Walking into the Velvet Buffalo Cafe is like taking a step back in time to the eclectic French Belle Epoque period.
Modern but with a vintage vibe, the restaurant’s high ceilings, black and white hexagon tiled floor, bentwood cafe chairs and floor-to-ceiling windows charmed us from the start. The place even smelled wonderful. We had the most delightful time sharing and sampling small plates before ending the evening with a glimpse of the rooftop bar.
This café is housed inside the Goodwin Boutique Hotel, and it offers another casual yet upscale dining option near Beloit College. The lounge features an enormous circular bar with several tables and opens to an extensive dining room.
Our first order of business was beverages. Mocktails are fun, and we were happy to see some creative nonalcoholic drinks on the menu.
Nikki raved about the rhubarb basil lemonade ($6). It was a multi-sensory experience from the beautiful, pale pink color to the earthy scent of basil that mingled in every sip with the tangy, lightly sweetened lemonade.
Jennifer chose the refreshing Spring Fever ($6), which was made with Fever-Tree citrus tonic, grapefruit and lime juices.
I skipped the “mock” and went straight for a Parisian ice tea ($10). Yes, there was a bit of black tea—but mixing it with Grand Marnier, cognac and fresh lemon brought it to new heights.
Finally, Helene ordered a glass of Nebbiolo ($18), a wonderful Italian wine included on the restaurant’s extensive wine list.
We love the small plate dining concept, since it is perfect for sharing. Even though we tend to go overboard, it’s a good excuse to try more things from the menu.
We started with the smoked salmon and roasted beet salad ($12). The creamy buttermilk herb dressing was lovely, and the salad was made from one of our favorites—soft Bibb lettuce. Sliced avocado, celery root, fennel and cubed, roasted beets all worked well together. There was very little visible smoked salmon, which seemed to be shredded and disappeared into the salad, but the taste was there, and the combination of flavors was fantastic.
Jennifer wanted to try the beer-battered walleye ($16). The platter arrived with delicate, lightly battered fish accompanied by some of the best potato pancakes I have ever tasted. The dish featured spring onions, endive and ramps as well as a unique addition—deep-fried, sliced lemons. The citrus taste complimented the fish perfectly.
I found the five-spice ribs ($14) to be a treat. The meat was “fall-off-the-bone” tender and perfectly seasoned with ginger and sesame. The dish, served with a slaw of Napa cabbage and sweet crispy apple, was subtle and satisfying, and some of us couldn’t decide which we enjoyed more: the ribs or the slaw.
We all loved the maple-roasted squash ($13). We haven’t had bad farro yet, and this one had Brussels sprouts, crunchy hazelnuts and the wonderful addition of fig. The squash was lightly sweetened with maple, and the medley of ingredients gave the dish great texture.
Next up was the seafood Bianca wood-fired pizza ($20), and it was definitely not a small plate. The large, thin-crust pizza was slathered with a garlic cream sauce and generous amounts of shrimp, clams, crab and smoked fish. It was rich and decadent, but we managed to finish the whole thing. If you like seafood, this is the one for you.
I asked the server for after-dinner drink suggestions, and he was spot on with the chocolate raspberry martini ($13). With a pronounced taste of raspberry and the creaminess of the chocolate, it was not too sweet or too strong. We enjoyed passing it around.
Of course, we couldn’t leave without checking out the dessert menu. It’s rhubarb season, and most of us are big fans, so we ordered the brown butter rhubarb tart ($9). The dish was visually stunning with the brilliant ruby red color of sliced rhubarb and strawberries contrasted by soft whipped cream and edible purple petals. It was a delicious mix of sweet and sour.
As good as the tart was, my favorite dish of the night ended up being a last-minute “why not?” cherry almond whoopie ($10). I had no idea what to expect when I found out the dish used quinoa as an ingredient.
The meringue had a wonderful consistency with a crunch baked into it, and though it was unusual, it worked perfectly. The cherry and orange filling with a dash of mint made for a dessert you don’t want to miss.