Symphony 8 Restaurant & Bar

Time to face the music
By ROBERT NADEAU  |  March 17, 2010
1.0 1.0 Stars

HECKUVA BROWNIE: Our critic liked the giant brownie soufflé, even though it wasn’t a soufflé but an undercooked brownie.

Symphony 8 Restaurant & Bar | 8 Westland Avenue, Boston | 617.267.1200 |  Open daily, 11 am–2 am | AE, MC, VI | Full bar | No valet parking; discounted validated parking in symphony garage | Access up seven steps from sidewalk level
Everyone wants to have a gastro-pub with comfort food, but you have to be able to cook a little bit to sustain one. It also helps to draw a clean draught beer, maintain a quality wine list, and sweep the floor. Sticking for the moment just to food, though, Symphony 8 had moments of sensory delight, but too often delivered a discordant dining experience.

I knew it could be trouble when this new establishment took over the space of an initially rather terrific Malaysian restaurant, Tiger Lily, and kept one item from the old menu as a tribute — the $20 scorpion bowl for two. The owners decided to make a restaurant that was a pretty good place to drink, which is okay, but is sort of like being a TV reporter with "a face for radio." Why didn't they try to get the recipe for the Tiger Lily double ayam or the roti canai? Because they figured an Irish theme would do, and so half the bar is Symphony 8, half is Siánsa 8 (same thing in Gaelic), and down in the basement is Prohibited, a sort of recreated speakeasy theme-bar for which one must obtain a "secret password" on the Internet.

This is probably fun for the drinkers, but the menu is the same in all three rooms, and we couldn't win with it. Brussels-style mussels ($10) were possibly steamed in beer and shallots, as the menu suggests, but were held so long or were so overdone that they were tough and leathery. The broth — if you make it that far — was tasty on a couple of limp toasts or spooned up with mussel shells. A cup of chili ($4; $7/bowl) was so tomato-sweet it was barely edible. I loved the multi-colored tortilla chips, hated the chili. Pissaladière ($9), a kind of onion-topped Provençal pizza, was just a small wedge with some goat cheese and olives on top, plus a small salad of field greens. Not a great pizza at not a great price.

A Caesar salad ($7) had a nice creamy dressing with anchovies, but the croutons were inedibly salty, the shredded cheese was tasteless, and the romaine hearts included a slice of woody stem, which is too close to the heart for me.

Entrées were better and attractively priced, but still were not entirely right. Glazed duck breast ($14) looked larger than the usual restaurant duck breast, but that was because the whole layer of fat and skin was left on. It wasn't impossible to get the meat apart from the fat, but it was hard work for comfort food. Garlicky spinach and mashed potatoes with flecks of green provided some support between rounds of fighting off the duck fat. Filet mignon ($19) was a good steak, not a great one, at the price. It did come rare as ordered, with the same mashed potatoes and spinach, but the filet is a cut that is more tender than flavorful, and this one was more like roast beef than steak.

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