Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Whitehall Check-In (New York, NY)

The Whitehall Burger in all its Messy Glory

A few weeks ago, we discovered a surprising zinger in Whitehall, a British-themed gastropub that recently opened on Greenwich Avenue where the cloyingly pink, sugar-centric Sweetiepie once made a business of luring in five year old girls with susceptible grandmas. In addition to improving the decor drastically, Whitehall also improved the food. Drastically. The pressed duck terrine we tried our first visit had us so excited about the place, we returned the following week. Twice.

It turns out that we ordered some of the restaurant's strongest dishes our first visit, but subsequent visits have shown the kitchen to be competent, if not as earth shatteringly fabulous as we'd initially thought.

At a recent dinner, for instance, the butternut squash soup with parsley sauce and grated nutmeg was homey, basic and well made, but not particularly memorable. It was the kind of broadly likable comfort food you'd find in a small, mom and pop diner in the midwest -- if the mom and pop operation actually made their food from scratch rather than ordering it from Sysco. The parsley sauce (actually parsley infused olive oil, I think) did add a very pleasant vegetal element that contrasted nicely with the sweet, creamy soup.

Butternut Squash Soup

A side of crispy Brussels sprouts was more memorable, but not necessarily in a good way. I love Brussels sprouts, but Whitehall's rendition was clunky, not nuanced like every dish we tried our first visit. These Brussels sprouts were charred on the outside and tossed with an excessive amount of mustard. Both the pungency of mustard and charring emphasized the bitterness of the vegetables in a way that was not to me enjoyable.

Crispy Brussels Sprouts

A main of roasted chicken breast with goats cheese butter, celeriac puree, celery hearts, tarragon and watercress vinaigrette was tender, juicy and again fairly basic -- a very good rendition of an intrinsically homey dish. The dish was beautifully executed, all ingredients were in balance and the jus was a nice, unifying touch... but it simply failed to excite -- me, at least. This is probably a matter of taste. I'm partial to unusual preparations and ingredients, am delighted by elements that surprise. This chicken was very nicely made, but absolutely nothing about it was surprising.

Roasted Chicken Breast

Roasted Chicken Breast, Cross Section

In contrast, the Whitehall burger with pickled beetroot, caramelized onions, lettuce, over easy egg and fries was a hot mess: imperfect, but ultimately likable. The griddled burger patty was speckled with something green -- parsley, I think -- and could perhaps have been packed a bit less densely. (Overly dense patties usually result when ground beef is handled too much prior to cooking and it's probably difficult to avoid when you mix anything into the meat.) The soft beetroot, sweet caramelized onion and nicely oozey egg did wonders for what would've been a mediocre patty on its own, however. Fries were a bit soggy, but they came with wonderful ketchup in a square bottle. (You can see a corner of it in the photo of the Brussels sprouts, above, but unfortunately, I didn't note the brand.) There was also a small ramekin of simple, well made pickled vegetables on the plate.

Whitehall Burger: Deceptively Tame At First Glance...

The restaurant's strengths may not be so different from its sister restaurant, The Highlands: The cocktails are strong in all senses of the word. For now, I can only take sly little sips of Justin's drinks, but everything I've tried has been nicely mixed and often nuanced in their design. I can't wait to come back and gorge on the raw oysters advertised on the specials board while I drink myself silly. 

19 Greenwich Ave
(between Charles St & 10th St)
Manhattan, NY 10014
(212) 675-7261

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