The morning after dining at the Westminster Inn with my father, he asked, "Would you go back if it was all your own money?" The answer: No.
Granted, the Westminster Inn has a lot going for it. The old East End School is a truly sumptuous place to dine. The book-lined main room, the "Library," is unusually inviting. And the view at sunset from the glass-ceilinged sun room was truly beautiful.
But eating here is a very expensive proposition, more expensive than was justified by what we had. And the service, which we suspect is intended to be proper, came across as uncomfortably sophisticated.
Our friendly waiter seemed ill-at-ease, but nevertheless bent on describing the nightly specials in minute detail, with repeated references to sauces and methods of preparation that only cooking school graduates would understand. The maitre'd bordered on haughty.
How expensive is dining the Westminster Inn? The check for my husband, my father, my daughter and I was $132 -- and that included just three entrees.
My husband and I have dined where we felt such stratospheric prices were justified. They weren't, however, at the Westminster Inn, where the reach exceeds the grasp.
To begin, I had the French Onion Soup ($3.75), beautifully served in a pedestal bowl beneath a thick layer of cheese. This is not your typical beef-broth-base onion soup, but rather a combination of tastes I couldn't quite put my finger on. It was pleasant, but not exceptional.
My husband had the Cream of Brie Soup ($3.95), which he described as tasting like a light cream sauce with a too-faint hint of brie. Again, good, but not superb.
My father had the Mixed Salad Greens ($2.75). Why the `f Westminster Inn needs to charge for a house salad is difficult to understand.
What we had thought would be the standout among appetizers, Chevre Cheese Ravioli, was the biggest disappointment. For $6.95, we expected to get a good-sized portion of superior ravioli. What we got were three large, but otherwise undistinguished, ravioli that, for the price, amounted to an insult.
On to the main courses.
My Grilled Boneless Chicken Breast ($13.95) -- the least expensive entree -- was tender and nicely seasoned. I chose Saffron and Leek Butter from among several "Compound Butters" served with grilled items. Actually, I preferred the chicken without this topping, which did not melt and was simply too much.
My husband had Rack of Lamb. At $21.95 it was in the middle of the inn's price range.
The meat lacked lamb's wonderful, sublime flavor; the accompanying polenta was tasteless and unattractive; the lentil relish, done with a bread-and-butter cure, failed, and the "roasted sweet pepper sauce," hinting faintly of a Mexican tomato sauce but nothing more, was served under the lamb, depriving diners of the option of eating the lamb plain.
My father had Tenderloin Tips, which were tender and adequately seasoned. They were served with the same squash medley that accompanied the other entrees and plain white rice that would have been helped by a little meat sauce or some other element of color or taste. And at $17.95, these tenderloin tips were expensive.
All the entrees were served on oversize white dinner plates, which made for lovely presentations but left one feeling that the prices were high for what, basically, were plates of food.
The homemade desserts were unreservedly grand. But each -- cheesecake, chocolate ganache cake, white chocolate hazelnut cake -- was $4.95. Is any dessert worth that much when there are plenty of superior closers around for $3.95 or less?
And the desserts were compromised by long waits, both to order and to be served.
5 S. Center St.
Hours: Lunch: Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Dinner: Friday and Saturday 6 to 10 p.m., Sunday, 4 to 8 p.m. (The informal dining room, with a different menu, serves zTC dinner Wednesday through Saturday, 6 to 9 p.m.)
Reservations: Required for dinner in the formal dining room.
Credit cards: Major credit cards accepted.
Handicapped access: Accessible.