Being a chef, in some ways, is not so very different from being a writer. We each aim to give form to a vision in our minds, inspired in part by flavors and memories from childhood – like the steak that Ruth Reichl writes about gnawing ritualistically to the bone as a kid. A writer strives to capture that feeling on the page, a chef in a dish.

This is what I’m thinking as I dip a demitasse spoon into the marrow of a steak bone at Lolita, the new bistro and wine bar on Munjoy Hill in Portland. I’m here with writer Monica Wood, whose most recent book is a memoir, “When We Were the Kennedys,” and Christina Baker Kline, author of the novel “Orphan Train.” We’re talking about the line between honest versus appropriate in food, writing and life – with Nabokov’s novel “Lolita” as our catalyst. For example, to gnaw on the bits of meat around the outside of this marrow bone while sitting at a sidewalk table in Maine’s largest metropolis is not exactly appropriate, but it certainly feels honest.

How do Lolita and chef Guy Hernandez (formerly of Bar Lola and One Fifty Ate Bakeshop), with wife and general manager Stella, partner Neil Reiter and his architect wife Lauren, create a space in which this can happen? It has something to do with what we’ve been talking about – that if you own something honestly (in writing, speaking or on Facebook), and do a beautiful job of it, people may love it or hate it, but the important thing is that you’ve said what you needed to say.

If a chef tries too hard to make a statement, or hasn’t fully explored the way flavors are meant to work in a dish, it can fall flat. The same goes for the décor and service. Thus far, Lolita has made an honest effort at all three. The small plates are compelling, service is attentive and the space, with its custom wood-fired grill and zinc bar, well-appointed.

Our waitress, Erika, who works straight through from the first seating at 11 a.m. until closing at 11 p.m. (and also admits to being a tireless 24), checks in with consistent and indulgent care. She asked about our tastes in order to prepare appropriate cheese (3 for $13) and salami plate (3 for $18) for our starter, leaving off the bleu in deference to Monica.

These come with the local mushrooms and toast ($4) and an heirloom tomato salad ($9). I savor the freshness of the Black Kettle Farm cherry tomatoes with basil and the tang of the bleu cheese (that we left in this time), and find it goes well with the bite of the freshly sliced bresaola, crespone and coppa salamis from Long Island and San Francisco. We also enjoy the warm, creamy sauce on the oyster mushrooms mixed with thyme and garlic, as well as the Jasper Hill Harbison cheese from Vermont and Lakin’s Gorges Prix de Diane from Rockport.

“Oh my goodness,” Monica exclaims, “This food is great. And I usually hate it when the waitstaff tell me how to order, but she’s a sweetie.” For the record, Monica also thinks “Lolita” is the most overrated book in the English language. “The book’s not ‘inappropriate.’ I just don’t get all the adulation for what, in my view, is a boring, repulsive tale of a pedophile.”

“I was dazzled by Nabokov’s gorgeous prose,” Christina returns. “We may not want to read it, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be written.”

We ask Erika about the name. She says Lolita is meant to be the sexier little sister or cousin of Lola, from Bar Lola, the restaurant down the street that Lolita’s owners closed last year. And certainly this is true. Lolita is small and sexy and intriguing and complicated.

I could’ve happily spent much longer with our starters, but they are gone in what seems like a few bites and leave us hungry for more. So that’s why, when the marrow bones arrived, and after I’d completely cleaned out the sweet and translucent fatty filling inside the center, I was reduced to chewing the bits of fire-roasted meat around the outside.

Christina, on the other hand, isn’t much compelled by the marrow, and even manages to resist chewing on the bones, but is loving the wood-roasted clams ($14), which are buttery and tender with garlic and tarragon. Erika also sold us on the grilled romaine with tarragon vinaigrette and Pecorino ($9), “the fire salad” as she called it, which is smoky from the wood-fired grill and fresh at the same time, and the bucatini pasta with conserved tomatoes and red chili flakes ($14), “spicier than some may like,” says Monica, “but I adore it.”

“This is a truly delicious lunch,” Monica continues. “That doesn’t change the fact that if Portland opens one more restaurant with precious portions of expensive food, I’m gonna whump somebody with a clover-fed cow.”

We agree that to spend over $125 is a lot for a lunch that left us, albeit delighted and happy, still a bit hungry. However, lunchtime is much less crowded here than dinner, and I appreciate that Lolita is open most of the day as a locals’ hangout like the coffee shop that preceded it.

This in mind, I’d especially recommend Lolita for happy hour. Stella’s extensive wine list is worth exploring a least once a week along with a few small plates for some social time after work and before cooking at home on your deck where you can eat all you like. You can always come back for a nightcap – maybe an Old Fashioned with local New England Distilling’s Gunpowder Rye Whiskey, plus warm milk with cookies ($4) or the ice cream and espresso ($5) for dessert.

As our lunch hour (or two) comes to a close, we linger over the seasonal berry parfait with brandy cream in a jar ($7), which is like a slice of pie in a glass, all the rage in Maine restaurants this summer. We may fight over the last bite of accompanying pound cake, but we agree to disagree about “Lolita” the book, and whether Lolita (the restaurant’s) bucatini pasta was too spicy or too expensive.

Lolita, like its namesake, plays knowingly with the border between honest and appropriate. I appreciate the vision and fresh flavors chef Hernandez brings to the plate and the creation, with his partners, of a space where conversations like this can take place. Not to mention, we should all try chewing on bones in public at least once in our lives.

Melissa Coleman is interim restaurant reviewer for the Maine Sunday Telegram. Each week, she takes a writer or food expert to dinner with her to provide additional perspective. Coleman writes for national and local publications and can be found at melissacoleman.com. Her memoir, “This Life Is in Your Hands: One Dream, Sixty Acres, and a Family’s Heartbreak,” is about coming of age during the 1970s back-to-the-land movement.