After nearly 30 years working as private chef, David Welch is stepping back into the public realm at Chef Dave’s, his new restaurant opening May 2 at the Street Chestnut Hill.
“The way I look at it is I’ve been in lots of my client’s homes, these big palaces and great residences,” Welch says. “And now I want to invite you to my home.”
The 1,027-square foot, 18-seat restaurant (33 Boylston Street, Chestnut Hill) exudes a European bistro vibe, with minimal and sleek seating, brick and tile walls, plus scaffolding-like shelves that hang above a bar shiny with smoked glass accents.
The menu is a study in simple preparations and rich flavors loved by his well-known, past patrons — including Barack Obama, whose 60th birthday party on Martha’s Vineyard Welch catered last summer.
Opening for dinner with lunch, brunch, and takeout to come shortly, offerings feature a handful of seafood-focused starters, salads and pressed sandwiches, and nine main dishes. Stars of the menu include barbecue ribs — made famous after he founded the much-loved barbecue stand at Formaggio Kitchen — and halibut with crispy shallots and garlicky wilted spinach.
“I like classic dishes,” he says of the menu’s pared-back plates. “What I tell people all the time is that when you make certain dishes, you don’t need to make them with fancy spices. You need to use the original spices. Just keep it simple.”
Take his version of everyone’s favorite mac and cheese. No truffles, no complicated toppings — only a crispy-crusted combo of three cheeses, which could include mild cheddar and “maybe some brie to give it a little pop, but not too much.” A Hudson Valley-sourced roasted chicken, with little more than lemon and herbs, lets technique take center stage on a plate alongside roasted potatoes, haricot vert, and au jus.
It’s the kind of restraint honed after years in the industry, since he left the world of finance in the 90s to carve out his career in cooking. He got his start making fresh pastas and sauces at legendary Trio’s Ravioli Shop in the North End (“I still have yet to find someone who makes eggplant parmesan like them,” Welch says). Next he worked at Formaggio Kitchen, where he started out as a produce orderer before founding the popular weekend barbecue stand, to the delight of hungry and devoted diners. After 12 years there, he set off on his own.
Consider the menu like a greatest hits compilation of his long career. And of course the ribs are there, in a nod to his earlier years. The recipe is a closely guarded secret, though his homemade sauce features Worcestershire sauce, which “gives you a nice pinch on the back of the palate, which everyone loves,” he says. “It’s a warming sensation. Just enough.” Though there’s no smoker in the restaurant, he tosses hickory blocks right on the gas grill while he cooks the ribs. This not only lends the meat a smoky hint, but it fills the restaurant air with a pleasant woodiness that attracts attention from the outside. “When I light the grill up, people come running to the window,” Welch says.
The wine menu’s quality pours pull from unusual selections that people might enjoy at home, and that are harder to find in restaurants. Welch considers wines like a seasoning to the meals, like the Stonestreet 2017 cabernet sauvignon. Pair a glass with the ribs and the wine boosts the meat’s flavor, and vice versa. While there is a trove of new creative bars around town, the cocktails here focus on classics, like the Dave’s Manhattan cocktail, made just with Evan Williams bonded bourbon, vermouth, and a few dashes of bitters.
For a chef who’s used to cooking in homes around the area, it’s no surprise that he’s created a homey environment where guests can remember why just why classic dishes stand the test of time after all.
Chef Dave’s opens at the Street Chestnut Hill, 33 Boylston Street, Chestnut Hill, on May 2, 2022; it will operate Monday through Saturday from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. and Sunday from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m.