Where to: Colette Wine Bistro, open all day in the Porter Square Hotel in Cambridge. You can see the large pink neon letters that spell out Colette from way down Mass. Ave.
Why: Friends who are staying in the hotel just arrived in town and they’re exhausted and it only makes sense to eat here. Or you have a breakfast meeting and you’ve promised yourself that you’re not going to one of those Cambridge cafes where you order at a counter and bus your own table. Or you’re on your own and the enthusiastic staff make it seem like a friendly place to settle in.
The Back Story: Business partners Sandrine Rossi (she owns Frenchie in the South End) and Loic Le Garrec (Petit Robert Bistro) teamed up to put traditional French specialties on their menu. Rossi comes from a hospitality family in Toulouse, in the southwest of France. Her parents own Chateau de Drudas, a renovated castle that is now a hotel with the restaurant Le Verdurier, with both destinations listed in the Relais & Chateaux guide. Le Garrec, from Paris, started Petit Robert with Jacky Robert; at one time there were five Petit Robert locations. (Robert is now at Ma Maison on Beacon Hill).
What to Eat: Charcuterie and cheese plates, oysters and other raw bar items, and French classics from chef Cyrille Couet (Miel, Bistro Duet), such as puff pastry with mushroom ragout, French onion soup topped with a thick crust of Gruyere, mussels in a creamy wine broth, steak frites. Also some riffs on tradition — Nicoise cannelloni, Maine lobster risotto a l’Americaine (spinach and fava beans).
What to Drink: The wine list is primarily Gallic with an emphasis on Burgundy. Dramatic bottle displays contribute to the ambience. The list is serviceable and reasonably priced (though if you’ve a mind to go a bit overboard, you can) and includes labels you’re likely to recognize. On the cocktail menu, Midnight in Paris mixes Bully Boy vodka with lime and cucumber-mint syrup; Cognac, Lillet Blanc, and orange marmalade go into For Glory & For Grandeur.
The Takeaway: Service comes with a smile and a good deal of charm, it just doesn’t come often enough. The dining room, with its long curved bar and marble table tops, is glaringly bright, but the staff has charisma and warmth and that will turn Colette into the chic all-day cafe it intends to be.
1924 Massachusetts Ave., Porter Square, Cambridge, 617-576-2222, email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @sheryljulian.