A California ‘Contemporary’ Bistro Transplanted to Wellesley
The long-discussed and eagerly-awaited Linden Square, built on an 18-acre parcel on Linden Street, is now with us, complete with an extravagantly updated Roche Brothers, fashionable retailers, office space, and, important for local food lovers, a sleek and contemporary bistro: the Cottage. This cousin to a West coast eatery of the same name offers satisfying, homey, freshly-prepared dishes, made with regional ingredients and a Californian insouciance, all at reasonable prices.
The Cottage is not only a marriage of styles; it is also the result of an actual marriage of Californian John Wolfe and his one-time employee, wife Laura Walsh Wolfe, herself a Wellesley native. It has been a full circle from Wellesley to La Jolla (where the couple purchased the West coast Cottage in 1991) back to Wellesley for Laura, who has settled in to running the Wellesley outpost of their popular eatery.
While the restaurant’s name suggests a cozy, seaside shack—much like it actually is in California—the Wellesley version of the Cottage is very uncottage-like with gleaming black tables, straight-backed chairs, soaring ceilings, white-trimmed woodwork, pastel-colored walls, a sleek bar, soft-lighting, and massive picture windows. And, as evidenced by the lines of appreciative locals who wait dutifully for a table, many with kids in tow, this transplanted Californian bistro is a bonus for the community.
With the exception of a selection of specialty sandwiches and certain dinner-only entrées, the Cottage offers the same selections for lunch and dinner, although with lower pricing for the luncheon selections. Appetizers, here called “Beginnings,” however, are priced identically at either time of the day, save for the daily soup ($3.75/$5.50) or the Cottage Mexican tortilla chicken soup ($3.75/$5.50), a popular dish lifted off the La Jolla menu. Artichoke fritters ($7.95) are a different twist on fried vegetables with artichoke hearts dipped in batter and served with a draping of tarragon-laced béarnaise sauce. Big Bang shrimp ($8.95) are nearly a confectionary rendition of lightly-fried shrimp topped with a Thai-inspired sweet-hot chili sauce and served on an Asian-inspired chopped salad. Ahi tuna nachos ($9.95), a splendid rendition that makes you reassess everything you might think about Mexican fare, pairs sesame-seared rare tuna with won-tons and Napa cabbage, enhanced with a vivid shot of wasabi cream and ginger vinaigrette.
Salads come in two sizes, large and small, either as part of a meal or as meals in themselves. Avocado is featured throughout the menu, and is the star of one of the small salads in which it is flash-grilled and served with vine-ripened tomatoes, red onion, and a dressing of basil pesto ($7.95). The steak salad ($15.95), one of the large salad choices, is made from the same grilled flat iron steak used in the steak-frites entrée, but here it is served warm with Great Hill blue cheese, roasted onions, tomatoes, and a Cottage “chop house” dressing.
Sandwiches, like salads, have their own lunch and dinner versions, and provide such options as the ubiquitous Panini (chicken, $9.50 or grilled eggplant, $8.95), burgers ($9.50, $10.50), and The Cottage club ($9.95), personalized with slices of avocado and applewood smoked bacon. But there is also the “killer” tuna melt ($9.95) with cheddar cheese, bacon, and tomato on sourdough-parmesan toast, or the crab melt ($10.95) also served on sourdough-parmesan bread with sweet crab meat, peppers, avocado, cheddar, onion, lettuce, and tomato.
What the Cottage calls its “Casual Plates” are lower-priced entrée options, available at either lunch or at dinner for $4.00 more per entrée. One winner is Laura’s meatloaf ($11.95/$15.95), quintessential American comfort food, which Laura says is always a risky offering because its preparation is so personal to each person, depending on how their own mother or grandmother made it for them. This version is a generous slab of airy ground meat, draped in a sultry, dark demi-glace studded with sliced mushrooms. There are also mashed red bliss potatoes and fresh seasonal vegetables, which are difficult to skip—even if that’s what we did as children.
A second casual plate, fish tacos ($12.50/$16.50), is something of a signature dish for the Cottage, and is enormously popular in La Jolla. Griddled slivers of mahi mahi are stuffed into warm, soft tacos on avocado and Napa cabbage. Michael Stern of www.RoadFood.com describes them as “extraordinary tacos . . . dressed with cilantro-avocado sauce and accompanied by bowls of creamy black beans and chunky papaya relish,” at once homey, slightly incendiary, fresh, and satisfying.
Fresh Atlantic salmon is roasted, topped with a honey-balsamic glaze, and served beside almond-dotted wild rice and roasted green beans ($13.95/$18.95). The exotically-named chicken Jerusalem ($13.95/$17.95) is sautéed and served in a white wine-spiked cream sauce with artichoke hearts and mushrooms. Napa Valley shrimp ($14.95/$19.95) are grilled plump shrimp skewered on sprigs of rosemary and drizzled with yellow pepper aioli.
The dinner-only entrées are more elaborate, and expensive, offerings, and include one of Laura Wolfe’s favorites, slow-roasted short ribs ($19.95), which are braised in Sonoma merlot after eight hours of roasting. A boneless, Tuscan brick-flattened half chicken is prepared in a simple, yet satisfying, herby marinade of lemon, olive oil, rosemary, and sage ($17.95). The fire-grilled filet mignon is topped with a smoldering sauce of gorgonzola cheese, chipotle chile, and mushrooms ($26.95).
The La Jolla location of the Cottage is known for its baked goods, breads, and desserts, a tradition that continues in Wellesley. A moist Banana nut cake, another dish your grandmother may have made for you, is rendered even more tantalizing with a dense caramel frosting. The fallen chocolate soufflé cake is drizzled with hot fudge and served alongside vanilla ice cream. The house dessert specialty item appears to be the raspberry white chocolate bread pudding, replete with raspberries and whipped cream. All desserts are $6.00.
The California location of the Cottage is also best-known for its breakfasts—with perennial pleasers such as short-rib hash with three eggs; a Tuscan omelet made up of chicken, mushrooms, brie and sun-dried tomato; a California eggs benedict, with turkey and avocado in place of the Canadian bacon; oatmeal pancakes with blueberries or bananas; and the house special French toast, stuffed with strawberry compote and rich, nearly sweet Mascarpone cheese. The good news is that the Wellesley location is planning to introduce the full breakfast menu soon, giving locals a way to start the day off right, with no California dreaming necessary.
190 Linden Street
Linden Place, Wellesley