Archive for category Restaurant Review
Table 28 is without question one of the most underrated restaurants in all of Little Rock. Over the past 2+ years, the food coming out of the Chef Scott Rains’ kitchen has been innovative and sophisticated, while remaining unpretentious.
But from day one, there’s been something holding the restaurant back … a drab atmosphere. Quite honestly, it just wasn’t the kind of restaurant I wanted to hang at on a regular basis. And make no mistake, restaurants, nowadays, have to bring more to the table than just dynamite food. Competition is steep, and a fun, inviting atmosphere is every bit as important as the culinary creations coming out of the kitchen.
As many of you already know, Table 28 recently got a complete makeover. Last Friday night was my first chance to check out the new digs, and simply put, I was blown away by everything … in a good way. The setting was fresh, inviting, and hip, but not cold and sterile, and definitely a space I now felt comfortable spending a few hours in.
And the best part? The restaurant was packed.
There was a definite energy in the place. People were talking and having fun, but at a volume that you could still have a nice conversation with your tablemates. Heck, there was even some light, live music playing in the corner of the restaurant.
The service, per usual, was outstanding, as was the food. Our table gobbled up an order of quail lollipops with hot sauce and bleu cheese, as well as a delicious plate of mushrooms covered in mozzarella and shaved truffles. You can never go wrong with the lollipops, which I consider to be Table 28’s signature appetizer (small plate). For my entrée, I opted for the blackened sea bass with succotash … a dish that proved to be delightful and well-executed. Sea bass is my favorite fish and Chef Rains pulled off his version to perfection.
My dinner companions ordered the meatloaf with mashed potatoes and asparagus, the calamari snitzel with cabbage confit, and the Cioppino San Fran, a hearty bowl of bass, scallops, shrimp, and squid ink pasta. I heard no complaints. For dessert, we split the s’mores bar and lemon cheesecake, which were both delicious and gorgeously presented.
The bottom line is this … with a sophisticated décor to pair with elite food and wine menus, Table 28 is now a Top 5 dining destination in Little Rock.
Lulu’s Latin Rotisserie & Grill has been open for a few months now, and truth be told, I drive past the WLR restaurant no less than four times a day. That stretch of Bowman is on my way to just about everything important in life. But here’s the deal … fair or not, with previous occupants like Bill’s Country Kitchen and Anatolia, I’ve been quite hesitant to dine in the space.
I know, it’s a shitty rationale.
But over the past several weeks, I’ve kept my eye on social media and heard good reports from friends about WLR’s newest restaurant, and as my family debated on where to eat last Friday night, Lulu’s popped into the ol’ noggin.
The first thing that surprised me upon entry was the number of people inside the restaurant … the place was practically full. Granted, Friday nights are busy for restaurants, but it was a pleasant surprise to see Lulu’s already being embraced by the community.
It’s easy to see why.
Although the cozy interior and festive Latin music playing softly in the background makes you want to be in the space, the real draw is the food.
We started off with an order of chicken empanadas (3, $6). Perfectly fried, buttery and flaky, these empanadas are a perfect way to begin a meal at Lulu’s, due in large part to the insanely addictive accompanying Aji amarillo and Lulu’s green sauce.
For entrees, our table of four split a half chicken with two sides ($11.50) and the grilled steak platter ($15.95). I rarely order steak at restaurants, and, in fact, had planned to go all-in with the chicken, but the table next to us got the steak. One look at their platter made me re-think things. I’m glad I did. The flat-iron cut was cooked to a perfect, and I mean perfect, medium rare and drizzled with a fresh, vibrant chimichurri sauce. It came with a nice side salad and some pedestrian fries, but my goodness, that steak! Like everything else on the table, you end up dipping it in all of the sauces.
And guess what? The flavorful and tender rotisserie chicken was just as good, as were the sides, highlighted by a delicious rice and beans combo. Our other side of fried yucca, with just a hint of natural sweetness, was also a hit, and again, spot-on when dipped in the Aji amarillo sauce.
Here’s another added bonus about Lulu’s … the place serves cocktails. Judging by the Caipirinha my wife and I split, the folks at Lulu’s have a good handle on alcoholic beverages. Fear not, you can even get a pisco sour, although I can’t vouch for that one … yet.
In the end, my family of four got out of Lulu’s for $36 (+ tip), which I considered an excellent value for the amount and quality of food. It’s only been one visit, but I’m a huge fan of this restaurant, and only hope the rest of Little Rock continues to embrace it.
Did You Know?
Lulu’s now offers a Sunday brunch from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Here’s the menu … regular menu options are also available.
Lulu’s Latin Rotisserie & Grill
315 N. Bowman Road, Suite 2
Hours of operation: Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday 11 a.m.-3 p.m.; Thursday, Friday, Saturday 11 a.m.-9 p.m. (lunch and dinner); closed Monday
Take-out available; family pack rotisserie chicken meals available
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.