Finally. Coles 735 Main has reversed the apparent curse that has long bedeviled (and shuttered) restaurants at Main Street and Ashland Avenue.
Coles' conversion of that space — which in recent years has housed Furlong's (twice), Onizim's, Lelia's and Clamatos — required inspiration from sunny Provence's traditional color scheme of yellow and blue along with cozy touches like embroidered pillows to warm things up. Lighting, too, is soft, unless you get the bad luck of sitting near the kitchen's saloon doors and garish glare. During this season, request a table with a view of the Christmas tree, sparkling with tiny white bulbs.
Yes, the only remaining hints that a horses-and-hunters theme once reigned here are the fox-and-hounds murals, which now seem quaint rather than ponderous.
In keeping with this cooler bistro feel, Coles — no apostrophe, thank you — serves dishes that also lift the spirit.
Even if you're just snacking, there's an un-fishy seafood burger with pickled red onions and a generous portion of crisp duck-fat fries for $12. The lighter grilled scallop is sweet, spicy and salty, with caramelized onion and a jalapeño-spiked miso sauce. I am deeply committed to the Weisenberger grit fries — that's really a no-brainer — that cost just $5. Whatever part of the duck was not involved in the fries might have found its way into the plate of duck confit tacos with an outstanding, and hot, arbol chili sauce and a nice "salsa" of lime and chopped avocado for $6.
My point: You can dine very well here for comparatively little.
Yet even if you have a full meal, you won't regret one penny you spend.
Both salads I have tried were great, with serious attention to detail. The simple grilled Caesar had wonderful croutons, light and crunchy. The wedge of iceberg lettuce had a fine scattering of chives and chewy bacon, and a perfectly hard-boiled egg. Because this salad includes crumbled Gorgonzola, I recommend Thousand Island dressing over what would be a redundant blue cheese.
The sides make a good vegetarian meal, especially if the daily risotto stars shiitake and cremini mushrooms. The grains were bathed in their own creamy starch and exactly al dente, that sweet spot between chalky and overcooked.
I liked the Brussels sprouts as well, also not undercooked. I would have loved them with more shallots to add balance to the assertive dose of lemon.
There are vegetarian entrees, including the Moroccan stew with butternut squash in a tomato sauce with quinoa. This dish is the only one I am lukewarm about, because it always seems to arrive lukewarm and because the consistency is watery, the flavors are insipid and really the only ingredient that makes it Moroccan is the spicy paste called harissa, which you cannot taste.
On the other hand, the Amish chicken, enough for three people, is an example of the excellence of simplicity, fitting for Amish poultry. There's half a bird, simply roasted and most of it fork-tender, on top of a bed of spaetzle with herbs and sautéed Swiss chard, and finished with a demi-glace of vermouth and tarragon.
Last but not least is dessert. Finish your meal with butterscotch budino, a silky version of pudding, and light enough to enjoy after roving up and down the menu.
In addition to a revitalized setting and fresh menu, Coles' wine list fits the fare, and the service is usually a cut above. There's also patio dining for the warmer months.
At long last, this previously inauspicious intersection, after many, many years, has become a culinary destination.
Wendy Miller is a Lexington-based food and spirits writer and critic.