The parking lot at the Blue Lantern Lounge was already mostly full when we arrived for an early Thursday night dinner.
Fortunately, we found a table in the bustling middle room of the restaurant. There's a compact barroom at the front, with tall tables and stools, where people can eat, order from a long list of specialty martinis and other drinks, and sometimes listen to live music. The middle and back rooms are outfitted with standard tables.
The overall decor was clean, artsy country house, despite the wall-mounted flat-screen television facing our table. We got glasses of water and warm Italian bread with butter.
We ordered a stuffed banana pepper ($6 each), the Buffalo standard that's elevated here with an ungreasy panko crust and bacon-studded cheese filling. It arrived in a pool of zesty, herbal tomato vodka sauce and a handful of field mix greens, enough for two to share a few bites each.
We also asked for one of the specialty spring rolls ($7), which come in chicken and black bean, banana pepper and sausage or Asian shrimp. They're more like egg-roll caliber, and our chicken and black bean choice included corn, pepperjack cheese and pico de gallo. Like the pepper, it was fried well, with a crispy skin, and the ingredients were fresh and distinct, not reduced to mush.
We also asked for a butternut squash salad ($11) from the regular menu. I chose the Thursday night dinner special of pot roast with roasted vegetables and mashed potatoes ($18). Cat went for the lobster cake entree ($19) with risotto and glazed carrots.
We noticed that others had ordered the signature "Sir Lawrence" pound-and-a-quarter burger, which comes on a custom-baked Frisbee-sized roll, and a pile of onion rings.
Butternut squash can be heavy, especially when chefs so often feel inclined to enrich it with cream and butter. The Blue Lantern squash salad surprised us with its restraint, offering warm chunks of sweet, tender squash in a nest of puckery baby arugula, dotted with halved grape tomatoes adding juicy acidity. What made it complete were crisped nubs of pancetta that contributed an earthy cured flavor to the salad's savory dressing. It was one of my favorite salads of 2012, though Cat thought the tomatoes pointless.
Her lobster cake dinner brought three puck-sized cakes of lobster mixture, which were aggressively browned in a crumb coat. Despite that, we wished for more exterior crunch to balance the expanse of soft middles. The flavor was acceptably seafoodish but like most lobster cakes, it didn't scream crustacean. The spicy aioli and basil oil added pools of flavor to dabble in, so the cakes didn't become a one-note opera.
The accompanying risotto with peas was a soft, creamy delight, and we both enjoyed the ample helping of firm glazed carrots.
My pot roast dinner arrived piled onto an oval plate. It wasn't much to look at, but it was fine to eat.
The beef was easily fork-tender, mild heading toward bland. The beef juice I found at the bottom of the plate helped amplify its flavor, but I wished there was more, or even a gravy.
The vegetables were overwhelmed, and seemed like an afterthought, even though the mashed potatoes at the bottom were soothingly creamy. There were chunks of soft carrots, squash and onions there, and I would have eaten more.
I asked our server for some horseradish. She brought a little cup and I happily finished the rest of my beef. Service as a whole was snappy, with answers and water refills coming without delay.
We looked at desserts, passing over strawberry cobbler, to pick a dark chocolate dipped brownie and a salty caramel crème brulee (both $6).
The brownie had morphed into more like a brownie sundae, but the warm brownie and ice cream provided a sweet final note nonetheless. The salty crème brûlée, with big grains of salt cracking between my teeth along with the pane of glassine sugar, was a real treat. The deeply caramel custard underneath made it a combination to savor.
Delivering upscale comfort food with thoughtful touches, Blue Lantern stands out from the crowd.?
> RESTAURANT REVIEW
Blue Lantern Lounge
Review: 8 plates (Out of 10)
Comfort food with careful touches ?brings crowds to Elma lounge.
WHERE: 6120 Seneca St., Elma (652-2583, ?www.bluelanternlounge.com)
HOURS: 5 to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; ?5 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Closed Sunday and Monday.
PRICE RANGE: Appetizers, $6-$13; salads, $5-$14; ?entrees, $14-$27.
PARKING: In the lot.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes.