Archive for category Restaurant Review
Let me start off by saying that I detest buffets. Hate them. Loathe them.
So why did I thoroughly enjoy my experience at Al Seraj’s lunch buffet? Well, it didn’t feel like that typical, mass feeding frenzy with sad food that’s been sitting around for hours. Granted, we were there early, right after everything was just put out, but the presentation of the numerous items led me to believe that attention to detail was critical for the staff at Al Seraj.
The buffet included classics like: chicken shawarma, gyro meat, chicken kababs, falafel, hummus, basmati rice, tahini dip, baba ghanouj, stuffed grape leaves, and tabouli salad, just to name a few.
I was particularly impressed with both the baba ghanouj, which rivals any in town, and the freshly sliced gyro meat. The latter was a nice touch, as Al Seraj seems to pride itself in slicing and serving the meat from the spit just minutes, if not seconds, before you select it from the buffet. The real magic, however, is when you get like eight different items all on one plate and start mixing flavors.
Al Seraj is the space formerly occupied by Great Wraps, and a part of me is just excited that any restaurant other that GW now resides in that spot. But the truth is that Al Seraj seems to be a quality establishment churning out fresh, tasty Mediterranean food at a reasonable price. The lunch buffet is $9.99, which is an unbelievable value given the quality of food.
Hopefully this restaurant will do well, stay in business, and add to our growing list of quality Mediterranean options here in Little Rock. It’s only been one visit for yours truly, but so far, so good.
Important info: Buffet runs Monday-Sunday (11 a.m.-3 p.m.); Adults ($9.99), Ages 9-12 ($7.99), Ages 4-8 ($5.99), Under 3 (free)
Al Seraj Mediterranean Restaurant
11400 N. Rodney Parham
Hours: Monday-Saturday (11 a.m.-9 p.m.); Sunday (11 a.m.-7 p.m.)
The Yellow Rocket Concepts group does social media better than just about anybody in the Little Rock food industry. So, when it posted a beautiful picture of a fried pork chop with red mole, a current menu special at Local Lime, I knew a visit to the WLR restaurant was imminent.
Sure enough, I was digging into the latest masterpiece 24 hours later, and it was just as deliciously brilliant as the picture lead me to believe. Thick, rich mole with hints of cinnamon covered a perfectly fried, bone-in pork chop, and was accompanied by grilled cebollitas, a small bowl of mango salsa and two sides. Per usual, I opted for the drunken beans and rice. A heavy hand of pumpkin seeds didn’t detract from my overall satisfaction with the dish, but did prove to be one of a few missteps throughout the evening.
When asked how she liked her zucchini tacos, my wife gave me a “ho hum” look. She wasn’t pleased with the change in the composition of these tacos, as corn kernels have replaced the chunky potatoes that gave the dish its substance.
As for me, my frozen margarita arrived at the table only half frozen, which, upon request, our server promptly replaced with one I still consider to be the best version in Little Rock. In regards to food, the drunken beans were soupier than usual, and far less seasoned than I’ve grown accustomed to from Local Lime. Finally, and this is something that has happened on at least four separate occasions at Local Lime and Big Orange (combined) … our server didn’t inform us about the daily special(s).
The creativity and execution of these specials play a huge role in separating the Yellow Rocket restaurants from its competition, and sadly (at least in my experience), many customers aren’t even made aware of their existence. I had to ask about the special, and far too often I receive that “what secret club are you part of” look.
To me, these issues speak to a potentially larger problem.
There’s no denying the greatness of Yellow Rocket. This group owns ZAZA’s, Big Orange, Local Lime, and the soon-to-be-opening Lost Forty Brewing and Heights Taco & Tamale Company. Its stronghold as the most dominant local force in a burgeoning Little Rock restaurant scene is something to be admired. From cool, modern settings, to seamless openings, to the aforementioned strong social media presence, to unpretentious, yet innovative menus, the group has without question created a recipe for success.
Lately, at least for me, issues have been creeping up at these restaurants. I just fear that with each new restaurant opening, it is becoming more and more of a challenge to maintain consistency across the board. Going forward, I see this as being the group’s biggest challenge.
Here’s hoping for improvement.
I’ve been to El Palenque, the WLR taqueria tucked in the corner of an obscure strip center off Rodney Parham, several times over the past few years, and I’ve never had anything but excellent meals.
I felt it was time to write a formal review.
So, here we are.
The atmosphere: El Palenque’s atmosphere is everything you’d expect from a traditional taqueria—small, warm and inviting, with a steady flow of adoring customers. The restaurant walls have recently been painted with a beautiful mural that really gives the place a wonderful feel. It’s an open kitchen concept (which I love), so you’ll always see and hear the experienced chef banging around, doing his thing.
The service: Diners can expect prompt, attentive and friendly service. The chip basket is always full, as are the drinks, and the food never arrives more than 10-15 minutes after the order.
The cost: The prices are about as reasonable as it gets. Recently, our table of four got out of there for about $50, and that included tip and an order with three entrees, two a la carte items, guacamole and two alcoholic beverages. In short, given the high quality of food, the prices are more than fair at El Palenque. Heck, it’s downright inexpensive.
The food: The food! Yes, the most important part. What doesn’t this restaurant do well? If you dig guilty pleasure, high caloric gut bombs, opt for the chicken nachos. Split them with a tablemate or be prepared to jog ten miles the following day to sweat out the guilt. This monster plate of chips is covered in cheese sauce and all the standard fixings. Those with smaller appetites should consider ordering the shrimp burrito, which is filled with plump, yet not overcooked shrimp. Nothing annoys me more than those cooked-to-hell, pea-sized shrimp, and happily, you won’t find them at El Palenque. The tortas are excellent, as are the chicken verde enchiladas and the beef tacos. For lovers of spicier dishes, check out the Camarones ala Diabla, a plate filled with a smoky adobo sauce (which the chef can tailor to your desired level of heat). Finally, good guacamole is essential, but El Palenque misses the mark just a bit. While I enjoyed its chunkiness, this guac needed a heavy dose of salt and lime.
The verdict: El Palenque is not only one of the top Mexican food restaurants in Little Rock, it’s one of the top restaurants, period. Yes … El Palenque is that good! And if you don’t believe me, ask anyone of the dedicated neighborhood patrons who come back time after time.
I met up with a group of fellow food bloggers last night at Little Greek Restaurant (located in the Pleasant Ridge Town Center) for a complimentary menu tasting dinner.
Unfortunately, the traffic/black ice had me running a few minutes late. But by the time I arrived, an assortment of “Starters” were already on the table, which included: homemade hummus, dolmades, spanakopita, and homemade falafel. I recommend passing on the falafel, but certainly don’t on the dolmades and spanakopita. The dolmades ($4.99)—grape leaves filled with a ground beef, rice, tomato and herb mixture—were wonderful. Moist, tender and quite flavorful, this appetizer won’t disappoint and is perfect to share.
The spanakopita (spinach pie-$4.49) is a flakey phyllo dough filled with spinach and feta cheese. It’s a heavy start to a meal– especially when you dip each bite (like I did) into Little Greek’s tzatziki sauce–but I found nothing wrong with the rich taste and overall execution of the dish. In fact, it was excellent.
It’s worth noting that both the dolmades ($9.99) and spanakopita ($7.99) are offered under the “Perfect Platters” section of the menu. If you order the hummus ($3.99), opt for the fried pita bread over the grilled. It tastes better and can hold up when dipping into the thicker hummus.
Little Greek also offers a variety of salads. I was particularly impressed with the Greek salad ($6.49), loaded with lettuce, red onions, green peppers, tomatoes, feta cheese, a sliced beet and potato salad. And no…you’re not seeing things. I typed “potato salad.” You’ll be pleasantly surprised with this smashed version, served on top of the greens, resting under a beautiful beet slice. I suggest adding some grilled chicken ($2.49) to finish things off. It’s tasty and provides for a heartier meal.
A sampling of the thinly shaved gyro meat (90% beef, 10% lamb mixture) proved to be somewhat pedestrian. The meat was both moist and tender, but lacked the proper seasoning for it to truly shine. That said, it wasn’t bad…just not one of the more stand-out items on the menu. The same can be said for the lamb skewers, although I was much more impressed with the char-grilled chicken version, which had some bold flavors from an intense marinade.
All and all…I was impressed with Little Greek Restaurant. The fast-casual atmosphere, sizable portions and excellent price point make this restaurant certainly worthy of a return visit.