Saturday, August 25, 2012


Greenwich Avenue might never be restaurant row, but then again the West 46th street "Restaurant Row" boasts some of the most unremarkable restaurants in the city.  Quite contrarily, Greenwich Ave. has a handful of some the most enjoyable ones, including the new Aussie-staffed English gastro-bistro, Whitehall.  Speaking of streets, the name derives from the grand boulevard that was home for many English monarchs before a fire decimated all but its banqueting hall in 1968.  Thus, the only remaining structure of the original Palace of Whitehall was, appropriately, a building designated for feasts.  Whitehall on Greenwich (another British moniker) has nonesuch grandeur, but a charming hospitality and, more importantly, remarkably appealing food.

A smiling staff circulates the dining room with pink roses clothes-pinned to their collars or suspenders: a nice touch.  Since I couldn't decide how to begin my repast, our waitress helped determine that the signature Whitehall salad, with its cheese, bacon, egg and nuts, was quite a hefty starter, and that the creamless chili corn bisque might be more appealing on a heavy, humid summer night.  The soup was still hearty, but sweetly corny, studded with juicy whole kernels and a gentle underlying zing of chili-heat.

It seems that pasta with crabmeat has become a requisite app, so for comparative purposes we chose their crab linguine with chili, a brothy tangle of the flat noddles and burst cherry tomatoes flecked with snipped oregano.  Perhaps not as memorable as some similar recently essayed versions, but still solid.

Brothy, too, was a lovely seared seabass, with jewel-bright peas and pearl onions.  Despite an August calendar, the menu seemed to be dragging its toes in typically springtime novelties: ramps, asparagus and spring peas still bumbled about as ingredients.   Rack of lamb came with peas as well, both in whole pea form and a mushy pea croquette, fried to a crunch and nestled into a thick bed of cool yogurt.  Mum's mint sauce that accompanied was a disappointing slurry of chopped mint in oil that wouldn't have had quite enough zip to balance a gamey rack, but luckily the medium-rare (ordered medium-well) meat was mild and flavorful without much funk.  The croquette, who's falafel-like quality made it a joy to eat (it would make a nice lunch salad anointed with that yogurt sauce and some bitey greens).
  A side of asparagus (again, more April than August) was lightly roasted, but then smothered in an asphyxiating blob of aioli, rife with pignoli.  It had a deliciously rich, zesty flavor, but the monstrous dollop overwhelmed the poor spears below: it needed about half as much.  You could use it as a bread spread, but in their own right, the buttery-soft, salt-flecked rolls are good enough without accoutrements.

Wrapping things up, springtime struck again with a strawberry-rhubarb crumble... but I'm not complaining- I'll take piefruit whenever I can get it.  I would've preferred a little more of it, however, proportional to the pastry, but a smooth orange sherbet was a novel counter that heightened the fruit component for the better, and the crumby top was rich and buttery.

Whitehall is a wonderful neighborhood gem with glimmers and warmth that make it feel special.  And if you're not convinced, swing by to admire their almost limitless selection of gins and the fantastic cocktails that are inspired by them (I'm particular to the No. 3, but they make a mean Pimm's Cup as well).  My bet is you'll like the Grog and the hall well enough to stick around for the Grub, too.

19 Greenwich Avenue
tel. (212)675-7261

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