First Bite: Cognac Bistro

Brookline’s French newcomer lives up to its neighborhood’s high standards.



THE AREA AROUND COOLIDGE CORNER has always been a good place to eat — if you don’t mind doing it from takeout containers. The sushi, pad thai, burrito, and falafel options are the envy of other, more white-bread communities. But for too long, Coolidge has lacked that other urban necessity: a neighborhood restaurant with a bar and comforting entrées in the $20 range.

Happily, it now has two: the year-and-a-half-old Regal Beagle, serving fine variations on American classics, and now Cognac Bistro, a relaxed, mostly French charmer in a converted Texaco station on Harvard Street.

The restaurant is owned by Nelson Cognac, who has won over Waban with his upscale Greek eatery, Kouzina. Though his name appears in the vintage liquor ads on the walls and the bar’s cognac-laced cocktails, the thematic overkill stops just short of a forehead slap.

The cocktails here are excellent (of note: the Ricard, featuring pastis, lemongrass, ginger, and mango; and the Chartreuse gimlet with honey and lime). And the wine list, while small, is well edited and user-friendly. The most expensive bottle is $65, and there are 14 selections by the glass.

The menu is reminiscent of Gaslight or Eastern Standard, complete with framed panels and fleurs-de-lis, and it hits all of the required notes. Gougères made for a great start. (It’s tough to begin any meal more pleasantly than with cheese puffs.) The onion soup was rich with caramelized flavor; the frisée salad was sprightly and enriched with bacon. A hanger steak, served with frites, was wonderfully chewy. The more whimsical dishes worked, too, such as mussels “escargot” with garlic and parsley butter, and salmon “coq au vin” with bacon, mushrooms, and pearl onions. Alas, the bouillabaisse was overcooked, and seared sole in a creamy oyster-leek sauce was bland. Cognac Bistro may not yet be a destination restaurant, but if you live here, rest assured it’ll make you happy that you do.

455 Harvard St., Brookline, 617-232-5800,