First Bite: The Regal Beagle

E_regalbeagleMyriad eateries hold court around Coolidge Corner. Thai and sushi joints mix with bagel shops and delis. A shiny new tart yogurt café glistens across from a dingy but popular creperie. But bistro dining has been conspicuously absent from the mix, that is, until this month, when the Regal Beagle moved in and gave neighborhood types a reason to stay

closer to home. You can feel the buzz surrounding the restaurant (opened by the owners of upscale Fenway hangout Church) just walking by, as crowds peek at the menu displayed in the window and murmur votes of approval.

The rich décor and trendy menu may not jibe with the restaurant’s casual namesake, but in this case, it’s a good thing. Chef Laura Henry-Zoubir, whose résumé includes Andover’s Lanam Club and Taranta (among other local kitchens), has devised a medley of comfort-food classics that benefit from interesting twists: Sweet potato fries are served

tempura-style; the requisite mac and cheese gets a sea-salt crust; and the ever-present gnocchi features chickpeas and cauliflower.

Nearly all of the dishes Chowder sampled on a recent visit showcased Henry-Zoubir’s skill with contrasting flavors. A jolt of caramel vinegar and sweet cubed apple balanced out the appetizer of melt-in-your-mouth pork belly, while mini tacos stuffed with tender pulled chicken, pico de gallo, and avocado mousse tasted of plenty of tangy lime. On the entrée side, Henry-Zoubir livened up two impeccably grilled double-cut lamb chops with a goat cheese crust, almond, pomegranate syrup, and mint. Pan-seared scallops boasted a slightly crunchy pistachio-brittle crust and were delectable swirled in the subtly sweet dried-cherry glaze on the side of the plate (though the side of butternut squash risotto

could’ve used a bit more gourd). The must-try dessert? White chocolate bread pudding studded with bananas.

The one aspect of the restaurant that seems like an odd afterthought is the small bar area, tucked against a wall in the back. Though the menu kicks off with a section of “bar bites” (pumpkin hummus topped with cucumber, red onion, and feta made for a nice starter) and the cocktail list is creative, the setup feels slightly awkward-and less conducive to robust socializing than perhaps the Beagle was going for. Yet it’s a minor flaw in this bustling bistro, a place neighbors will likely be loyal to for a long time to come.

The Regal Beagle, 308 Harvard St., Brookline, 617-739-5151,