There are restaurants that you love because the food is amazing. There are restaurants that you love because you associate them with warm, happy gatherings. Sometimes the places where the food is amazing are places that require a tie, a respectable bank balance, and the ability to cope when the waiter brings the wine for your approval (as well as a working knowledge of fish forks, aspic, and how to cut up a quail). And, sometimes, the places where you have the best times have food that is uninspired, greasy, and guaranteed to have your over-25 body up three times in the night regretting the pizza with extra everything.
In Black Cat Bistro, I have found a pretty great combination of grownup food and a record of having a good time every time I eat there. And I’ve eaten there a lot. It’s the closest restaurant to our house besides Crunchy’s, and while there is nothing like a Crunchy’s pizza and a beer, sometimes the occasion calls for that tablecloth, wine list, flowers-on-the-table vibe.
I recall a freezing winter Sunday when my husband – Captain Carnivore – and I walked up to Black Cat and met friends for brunch and cocktails. I also picked it as the perfect place to meet our son’s potential mother-in-law for the first time—chic enough for a woman who lived in a city, quiet enough to talk, and sure to produce food that would do us proud.
I’ve had long, rambling lunches with friends on the patio. On one occasion, the waitress (who happens to live up the street from me) picked fun drinks for us, and my friend and I got pleasantly buzzed while eating delicious salads and watching the people go by. I’ve also attended work-related functions at Black Cat and had the great pleasure of dining with my boss, who ordered “one for the table” of all the appetizers, including the Baked Helix Escargot. The snails required heavy persuasion for a couple of colleagues, but, in the end, butter and garlic triumphed over squeamishness.
These days, the happy hours (and Happy Hours) spent at Black Cat are on hold, but it’s still possible to order takeout. The food, minus the company, is not quite as great, but it makes us pretty happy. Last week, the Captain chose the signature Bistro Burger, which is a big burger with scallion bacon aioli, cheddar, a sunny side up egg, and a small pile of appropriate vegetation. Oh, and it also comes with frites – both white and sweet potato – that remained crisp from restaurant to home and that the Captain discovered to be fairly miraculous when dipped in the yolk of the sunny side up egg.
My favorite thing on the menu is the Harvest Salad with salmon on top, mostly because Black Cat’s chef has a way with salmon. That sounded wrong for a winter’s night, though, so I ordered appetizers: the Peanut Crusted Goat Cheese Fritters, Roasted Mushroom Brie Bruschetta, and Sesame Chicken Satay. The fritters are my second favorite thing on the menu after anything involving salmon. The crispness of the peanut crust and the accompanying toasts contrasts with the melting softness of the cheese, and the sweetness of the saffron honey and caramelized onions compliments the bite of the goat cheese. I find them revelatory.
The bruschetta was a healthy stack of mushrooms, tomatoes, basil, and garlic atop melted Brie and drizzled with a sweet-ish balsamic glaze, and the chicken satay was traditional except for the sauce, which was more nuanced than the typical Thai restaurant joint. I stole the odd sweet potato fry, handed over some satays and bruschetta (bruschettae?), and, while it wasn’t exactly like sitting at a two-top at Black Cat, it did have the benefit of allowing us to watch Endeavour while we grazed.
Black Cat has deals for takeout, by the way. The most popular one doesn’t work for us (four cheeseburgers and four margaritas or sangrias for $30) because we shouldn’t eat four burgers, and we REALLY shouldn’t drink four margaritas. But I hear that they’ll substitute Shirley Temples for the hard stuff, which means you could have a pretty good family takeout for about what it costs to go to MacDonald’s.
They’re also offering a Christmas Dinner Package that serves 4, with a choice of roast duck or filet mignon, truffled mashed red skin potatoes, wild rice, herb roasted green beans, baguette with butter and parmesan, 4 tuxedo chocolate cake bombs, and a bottle of Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon. At $150 that’s a pretty great deal, and most kids will eat a little steak and a piece of bread and butter. I’m hearing from friends that cooking a big holiday meal to eat in isolation is just not appealing this year. The chance to spend the day lounging around in pajamas and have a really nice dinner come already made and ready to heat and eat is not just something that has to happen, but also something that sounds cozy and delightful.
Someday, I’ll be back on Black Cat’s patio feeling a little tipsy, full of salad, and ready to solve the problems of the world over coffee. Until then, I can look forward to watching Masterpiece Theater and sneaking bites of Satay to the dog in the comfort of my own home.