Vive la French evolution Restaurant: Weber's on Boston, which has always been a pleasant place to eat, is changing into an admirable bistro.

March 16, 1997|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,SUN RESTAURANT CRITIC

The evolution of Weber's on Boston has been gradual. When Denis Manneville, former food and beverage director of the Hyatt, took over the turn-of-the-century tavern three years ago, you had a feeling he wasn't going to be satisfied serving a pub menu of wings and burgers forever.

Sure enough, he started adding dishes like salmon en papillote and grilled pork loin with gingersnap gravy. Over the last couple of years he introduced a Southern-style Sunday brunch and a tapas menu.

But with the hiring of chef David Rudie, formerly of the Milton Inn and then Troia at the Walters, he's made major changes. A native of France, Manneville has turned Weber's into a French bistro. He's even planning to change the name to Le Bistro Midi.

These days, restaurateurs who switch from pub grub to French food -- even very gradually -- are swimming against the tide. My guess is that Weber's will get away with it for two reasons: The food is good, and it's reasonably priced.

Oh, it could be tweaked a bit. A lovely shrimp bisque, delicate but full-flavored and creamy, arrived only lukewarm. Broccoli was substituted for the promised sauteed spinach without a word. Chocolate pate for dessert was quite gritty with undissolved sugar.

But on the whole, we had a fine meal. A gorgeous hunk of tenderloin was napped with a dark, winy sauce, while a sensational mushroom risotto held court to one side. An enormous pork chop was just about as good, with crisp little chunks of potato to complement it.

Like any bistro worth its salt, Weber's has homey dishes such as cassoulet and coq au vin. (The cassoulet is a specialty, but the kitchen had already run out of it at 7: 30 on a Sunday evening.) The kitchen's take on the classic French chicken in red wine dish was a good one, with a full-bodied sauce, tender poultry, fresh mushrooms and pearl onions. Grilled polenta gave it decidedly untraditional pizazz.

As befitting a place this close to the water, Weber's has plenty of seafood as well. Le saumon grille showcases the chef's talent, with a fresh fillet draped over aromatic fennel topped with crisply fried slivers of leek. A delicate beurre blanc sparked with mustard swirled around it.

A beurre blanc also graced the best of our first courses, la tour de courgette, a "tower" built of spaghetti squash, lumps of crab meat and bits of ham and shallots. The tower may have been our favorite, but we had no complaints about a warm tart of flaky pastry filled with sauteed onions and creme fraiche.

Desserts were the most uneven part of our meal. That gritty chocolate pate and an overcooked creme brulee with not enough topping were the downside, in contrast to chocolate crepes filled with luscious banana mousse and an agreeable chocolate mousse cake.

Weber's has always been a pleasant restaurant; with the changes in the kitchen and the new menu, it's become better than that. The fine food is served in a comfortable dining room of exposed brick, dark wood, pressed-tin ceiling and period light fixtures. The mahogany bar is magnificent, and it's flanked by original marble fireplaces. Add to the relaxing setting a thoughtful wine list and good service -- nothing fancy, just competent staff -- and you have the makings of an admirable restaurant.

Weber's on Boston

Where: 845 S. Montford Ave.

Hours: Open Monday through Friday for lunch, Sunday for brunch, every night for dinner

Prices: First courses, $4.25-$7.95; main courses, $12.95-$17.95. Major credit cards

Call: (410) 276-0800

Pub Date: 3/16/97

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