Just two nights after it opened, almost every seat at the bar was taken in Blue Cat Café, Burlington's hip new wine bar and upscale-casual eatery at 1 Lawson Lane; mostly middle-aged couples occupied four of the eight tables.
Owners Ozzy and Mariasha Giral, who share a passion for food and wine, are shooting for a "continental-style" dining experience in the space formerly occupied by Opaline. The menu features simple Italian fare made with quality - often imported - ingredients. About half the options are vegetarian.
My husband and I began our meal with beet-and-garlic soup and a Roquefort salad. While the concept of the soup was appealing, the execution was so peppery I had trouble finishing my half. The large, $8 salad was soothing, though: a cool blend of arugula and baby spinach topped with toasted walnuts, grapes and Roquefort with a drizzle of balsamic vinaigrette.
For main courses we tried the eggplant parmesan on special - "Melanzana Parmigiano" in Italian - as well as a panino with prosciutto, salami, pepperoni, tomato, Fontina and olive spread. The eggplant arrived warm rather than hot, but was nonetheless a tasty version of the classic dish. The slim, golden-brown "panino" sandwich was a savory treat.
For dessert, we opted for the "house special." A solid value at $6, it's described as "vanilla gelato with two dark chocolate truffles and a fruit garnish served with espresso." Since we were sharing, the server thoughtfully brought over two cups of espresso. The ice cream and truffles were fine but didn't shine, and the coffee was a bit watery.
In spite of the culinary quirks, the Blue Cat appears to be a place with an upbeat vibe and huge potential. Provocative art from local Cristine Cambrea adds to its appeal.
Another big plus: the tantalizing descriptions on the wine list. Here's what it says about the 2003 Ben Marco Malbec from Mendoza, Argentina: "Inky in color and dense . . . it has a lively juiciness that makes it immediately drinkable. Complexity comes from cigar box, orange zest, vanilla and oak nuances, with ever-so-slight touches of tar and coffee." Taste for yourself from 4:30 until midnight every night of the week.