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Dining Out

Some California dreamin'

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June 15, 2008

The Cottage Restaurant & Bar
190 Linden St., Wellesley
781-239-1100
Hours: Monday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.; Saturday, 7:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.; Sunday, 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Credit cards accepted
No reservations
Accessible to the handicapped

If there were a guide to writing a restaurant review, it would probably advise against opening with a comment about an establishment's bathrooms.

But an exception should be made for a review of the Cottage, Wellesley's new favorite spot for ladies who lunch, because of its cutting-edge Dyson Airblade hand dryers. These spa-style, $1,400 gizmos remove nearly 100 percent of bacteria while giving your hands a toasty sheen. Even if the food wasn't so special, they alone would be worth the trip.

Fortunately, the food is something special, one reason why weekday lunch waits regularly extend past 30 minutes, and getting a good parking space in the revamped Linden Square plaza is something of a blood sport.

During our first visit, the scene inside was hardly less competitive. Diners vied for good tables in the airy dining room, with prime see-and-be-seen booths nestled along the floor-to-ceiling windows. In its first eight months, the Cottage - a transplant of a La Jolla, Calif., restaurant concept, courtesy of Wellesley native Laura Walsh Wolfe and her husband, John - is regularly attracting an interesting mix of old-school Wellesley folks, dressed-to-the-nines professionals on a long lunch, and Maclaren stroller-pushing moms.

With so much atmosphere, it's hard to concentrate on the surprisingly varied menu, featuring everything from Asian-fusion-style ahi tuna nachos ($10), bistro-style goat cheese salad ($7.50), and grilled eggplant panini ($9.50) for lighter eaters.

On our first visit, we loved the artichoke fritter appetizer ($7.95), battered and fried artichoke hearts with a creamy lemon dipping sauce - but on our second, the sauce tasted bland and oily.

The fish tacos ($12.50), grilled mahi-mahi with fixings and organic black beans, were a consistent winning choice, however. We also liked the rosemary grilled shrimp ($14.95) with yellow pepper aioli, despite some undignified wrangling to remove the shellfish, which arrive at the table still impaled by a rosemary twig.

The Cottage stays true to its California roots (indeed, the two restaurants have nearly identical menus) without being flaky - along with a host of salads, it also does a killer tuna-melt sandwich ($9.95), a full-on filet mignon with Gorgonzola sauce (served for dinner only, $30), and even meatloaf with a side of mashed potatoes ($12 lunch, $16 dinner). The restaurant has a full bar, and a nicely rounded beer and wine list, which is, not surprisingly, heavy on California whites.

Weekend breakfast and brunch service is becoming increasingly popular, with whipped coffee drinks, fresh-squeezed juice, and something for every level of decadence, including the chicken and Brie-topped omelette with avocado ($10) or the Spartan protein breakfast ($11), egg whites scrambled with chicken, asparagus, tomato, and mushroom.

The La Jolla location is well loved for its fresh bakery products, such as house-made granola with pecans and dried cranberries ($7.50), as well as oatmeal pancakes and french toast "stuffed" with strawberry and Mascarpone cheese ($8.50 to $10), and it appears Wellesley is quickly earning the same reputation.

During our visits, we had good, though not outstanding, service, marred in a minor-league way by a forgotten drink refill and, separately, a slow-to-arrive check. Local expectations seem to be surprisingly high on this score, even though the restaurant welcomes small children and is priced more like a cafe than a fine dining establishment. But the Cottage seems to be finding its way in its new community quickly, so another few months should see the remaining kinks worked out.

ERICA NOONAN

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