Enter this shiny new restaurant a block from the Riviera Theatre, and you would never guess it spent decades as a Greek diner whose specialty was the hot dog. ¶ Goodbye, Nestor’s. In the form of Webster’s Bistro, white-tablecloth fine dining has arrived in North Tonawanda. ¶ The 65-seat place has tall ceilings that keep even loud tables from creating a din. One enters through a barroom with cocktail tables and can proceed to the main room, which has a raised seating area and banquettes. ¶ The servers are uniformed in bow ties, vests and white aprons. The tables have real flowers, glass stemware and white paper over tablecloth. When Cat ordered a glass of house wine (Salmon Creek Pinot Grigio, $6) our server brought a tiny carafe he could tip into her waiting glass. The specials were presented verbally, with a printed version placed on the table.
Bread was borne by a server who explained the two choices (an airy, crusty baguette, and an olive loaf punctuated with briny nuggets). Both were fresh and warm. The butter was rolled into marbles.
The French bistro theme reverberated through the menu, which has soups, salads and tartines, essentially a French bread pizza. Starters include house-made paté and mussels, onion tart and poutine. Then there’s steaks and duck, beef bourguignon, bouillabaisse and cassoulet.
We ordered French onion soup ($7), along with a Niagara County apple salad ($12), a mushroom Napoleon ($8.50) and a ham tartine ($12). For entrees, Cat asked for the Delmonico steak ($22) and I ordered cassoulet ($18).
The French onion soup broth was decent. It was a relatively generous serving loaded with onions that for once actually made the cliché true – they melted in your mouth.
I thought the apple salad exhibited finesse, with thinly sliced green and red apples in a tangle of arugula and frisee, dressed with a restrained amount of delicious “mulled cider” vinaigrette. Cranberries, golden raisins and goat cheese added diversity. Cat found it underdressed, but we agreed that the candied walnuts were well done.
The mushroom Napoleon, layers of pastry interlaced with an earthy creamed mushroom mixture, was rich and flaky. Cat liked it a lot, while I wanted more flavor; I saw herbs but did not taste them.
The tartine was terrific, its bread foundation crunchy where it should be but still tender enough to bite without making a mess. The Dijon béchamel added needed mustard sharpness, and Gruyére cheese gave luxury notes to what would have otherwise been an open-faced ham and mushroom sandwich. (I was happy to reheat the other half for lunch two days later.) Some of the house-made potato chips were crunchy, and some were chewy.
Cat’s plate arrived and I was reminded that Delmonico is another name for boneless ribeye. It was cooked accurately and was tender once Cat negotiated the fat characteristic of this beef cut. Its accompanying béarnaise sauce had broken but was still tasty. Haricots verts, little green beans, were tucked between steak and fries for a crisp vegetable accent. The french fries with it were fresh but not crispy.
My cassoulet was hearty and loaded with well-braised chunks of beef and lamb that yielded to a fork’s touch, and sausage to boot. The meat came atop a bed of white beans that were tender while still distinct. But the classic meaty depth that cassoulet’s fleshy components lend to the beans was lacking. It was good but not great.
For dessert, we had beignets and mascarpone crepes (both $6). The beignets were warm yeast doughnuts simply dusted with powdered sugar. They were simple and a notch too plain for me. I ended up using them to mop up some of the decadent chocolate mascarpone – and was that Nutella? – loaded inside each of three tender, nutty crepes.
Webster’s may be the finest restaurant in North Tonawanda, and its service is above par. Once its cooks get into their groove, it should be able to consistently deliver food at that level, too.
Webster’s Bistro and Bar: 7 plates (Out of 10)
Remodeled space brings fine dining, bow-tied service to North Tonawanda.
WHERE: 102 Webster St., North Tonawanda (264-4314, webstersbistroandbar.com)
HOURS: 4:30 to 9:30 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday and 4:30 to 11 p.m. Thursday through Saturday.
PRICE RANGE: Starters and small plates, $5-$12; salads and tartines, $5-$12; entrees, $15-$23.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes.