During the school year — as I indefatigably tread water, trying to stay afloat in a sea of papers, projects, exams — I must admit that my desire to stray far from campus is minimal. I mean, why drive to Pita Pita in Ypsi when I can gorge myself on toum and pita at La Marsa on State Street? Sushi at Saica? Meh, Sadako’s closer.
But during the summer, my motivation to explore beyond the little area my laziness usually confines me to increases, opening up cool things to do in the wonderful city of Ann Arbor. Note: When I say, “cool things,” I’m really saying, “a slew of new, awesome restaurants to try out.”
And outside of summer, could there be a better time to seek out those new, awesome restaurants than during Ann Arbor Restaurant Week? I think not.
At the top of my list this time around is Weber’s Restaurant. First piquing my interest in the place was my naïve presumption that it was associated with the elite brand of grills bearing the same name. I’ve repeatedly seen bright, shiny billboards advertising its outwardly modern architecture (think Ross minus the overbearing glitz), and I’ve driven past it many a time on the way to the movie theater. On this one fateful night, I also happened to be in the mood for a nice prime rib.
So as our reservation time comes and goes, my friends and I entertain ourselves at the piano bar — an elegant touch appropriate for an elegant restaurant. Our names are called after a moderate wait, and soon we are pulling up to a solid, cocoa brown walnut table and similarly constructed, rugged — yet comfortable — chairs. As I look around, I’m immediately surprised by the unusual fusion of modern and Bavarian architecture, the latter of which the building’s exterior is now, after a recent renovation, completely devoid. Thin, pasty birch twigs decoratively skirt the median of one wall, contrasting nicely with the restrained colors staining choice panes of glass opposite them. On the remaining wall space hangs what I will only generically describe as a big variety of good artwork. The place is classy, sophisticated, warm.
Our waiter first delivers a basket of bread, for which I’m never able to contain my excitement. The carbs of the evening include good quality, soft white rolls (that truthfully could be warmer), crusty homemade garlic bread and tasteless, clearly mass-produced matzah. An ivory slab of cold, salty butter and a stingy scoop of disappointingly fishy salmon pâté are served alongside. I’m not outrageously impressed, nor totally underwhelmed.
Our appetizers range from delectable to embarrassingly not. Leading in taste is the escargot, whose texture is rendered perfectly resilient yet creamy through precise preparation. Simply flavored with butter, lemon, parsley and a splash of cognac, this dish is a real pleaser. Unlike the snails, however, I find the liberal helping of mussels I’m served to be merely mediocre. Though the shellfish are smooth on the tongue, their lack of garlic and salt is blaringly evident. And even worse, on the “embarrassing” end of the spectrum, is the restaurant’s spinach bread. Everything about this dish tastes cheap: the Parmesan (grocery shelf-standard), the mozzarella (ordered pre-shredded in a bag, I’m sure), the spinach (as freshly wilted as a defrosted block from the freezer) and the bread (where’s the nearest day-old discount bakery?). I’m pretty sure my six-year-old cousin made this same dish for me last summer, only better.
The only other comment I have regarding the establishment’s pre-entrée offerings is that chopped romaine and bottled dressing does not a salad make.
But I’m still hopeful for my prime rib. Since this has been Weber’s House Specialty since 1950, I expect the beef to melt in my mouth. I’m served twelve ounces (a hefty portion) in a pool of salty au jus. And while I can’t say it’s the most tender prime rib I’ve ever cut into, it does exhibit good marbling, deep flavor and is cooked rarely, as I asked for — which is sometimes hard to come by late in the evening.
The last note of our dinner is a sweet one, a cannoli with fruit sauce. Unfortunately, this note falls flat, as the shell has long lost its satisfying crunch and, with it, any sliver of an exceptional quality: bland, boring, common.
Overall, the quality of the food here is brilliantly outshined by the intriguing décor, a common casualty of poor restaurant management: It’s clearly more about the experience than the food. So, while filling and — during restaurant week — a good value, Weber’s may be something to try out, but definitely not something to brag about.