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New restaurant's fare begins well but quickly goes south

A trans-Atlantic romp on the Titanic probably seemed like a good idea at the time until everything started going downhill.

That's kind of how we felt about our recent trip to Westby's Pub and Eatery.

The restaurant, all shiny and new, was billed by our daughter as a "not to be missed" attraction following her recent maiden voyage. "Luxurious," she assured us. "My new favorite restaurant."

Unsinkable herself, Meagan is nonetheless cautious with praise in my presence, knowing I tend to greet effusiveness with apathy. But her exuberant gushing finally wore me down, and I agreed to travel to the site of the former J.T. Wheatfield's and see what all the fuss was about.

Fortunately, she tagged along, because she never would have believed what happened otherwise.

It all started off wonderfully, just like on The Floating Palace. The place was quaint, with its updated decor, the old diamond plate-and-tire adornments replaced with wood and homespun accoutrements, and all of it bathed in natural light, compliments of a large wall of windows.

A sign on one wall offered this pearl of wisdom: "The fondest memories are made when gathered around a table."

"Words," I thought to myself.

How prophetic those words would prove by evening's end.

Like the lush liner, Westby's offered some impressive-sounding indulgences: crab chowder, St. Louis style ribs (with a Guinness barbecue sauce), Guinness French onion soup topped with Gruyere cheese. We tried it all, and more.

The first thing to arrive was a loaf of freshly baked bread, all warm and soft and aromatic. The buttered bread melted in your mouth. We finished it quickly and asked for more. The soups came next, and the French onion ($3.49/$4.49) did not disappoint. Boasting a large pucklike crouton, the cheese was melted perfectly over top, and the flavor was wonderful, neither strong nor sour (as some Guinness brews tend to be).

To that point, Meagan was basking in the limelight of having recommended a winner. Then the iceberg popped up.

The crab chowder ($3/$4) was billed as a "special," but fell somewhat short of that description. It was thick and creamy, but more corn-tasting than anything else. We didn't know it at the time, but our evening had already peaked and was about to sink quickly.

The second loaf of bread was shiny on the outside but hard, cold and dried-out on the inside. It didn't get eaten.

The marinated vegetables that came with our dinners were, simply, inedible. My wife and I each took a bite and contorted our faces. What is that taste? We couldn't quite place it -- very acidic, almost vinegary. Then it struck me that it was something balsamic. They must have been marinated too long, however, acquiring a distinctly lemony taste and a soft, soggy texture that was absolutely unappetizing.

We all looked forward to sampling the ribs, so we ordered a full rack ($17.99). We took most of them home, because one taste was all it took to realize they just were not very good.

For starters, the Guinness sauce appeared to be missing. Instead, they appeared to have been dry-rubbed with some sort of concoction that imparted a kind of currylike flavor. They even smelled badly -- "like gym socks and B.O.," Meagan noted in turning her nose up at the dish. Other comments were less flattering.

After that, we took turns lamenting our choices: the Cajun chicken sandwich ($7.99) wasn't good or bad, "just bland," said daughter number two. The "new" roast beef dinner ($10.99) must have been "too new," because the kitchen forgot that it was supposed to have been served with "smashed potatoes." They were nowhere to be found on the plate. The beef was cold and chewy.

My first reaction to the chicken pot pie ($11.99) was, What is that weird taste? (Yes, again!) I couldn't put my finger on it, but something seemed out of place. I was a little disappointed that it was more gravy than anything else, and the puff pastry didn't exactly do it for me, either.

Neither my wife nor I was even offered a potato choice, despite the menu saying that dinners included soup or salad, vegetable of the day and your choice of an additional side (fries, baked, mashed or au gratin potatoes, slaw or rice pilaf).

Just to be sure we hadn't visited at a bad time, or when the regular chef was sick or something, we went back and sampled some of the fish. The website boasts of their fish fry being "one of the best" in the area. The fried catfish ($12.99) was, indeed, tasty, but the au gratin potatoes on the side tasted like they were fresh from a Betty Crocker box. And the baked Cajun-style haddock ($9.99) was anything but spicy; it tasted more like it hadn't been seasoned at all. Very disappointing.

The veggies, unfortunately, hadn't changed much. And this time we had a soup subbed for the one we had ordered; not sure what it was supposed to be, but it tasted like a watery, melted cheese.

Strangely, we all had a great time, joking and laughing (like the sign said) -- at least until the bill came. We did mention to the waitress that the veggies were just awful, but it didn't seem to register, so the rest of our complaints went unspoken.

We're not trying to be overly harsh, but reality is reality. Four people agreeing that their experience was among their all-time worst pretty much says it all.

At least we didn't have to tread water.

email: niagaranews@buffnews.com

> RESTAURANT REVIEW

Westby's Pub and Eatery6935 Ward Road, Wheatfield (260-1863)

1 1/2 stars (Out of four)

Favorite dish: Fried catfish

Needs work: Many other items

Healthy choice: Grilled salmon

Price range: Pricey given the quality

Service: OK

Noise level: Quiet

Wheelchair access: Yes

Parking: Connected lot

Kid appeal: Acceptable

Hours: Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Saturday, noon to 10 p.m. Website: www.westbysbuffalo.com.