Archive for category Restaurant Review
Time for another Little Rock restaurant review!
This is a story about a little boy…a boy who, for 30+ years, lived in a big city. The boy then moved to another big city. Months after his arrival in the new, big city, the boy stumbled upon one of the greatest culinary creations known to man. But alas, the little boy was once again asked to move…this time to a small city.
Fearing the worst, the little boy said good-bye to this magnificent, still newly-discovered food and set off for a new life.
The little boy loved his new, small city dearly, but often yearned for the dish he worried would not appear.
Then…months later…the little boy had the great fortune of walking into Mr. Chen’s Authentic Chinese Restaurant…and all was right in the world again. Why? He was reunited with vaunted steamed buns (a.k.a soup dumplings). What a beautiful tale.
In reality, it still depresses me that all my many years in Houston I never stumbled upon the sacred soup dumplings. They’re all over the place in Boston, which is why I practically lived on them last year. Who can resist a nice steamed dumpling? No one, right? Now imagine injecting that dumpling with flavorful broth. It’s damn near a religious experience.
I’d practically given up on the idea of ever finding them in Little Rock. But, low and behold, good ol’ Mr. Chen’s has them ($4.95 for 10-count) and boy are they good. Not the best, but nevertheless a great showing. The dumpling was filled with ground chicken, which is a bit surprising since most are with pork. The warm broth kept the meat most and was just the right temperature where you should feel comfortable about popping the entire dumpling in your mouth. In fact, there really isn’t another way to eat them. If you bite the dumpling in half, all of the broth will dump out. In the world of soup dumplings, that’s what we call a total fail. Mr. Chen’s also has pan-fried dumplings (again with ground chicken) and they too are a nice representation of this classic Chinese appetizer.
We tried the egg drop soup ($3.95), which oddly only comes in a 2-person serving size. Unfortunately, the soup was below average, laced with frozen peas and carrots, big chunks of mushrooms, and thin, under-seasoned broth.
My tablemates ordered two lunch combination plates: orange chicken ($6.50) and sesame chicken ($6.50). While the orange chicken was underwhelming at best, the sesame chicken was downright terrible. I found the actual pieces of chicken to be tough and over-breaded. The accompanying egg fried rice was adequate, but the test-tube shaped generic egg roll, which is found in most Little Rock Chinese restaurants, was not.
It all sounds like a mixed bag, doesn’t it?
A little bit, but not really. I haven’t gotten to what I ordered yet, which was the beef chow fun ($7.95). The chow fun is a stand-alone dish, not found on the lunch specials portion of the menu. Please don’t let that deter you from ordering it. Quite simply, it’s one of the best things I’ve eaten in Little Rock, and, for that matter, any Chinese restaurant in the country. Yes, the chow fun was that good! Tender pieces of beef are mixed with flat noodles, Napa cabbage, sprouts, and green onions…forming a near perfect plate of food. I really can’t imagine going to Mr. Chen’s and not ordering this dish.
Did Mr. Chen’s have some misses? Absolutely. But they also had several hits…and those were home runs. In my opinion, the soup dumplings and chow fun easily make Mr. Chen’s the best Chinese restaurant in Little Rock.
Those dishes have officially become my ordering staples, but I also look forward to trying various items off Mr. Chen’s somewhat eclectic, yet reasonably affordable menu. Our entire bill came to $37.35 and that too is a dream come true.
Time for another Little Rock restaurant review!
Three days out and I’m still shaking my head over the dinner at Bruno’s Italian Bistro in West Little Rock. Rarely does a restaurant reach such highs and lows in one meal.
Things started out well with the complimentary bread and house made butter. We wolfed it down and our waiter thoughtfully offered another basket within a few minutes.
For an appetizer, our table decided to split a Caesar salad. Bruno’s classic take on this Italian restaurant staple was well-received by my tablemates. The dressing, with a subtle hint of Worcestershire sauce, rivaled that of the world famous Pietro’s in New York City. Unfortunately, a closer inspection of the salad showed the romaine lettuce to be browned and visually unappealing. This was not a huge issue, but a strong presentation to match an exceptional taste would have been preferred.
About this time, the second basket of bread arrived to our table. Regrettably, it was stale and moldy. And although the bread proved to be a terrible segue to my main course, I was still somewhat excited about the impending entrance of the eggplant rollatini.
Enthusiasm soon faded with the arrival of my poorly presented pasta dish. Thin cuts of eggplant were buried under a mess of cheese and marinara sauce, all resting on a pile of spaghetti. But here’s the thing, the marinara sauce was some of the finest I’ve ever tasted…anywhere! It had a perfect balance of acidity/sweetness and the chunky tomatoes gave the sauce such wonderful texture.
However, the eggplant was bitter and had the appearance and texture of a Dr. Scholl’s shoe insert. Just two bites were all I needed to wave the white flag and scoop the rest completely off my plate; it was almost inedible. Once removed, I found that what remained of the dish was quite delicious, due in large part to the before mentioned sauce as well as the creamy ricotta cheese.
A quick bite of my wife’s pizzatola, composed of sausage, mushrooms, onions and green peppers folded into a slightly spicy tomato sauce, and my daughter’s lasagna, netted positive results. I wouldn’t hesitate to order either dish.
So…the big question…will I come back? Yes.
With Little Rock’s severe shortage of quality Italian restaurants, Bruno’s marinara sauce alone warrants a return trip. With generous portions, fair prices, and attentive service, Bruno’s exhibits signs of making it long-term. I just hope they can work out the other kinks. To be fair, my visit was a few days post-snowstorm and I’m sure the restaurant wasn’t operating at full strength. However, someone needs to tell the woman at the register to smile and ask customers about their meal. I often find it’s the little things that make a neighborhood restaurant shine.
Have you been to Bruno’s? Would love to hear your thoughts and any recommendations!
Our newly formed three-man Little Rock Lunch Crew is awesome. One week we’re eating waffles out of a truck along Asher Avenue and the next time around we’re in the heart of Hillcrest high society at Terry’s Finer Foods. Ain’t life grand?
And while the food cranked out by the Hot Lanta Food Truck was overwhelming praised by our group, the same cannot be said about Terry’s. This cozy spot located along Kavanaugh specializes in French cuisine, something that’s reflected in its beautiful European-style décor.
I started out with an order of escargots a l’ail et le persil ($7). In simple terms: six small snails in a bubbly butter/garlic/shallots/parsley mixture. Sounds good, doesn’t it? Well, it wasn’t. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it was terrible. The snails were chewy, bland and just plain boring. I’m well aware that every respectable French restaurant must have escargots on the menu, but I’d highly recommend that Terry’s suspends serving until the dish is re-tooled. Fortunately, my small bowl of poblano chowder, which acted as my entrée, fared much better due to its wonderful consistency and proper seasoning. The small chunks of poblano peppers worked well with the bacon and diced potatoes.
My tablemates opted for some of the heavier lunchtime selections. Dan went with the steak frites ($14). My one bite of his ribeye steak yielded some mixed results. The meat was tender and cooked to a perfect medium-rare, but much like the snails, lacked in the flavor department. That said, it was a more than generous lunch portion of steak at a very reasonable value.
Michael’s order of croque monsieur ($10), along with an appetizer of pate de champagne ($7), won him the “Dude Who Knows What He’s Doing” Award. My samples of both dishes left me wanting to steal a few more bites, yet Michael’s stinginess prohibited such an act. The open-faced sandwich (croque monsieur) of shaved ham covered in Gruyere is not to be missed.
Overall, I’d say Terry’s had a good enough showing to inspire a return visit. But with so many options surrounding this French spot, it might be awhile before they see my pretty face again.
Positives: service, atmosphere, prices
Negatives: parking, tiny glasses for water (these confused Dan—he thought they were for washing his hands)
Time for another Little Rock restaurant review!
I took the family out last Friday night for a celebratory dinner at The Pantry—a casually elegant, yet rustic restaurant with a menu that leans heavily towards central European fare. Upon arrival, I was happy to see a full parking lot, hopefully a signal of a favorable eating experience, but one we’d probably have to wait for. Sure enough, the wait stood at 30 minutes. When it’s getting late and you’ve got two young, hungry children, a 30-minute wait is typically your line of demarcation. Anything longer is a definite walk-out.
But I wanted to try The Pantry, and the while the hostess said 30 minutes, her body language indicated 15. We stayed and made our way to the bar for some pre-dinner cocktails. I wanted to try one of their signature drinks and asked the bartender what he recommended. I then asked, “Could you make something I’d like.” That’s code for “Don’t put my drink in a girly glass.” He obliged with a market spice (Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum, Ace Pear Cider, Muddled Lemon & Orange, Rocks), served in a rugged tin cup. And wouldn’t you know it, two sips into my cocktail, we were ready to be seated.
We started out with two “nibbles”: the pommes frites ($4) and house smoked trout cake ($6.50). I was discouraged by the small size of the trout cake, but I certainly wasn’t by its taste. The cake was almost total trout, with very limited fillers and a wonderful smoky flavor. We feverishly wolfed down the pommes frites–an excellent appetizer to nosh on as a group.
I decided on the roasted chicken ($13.95) for my main course…an often underrated and overlooked dish. On paper, it seems a little boring. But roasting a good chicken is an art. And if it can be pulled off, that bodes well for the rest of the menu.
Fortunately for me, The Pantry does a mean roasted chicken. Due to the dim lighting and heavy seasoning, the crispy skin almost appeared black. What it lacked in looks, it made up for in taste. The chicken was moist (even the breast meat) and the seasoned skin was just packed with flavor. Some grilled asparagus rested underneath the poultry and that too was prepared to perfection. And although the dish did fill me up, there needed to be a starch somewhere on the plate.
I also had a few bites of the wiener schnitzel ($11.95) and the pantry pie ($8.95). Both were excellent, but more suitable for consumption during cooler temps. These are classic comfort foods, especially the pantry pie with its tender pot roast and thick mashed potatoes.
Our first visit to The Pantry was a hit. I loved how the dining experience felt special, but not pretentious. The service, from start to finish, was flawless. The owner even stopped by our table to thank us for our business. I generally hate this move, but not this time around. He came across genuinely appreciative and that’s something that never gets old.
Pros: atmosphere, reasonable prices, service, quality food
Cons: average parking lot, a tad loud for a romantic dinner