant.
General Manager Mark Jackson is pleased with the immediate support from the community.
“It’s going very well,” Jackson shared. “The public is very eager to see what we’re putting out.”
Jackson, a 2000 graduate of the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco, hired chef Treaver Lynch, an alumnus of the same culinary school. Lynch graduated with honors in 2003.
He was most recently chef at Justin Vineyards and Winery in Paso Robles. He previously worked in kitchens at other hotels and restaurants across California, including the Sea Venture in Pismo Beach.
“[Lynch and I] have the same culinary background. We both went to school in San Francisco at the Culinary Academy,” Jackson said. “It was pretty much a no-brainer for me. He’s a fantastic chef: extremely talented and a really wonderful man.”
Willow is open at 6 every morning serving organic specialty coffee and pastries. In the near future, there might be more choices for breakfast.
“We want to do some homemade granola; we want to do some nice breakfast burritos, and breakfast sandwiches,” Jackson said.
The deli is offered from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The lunch and bar menus, which have more substantial fare, are available from noon to 5 p.m.
Diners can sit at the bar, in the dining room, or out on the patio and have some wine or craft beer and nosh on appetizers, salads, gourmet burgers, or a half-dozen artisan flatbread pizzas.
The Chef Burger is topped with heirloom tomato, butter lettuce, fried egg, pickled mustard, Havarti cheese, and truffle aioli, and served on a brioche bun.
Willow’s Beer Burger comes stacked with a beer-battered onion ring, stout-braised mushrooms, smoked Gouda, and garlic aioli, on a brioche bun.
The grilled chicken sandwich has romaine lettuce, Tallegio cheese, and apricot mostarda served on a ciabatta roll.
I couldn’t stop munching on the house-made tortilla chips, which come in a big bowl with guacamole and crumbled Cotija cheese.
And the ladies sitting at the table next to me “oohed” and “aahed” over their grilled romaine salad: mission figs and pickled red onion with house-made blue cheese dressing.
Starters on Willow’s summer dinner menu include Dungeness crab cake with fire-roasted corn relish, arugula, and spicy remoulade; raw line-caught albacore tuna with citrus, avocado, radish, herbs, almond oil, and sea salt; and grilled artichoke basted in garlic butter with smoked tomato mayonnaise.
Main dishes include stout-braised short ribs with local greens, charred onion, white corn grits, and smoked tomato demi-glace; grilled New York strip steak with summer squash, Sierra Gold potato puree, roasted shallots, and horseradish; and roasted free-range chicken breast with pea puree, heirloom carrots, chanterelle mushrooms, and walnut relish.
For dessert, the dark chocolate pot de crème is terrific: a creamy banana brûleé with peanut butter mousse and cocoa nibs.
“Our menu will definitely change with the seasons. We want to be showcasing the best ingredients throughout the year,” Jackson said.
Willow’s fall menu is expected to debut in October.
There is an extensive list of wines by the glass from such local producers as Pali, Stolpman, Margerum, Ampelos, Qupé, Daou, Kynsi, Laetitia, and Tangent.
“I personally have tasted every single wine we offer on our shelf and [I] really wanted to offer a diverse mix,” Jackson told me.
Beers on tap include Firestone, Tap It, Allagash Tripel, Dogfish Head, The Bruery, Lagunitas, Blue Moon, Sierra Nevada, and Angry Orchard Cider.
“We’re excited to be a part of the community! The anticipation has grown and we’re doing our best to put out our best product and offer back to the community something that I think is missing,” Jackson said. “We’re excited to be open, finally, and hope that people are excited about it as much as we are.”
Sun wine and food writer Wendy Thies Sell always likes to try something new. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.