Restaurant review: Home in on lively bistro fare at The Whitney House

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Open since early December, The Whitney House is the cozy bistro every neighborhood deserves. It’s a lively and reliable place that hits several sweet spots. It’s upscale but not wallet-busting; buzzy, not over-hyped. Neither dull nor aggressively trendy, the dishes of Chef Maxwell Avon (former executive sous chef at Lindey’s) delight through uncommon execution.

That’s a change from the Guinness-soaking grub of P. K. O’Ryan’s, which Whitney House replaces. Another change is the overhaul of P. K.’s Irish pub environs.

Whitney’s redesign comprises two simple but tasteful spaces joined by a narrow walkway passing by the semi-open kitchen. On the right is the unstuffy dining room with relaxed lighting, mirrors, handsome curtains and High Street windows. On the left is the duskier and more animated tavern area, where a hearth crackles, a TV beams sports, music (by, say, Peter Gabriel) plays at low volumes, and seating is less formal. Both sides exhibit the kind of spirited conviviality usually established only through years of service.

Six-week-old Whitney’s good service is provided by a knowledgeable staff in long aprons. When they hand over the concise menu, you’ll find a small but smart wine list with decent prices. There are also distinguished cocktails such as The Rosemary ($8, think zingy Pimm’s Cup), an amiable tequila and citrus drink called The Regina ($9) and the dark and aromatic Ezra’s Oxcart ($9) with rye, mint tea, falernum and lemon.

Drinks pair well with Whitney’s inexpensive “Snacks.” Those overachieving nibbles also provide a thrifty introduction to the kitchen’s prowess.

“Crunchy Mix” ($3) might sound insignificant, but the cumin-scented homemade medley of crisp fried hominy and chick peas plus pepitas and cashews was huge and fun to eat. Ditto for the fresh, bright and lightly chili-sprinkled house Pickled Veggies ($3). If you choose only one snack, though, Our Fries ($5; expertly cooked wedges served in a tiny Dutch oven with honey-mustard sauce) is the way to go.

For a carnivorous starter, roll with the excellent Braised Meatballs ($9). My attractive trio arrived with a rich arugula pesto, tomato sauce (not the menu-described red pepper coulis) and crispy toasted bread.

Meat and green sauce again teamed up winningly in the perfectly seasoned Hanger steak entree ($21). Lean yet tender sliced juicy beef was sear-crusted and further flattered by a thick chimichurri sauce. On the side were golden-browned fingerling potatoes perked up by spinach leaves.

Whitney’s Amish Brick Chicken ($17) demonstrated how a potentially unthrilling protein can be elevated by getting important things right: perfect seasoning, blistered skin and tender meat. The half-bird came with a comforting mélange of roasted root vegetables enrobed in a rich pan sauce.

Ravenous diners should try the enormous Bone-in Pork Chop ($21) with diced caramelized vegetables. Coated in panko breadcrumbs, pounded-thin, and offset by tart “apple-cranberry chutney,” it’s the tender schnitzel that keeps on giving.

The hits kept on coming with the terrific Pan-Seared Trout ($17). Two large, supple fillets were fresh-tasting and a pleasure to slice into.

Not everything was perfect. For instance, the sweet butter emulsion on that delicious fish lacked menu-promised Tabasco accents. Sometimes entrees arrived with incorrect (if still good) sides — such as the trout showing up with roasted fingerlings instead of “potato rosti and wilted greens.”

And though I liked the smoky campfire notes from its “flamed marshmallows,” Whitney’s S’mores Parfait ($6) was difficult to eat in its thin glass cylinder. I also thought its proportion of crispy “graham cracker streusel” to chocolate pudding was too shy on the pudding.

These were minor distractions. Because even with them, this polished newcomer is a wonderful addition to the local dining scene.

Photos by Meghan Ralston

The Whitney House Table & Tavern

666 High St., Worthington