So what makes a one-star restaurant? Sure, the Cottage is relatively expensive for rather bland food. However, it's also comfortable and competent, lists some regional craft brews, and suits mixed-age groups and midday walk-ins very well. You don't open next door to a Legal Seafoods expecting to have the best restaurant on the block, but among the options at the Chestnut Hill mall and environs, the Cottage is a useful place. (The Phoenix reserves a no-star rating for the really bad.)
The theme derives from the bicoastal mixed marriage of the owners: Cal-Mex meets New England. Lobster roll ($19.95), say hello to fish tacos ($17.50). The appeal to mall shoppers is apparent from the opening warm ciabatta bread and butter. No olive oil equals no dry cleaning.
In terms of appetizers, you could go with "capellini crab cakes" ($13.95), which, despite the name, do not obviously substitute fine pasta for the usual starchy filler of crab cakes, and taste and fall apart like the finest bistro examples. Or a group could split the grilled vegetable salad ($12.95), a full meal for a hungry moral person, with asparagus, yellow squash, zucchini, onion, grape tomatoes, and avocado.
You probably should not order the artichoke fritters ($10.95), which were almost entirely tempura batter our day, nor the short-rib eggroll ($11.95), a bad idea (rich beef flavor foiled by a fried shell) pushed over the top by adding barbecue sauce, whipped potato, and cheese. You may enjoy the blood orange and beet salad ($9.50) more when arugula gets sharper in late spring, as there are only a few sections of orange and chunks of red and golden beet.
HIT AND MISS The wild rice risotto with chicken tenders and parmesan is actually quite good. But it's not enough
to save the Cottage from a one-star review.
On the other hand, sometimes bad ideas work out, as with a "wild rice risotto" ($17.95). It's really a long-grain-rice risotto, only somewhat creamy, as it is made in southern Italy, and with only a few flecks of black wild rice, which doesn't fully cook in this mixture. Nevertheless, with some fresh peas, chicken tenders, and shaved parmesan, it is good eating. "Griddled mahi fish tacos" ($17.50) are also quite successful: the combination of lean fish and guacamole, with slices of Napa cabbage and a rough salsa, is delicious, however inauthentic.
But what seemed like a safe pick, the "adobo-marinated rib eye" ($31.95) was a 14-ounce steak only until one deducted the fat and gristle, and the mashed potatoes were real potatoes but blah. Over on the vegetarian end of the spectrum, the polenta cakes ($16.95) had less corn flavor than the kind you can buy in the Shaw's down the street, and were topped with dull goat cheese, "blistered tomatoes" that were grape tomatoes, and seasonal vegetables amounting mostly to strips of pepper and onion — always in season somewhere, I suppose.
An unlikely success, though, was "citrus grilled shrimp" ($26.95), six huge prawns with a clean sweet flavor on very long grain rice with a sweet sauce flecked with a bit of hot pepper — like a Thai squid sauce, only less so. Didn't catch the advertised chili, tangerine, or cilantro flavors, but the shrimp were very good.