Adrien Aeschliman, who spent much of his childhood in Europe, had his first restaurant job at the age of 12 in Lausanne, Switzerland. His tiny Bottega, opened on Maryland Avenue in 2014, has been wildly popular, and he planned to expand it to a new Hampden location last summer. Soon after that plan fell through, Aeschliman spotted a vacancy in the narrow space between Tapas Teatro and Pen & Quill—he signed a lease the following day.
Name. Colette wasn’t quite named for the French novelist. “I don’t have a good back story; I just like the aesthetic of the name,” says Aeschliman. Like a novelist following a character’s lead, the restaurant style evolved from the name. “In the last 10 to 15 years, French has been put on the back burner,” Aeschliman says. “The idea is to create a new, higher-energy, more casual French bistro.” Realized in script by MICA professor and artist Kristian Bjornard, “Colette” becomes a graphic demonstration of the restaurant’s elegant whimsy.
Décor. The rear of the long narrow space is for dining (where reservations are accepted), with chocolate brown banquettes, inherited from the former Red Parrot, along the French grey walls. The front bar area is painted in Calke green, a warm shade that mimics the breakfast room in England’s Calke Abbey.
Bar. Black lacquered shelves behind the marble-topped bar hold all manner of spirits and glittering glassware—coupes, curvy snifters, Nick and Nora cocktail glasses. An absinthe fountain currently dispenses water for service, though general manager Jennifer Marsh hopes to change that. “I have absinthe spoons at home,” she says. “You put a sugar cube over the glass and light it on fire and the sugar melts into the alcohol.” Bar manager Crystal Wack, who introduced classic cocktails, housemade bitters, infusions and tinctures during her years at City Café, has created a menu of pre-Prohibition and French cocktails at Colette. She’s also pouring mixed drinks and seasonal house sodas from stainless kegs.
Food. Chef Stefano Porcile, whose resume lists Woodberry Kitchen, Fork and Wrench and Bottega, says his philosophy is “cooking things simply and beautifully”—without elaborate presentations or crazy garnishes. “Buying microgreens is a travesty,” he says, “when you’re throwing away beet greens and radish tops. I believe in finding beauty in the things we have.” An early version of the changing menu included plump oysters poached in garlicky cream, seared scallops with blood orange, and duck breast with cauliflower and figs. Goat cheese beignets drizzled with honey made a perfect starter.
Verdict. Twice the size of its Italian sibling, Colette promises to be as popular, with authentic cocktails, French-inspired plates and energetic service.
1709 N. Charles St.
Published in the April 2016 issue of STYLE.