Welcome to The Whitlock — our ode to a village that lifted its roots to preserve the heart of its identity,” the website reads. After talking to operators Christina and Matt Safarowic, I wonder if it’s also a description of their lives up until this point. After years in the restaurant industry (Christina started working at Underhill’s Crossing in Bronxville at age 17, then worked at NYC’s Scarpetta before ending up at The Cookery, where Matt worked as a chef), the husband-wife team left restaurants for stable corporate positions about two years ago. After less than a year, they ditched their desk jobs and took a leap of faith, returning to their restaurant roots and working toward what would become The Whitlock.
“Our mission is to create a place for good food, good drinks, and good people,” the website continues. It seems that “good drinks” and “good people” are going just fine. On multiple visits, the restaurant was packed (expect a wait of 15 to 45 minutes), with a convivial bar scene. The service was warm and friendly, with only a few hiccups, nothing more than would be expected from a new restaurant. Most important, the atmosphere is what can only be described as neighborly and unpretentious, the kind of place that makes you feel at home.
But what about the “good food”? Willy Nick’s Green Beans — a carryover from the restaurant that previously occupied the space — make a perfect bar snack. The tempura string beans were light and crisp, and frying seemed to punch up their inherent sweetness. A skillet of creamy roasted-artichoke dip was golden, bubbling, and bursting with sizeable chunks of artichokes. We also liked the seasonal market toast with a smear of tangy goat cheese, honey, and pistachios; and the Korean pork belly, little cubes of crispy pork tossed in a sticky-sweet glaze reminiscent of Chinese-takeout spare ribs.
Tater tots with crème fraîche and caviar were a fun play on high-low dining, but didn’t quite work. The caviar was lost among the other ingredients, and the tots had a tendency to fall apart. Similarly, serving wings whole with pineapple-habañero glaze seemed like a great idea, but the wings were difficult to eat and lacked any real spicy kick.
And then, there’s the French onion soup. Presented with a whole marrowbone poking out of its golden, salty Gruyère cap, it definitely qualifies as “good food.” The broth, laced with more marrow, was rich and glossy with tender strands of onion. A layer of bread cubes made it a dream to eat with a spoon.
Of the three pastas on the menu, tagliatelle Bolognese was the favorite. The fresh pasta wasn’t overly sauced and bits of carrot added subtle sweetness to the surprisingly delicate meat sauce. Pistachios supplied welcome textural contrast to a bowl of pillowy gnocchi with pesto and a dollop of ricotta. The loaded lasagna, with cheddar béchamel, broccoli, and bacon, was an interesting twist on the classic with plenty of crunchy corners (unfortunately, some got a little too crunchy to the point of dry).
Entrées are where the kitchen truly shines. A Berkshire pork chop, which cut like butter, had my steak-obsessed boyfriend asking to trade. The accompanying relish of chopped vinegar peppers added just the right amount of acidity to the dish. An herb-roasted chicken breast, often the most boring dish on any restaurant’s menu, was a standout here. The combination of ultra-tender white meat, honey, coarse grits, and wilted spinach felt warm and comforting.
Both beef options — a 20-oz tomahawk steak and a classic burger — were also quite good. The steak sported perfect crosshatch grill marks, and was served with crispy smashed potatoes and a little pitcher of truffle fonduta, which brought out earthy flavors in the Sterling Silver Beef. The burger, topped with maple bacon and pickles, was delightfully messy (isn’t that exactly how a burger should be?) as the fatty juices mixed with the house sauce and dribbled down our hands. Better yet, the thin crispy fries were addictive (they tasted exactly like a perfect McDonald’s fry, which is a high compliment in my book).
“Good food” fell short at dessert. All three that we tried — a fudgy salted-chocolate tart with a dry, scratchy crust; dense funfetti bread pudding, and maple crème brûlée that was very light on the brûlée — were underwhelming. It would be disappointing, if it didn’t mean I’d have more room for everything else.
17 Katonah Ave., Katonah
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