Where to Self Portrait, which used to be T.W. Food. Chef Tim Wiechmann spent his younger years cooking in Paris, and he says the new name symbolizes a return to his roots. He and his wife, Bronwyn, also run Eastern European restaurant Bronwyn in Somerville.
What for Old-school bistro standards, from charcuterie soup to roast chicken and duck fat frites.
The scene A cozy netherworld in a tranquil corner of Cambridge. A waitress with a flower in her hair rhapsodizes about the pleasures of Spindrift cucumber water. Ponytailed men catch up at two-tops pressed against exposed brick walls, sipping red wine. A lone woman curls up on a couch near the entrance, flipping through a book, waiting for her companion to materialize. Occasionally Wiechmann arrives tableside to present a dish. Nobody’s in a special hurry, and that’s just fine.
What you’re eating Whatever you like. Although the menu offers three- or five-course options, nobody will look askance if you go rogue and order by the plate. It’s possible to make a meal from starters — horseradish-cured salmon gravlax, asparagus and lettuces drizzled in sunflower-hibiscus vinaigrette, poached eggs over leeks and puff pastry soaked in morel cream. Charcuterie soup, a gluttonous vat of liquid meat, is a meal on its own. So is the complimentary oat and sunflower seed pain de seigle, a chewy loaf served with a scoop of bacon-rosemary butter. No trendy entrees here, either: Enjoy proper plates like roast chicken with braised bacon and carrots, scallop boudin blanc with salt cod potatoes and asparagus, or duck leg with duck fat frites. For dessert, perhaps a light pear and apple sorbet.
Care for a drink? Unlike at T.W. Food, Self Portrait offers cocktails. Opt for the Gilles, made with mezcal, Campari, and yellow Chartreuse; or the Remi, a mix of bourbon, St. Germain, and ginger beer. There’s also an ample cognac menu, plus a French wine list. For non-imbibers, there’s that good ol’ Spindrift.
Overheard Buttery ballyhoo; weight-loss woes; renovation rants; pirate paramours. “Here’s our house bread with two kinds of butter — bacon and honey!” enthuses a waitress. “Oh boy!” an avuncular fellow hardy-hars, moving in for the kill. “I’m not drinking. I need to lose 5 pounds by Friday,” says a woman to a wine-sipping pal. “My contractor is giving me a discount on our nursery, because they messed up the design,” sniffs another lady. “I’ll tell you this right now: He’s sensible, he’s ambitious, and he’s a modern-day Blackbeard!” says a 50-something woman to two friends, who twitter with delight.
377 Walden St., Cambridge, 617-864-4745, www.selfportraitbistro.com