Restaurant Review: Willy Nick’s
A creative new menu and decor has a casual Katonah café dressed for success
A Winning Transformation
Just walking a block or two to this restaurant is appetizer enough. Viewing Katonah’s scallop-shingled facades, its pastel clapboard and yawning porches could make eating chicken fingers seem charmed. A good meal would be icing on the cake—or more aptly, rémoulade on the crab cakes.
And Willy Nick’s crab cakes are excellent. So what if their rémoulade could have used a bit more anchovy and mustard? After that walk, I’ll let it slide. Another peach-melba martini from their fanciful cocktail list, and I wouldn’t even notice.
But notice I must, so I will report that the recent upgrade of Willy Nick’s from casual café to soigné bistro is a winning transformation. All the au courant touches are here: bare-filament chandeliers, woven-tile-fronted bar, votives flickering against creamy walls, and lacquered wood. The Mets game on the bar’s dual TVs was a dispensable accouterment, but the sound was off, so I’ll let that slide, too.
Soundless screens I can overlook, missing bread, never. A warmed baguette surfaced after a prolonged wait followed by a request, a service pattern that prevailed through dessert.
Here, if good things don’t always come to those who wait, huge things certainly do. Chef John Reynolds, who shuttles between this kitchen and its sire, the gourmet shop William Nicholas & Co. around the corner, sends out a goat cheese and fig salad with an acidic vinaigrette and tasteless apricots, but it could have fed a platoon. Much better, and no less bountiful, was the Granny Smith apple salad, a jubilant concerto of sweet berry vinaigrette and tomatoes, tart apple and endive, tangy goat cheese and toasted nuts. Chunky-style gazpacho fans will have a field day with this version, a carrot- and cumin-laden special, more ragout than soup.
Chunky gazpacho is not my passion, but I’ll follow a good mango salsa anywhere. This one accompanied a brochette of juicy, lightly charred grilled shrimp, with a bonus of tender scallops and silken avocado. Scallops surfaced again, this time in an Asian guise, perched like an amber shrine on a hilltop of sweet pepper, shiitake, and carrot-and-ginger julienne. A cloak of sesame-soy dressing lent sweetness, a shower of chive gave voltage, the entirety brought nirvana.
The roasted bistro chicken was a cultural shift, but not a sensory one. Lacquered skin revealed moist, flavorful meat buoyed by mushroom-suffused pan gravy. And those vegetables! A bed of perfectly wilted spinach pulsed with emerald color and a garlic kick; an arsenal of asparagus spears was a crisp-tender delight. The kitchen has mastered the art of green vegetables; now it needs to work on the science of less gluey mashed potatoes, the dish’s sole fault.
But fault plagued the lobster mac ’n’ cheese, a misfired attempt at culinary couture. Think Jessica Simpson in Balenciaga: beneath a golden breadcrumb veneer lurked an insipid béchamel without enough asiago, fontina, and provolone, rendering the sublime quickly prosaic.
The entrée plates took so long to be cleared, we almost went through the whole Mets line-up on those bar TVs. The bigger problem, when desserts finally arrived, was that the game proved more enticing. A laser was practically required to pierce the crust of an adequate pecan tart, and the dry apple crisp’s crumbs owed more to granola than butter. Time to move on to the glistening cylinder of chocolate cake, its whirl of frosting reeling me in. Cruel deceit! I got sugar instead of cocoa, and a spoonful of the apple crisp’s banal vanilla ice cream was no redemption. Well, at least the Mets were ahead.
WILLY NICK'S RESTAURANT & BAR
17 Katonah Ave., Katonah
Tue. to Thurs., 11 am-9 pm
Fri. to Sat., 11 am-10 pm
Sun. brunch, 10 am-4 pm
Sun. dinner, 5-9 pm