Posts Tagged Ciao Baci
Some of you may know that I co-host a weekly radio show with Alexia Elichiry on KABF 88.3 called Vive la Vie. Each Friday morning Alexia and I gab about all things food and drink … usually with a chef, farmer, rancher, barista, baker or mixologist. The show is a ton of fun, with a nice balance of humor and seriousness that makes the 30 minutes feel like five. In truth, I’m Alexia’s sidekick, someone who chimes in, interjects, and occasionally adds a few coherent thoughts to the program. She literally runs the show … all with an ease, calmness, and sense of professionalism that never ceases to amaze me.
And Alexia always has great ideas.
Last night, we made one of these ideas a reality. The Vive la Vie Show went off-location to Capitol View Studio for a special, hour-long recorded session with some of the biggest names in Little Rock’s culinary scene: Capi Peck of Trio’s, Matt Bell of South on Main, Ben Brainard of Local Lime and Heights Taco & Tamale, and Jeffrey Owen of Ciao Baci.
We ate, we drank, we asked the most random questions, and we shared our thoughts about everything from Bell’s curry to Brainard’s mentor … all around a potluck-filled dinner table. As a food writer and someone who covers these folks on a routine basis, it proved to be an amazingly unique opportunity to share my true thoughts and feelings. Let’s face it, for as much as I love our local food scene and try to extol its virtues, I still constructively criticize food, service, and, well, just about anything. And at it’s core, what made the night so special for me was that ability to just sit around and be open and honest with each other.
It was a hell of a lot of fun, and at times, quite emotional. But it was absolutely one my most cherished food memories, and it looks like something we might be doing every few months.
Pretty soon, you’ll have the opportunity to listen to the footage. I hope you do.
Special thanks to Mark Colbert for setting up all the audio equipment for the evening, and also to Bryan Frazier, who opened his studio to us and played such a critical role in planning and executing things. And not to forget…thank you to Jordan Crain for that fantastic egg nog.
As many of you already know, Little Rock Restaurant Month is in full swing AND has taken a new approach with things this year. Instead of participating restaurants from all over the city offering specials throughout the entire month, different areas of the city each get a week of specials. August 8-14 marks Midtown’s turn. Below, you’ll find a complete listing, as well as a few of my takes…
Free appetizer up to $6 with purchase of a large pizza
Arkansas Burger Co.
My take: Solid deal on a good-to-great burger.
20% off food purchases
Mention restaurant month to get your discount (Alcohol not included)
My take: Another great deal here and Baja does some very good food, especially the Pig Sooie and Cuban tacos. The Triple Dipper appetizer is also a winner, as are the burritos.
Big Orange Midtown
Free cheese dip or hummus with a purchase of a burger or salad
Boulevard Bread Company
$12 Harissa and honey wings served with lemon, cilantro & buttermilk
My take: I’ve never had these wings, but I love Boulevard and can’t imagine this being anything but awesome.
Cafe Bossa Nova
$3 off menu price – deep fried mahi mahi strips encrusted with Panko bread crumbs, served on corn tortillas. Topped with napa cabbage, pink chipotle sauce, a mango radish salsa and fresh cilantro with a side of rice and beans.
My take: Bossa Nova doesn’t get a ton of press, so I guess it could be considered underrated. The food is fantastic.
$33 3-course prix fixe: starter, entrée, and dessert.
$17.99 all-day 3-course set menu per person. Includes starter, entrée, and dessert.
My take: True story…I’ve never eaten at Cantina Laredo, but have heard solid reports.
$9.99 Fish ceviche with michelada
$13 fried green tomatoes with grilled shrimp and remoulade.
My take: I love fried green tomatoes. I love grilled shrimp. And I love remoulade. This seems like a no-brainer.
$25 3-course dinner 4:30 pm – 6:00 pm
My take: Jump on this one because it’s a great deal on great food. If you’ve never been to Ciao Baci for dinner, this is a perfect opportunity at a lower cost.
Damgoode Pies (2701 Kavanaugh Blvd. & 6706 Cantrell Rd.)
$5 off any 18” pie and half off any appetizer
$18 jumbo crab cakes with remoulade sauce over field greens with a side of avocado slices and roasted chicken salad.
Heights Taco & Tamale
Free cheese dip or salsa trio with purchase of an entree or salad
Hillcrest Artisan Meats
$1 off any sandwich order
My take: I’m pretty sure every human living in Little Rock loves H.A.M. and getting a $1 off any sandwich this week might inspire another visit.
15% off total ticket – mention Restaurant Month to get discount (excluding alcohol)
1/2 off happy hour 7 AM -9:30 AM Monday-Friday: buy one item, get second item of equal or lesser value half-off (includes smoothie, juice, or food. Excludes smoothie bowls.)
Bogo – buy any sushi roll, get one free (of equal or lesser value)
My take: Best sushi in town, and honestly, this is one of the best deals on the page. The Crazy Monkey Roll is tops. *Update* this deal applies to traditional rolls only. So no Crazy Monkey Roll.
20% off off lunch or dinner. Also: chef’s choice — free appetizer for lunch with purchase of one entrée
My take: Have only eaten at La Terraza once, but I came away impressed. Nice folks and good food.
Layla’s Gyros and Pizzeria (9501 N. Rodney Parham)
$7.25 Gyro sandwich with fries and drink
Leo’s Greek Castle
$9.99 Gyro platter
The Oyster Bar
$3 off 1 lb. shrimp
Potbelly Sandwich Shop
Free milkshake with purchase of a “big” size pastrami sandwich
Riverdale 10 VIP Cinema
$15 chicken tenders, fries and beer of the day.
My take: You can get chicken tenders at a movie theater? Go figure.
Taziki’s (8200 Cantrell Rd.)
Free child’s feast with purchase of adult entree. Dine-in only. Monday- Wednesday 5 PM – 9 PM
My take: Taziki’s is a regional chain serving solid, consistent food. And my kids love it, so I love it.
The Fold Botanas Bar
Free queso with the purchase of any taco plate. Limit one per table.
The Purple Cow (8026 Cantrell Rd.)
Free soft drink or tea with any of our new menu items. New items include fried green beans, supreme cheeseburger, and turkey pesto burger, just to name a few.
$1 off our topsy turvy nachos
My take: The ultimate dive bar serves better-than-expected food.
30% off in celebration of our 30th anniversary. Lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch! Dine-in only. Mention Restaurant Month for discount.
My take: 30% off your entire meal puts this deal right at the top. Get the Farmers Market Splendor.
$1 off gelato
Thoughts on my eating escapades around Little Rock…
Beef or no beef … the Thai Chicken Burger at The Southern Gourmasian is one of the best burgers in Little Rock. Yes, I feel that strongly about this one and only hope it lands on the restaurant’s regular menu. The thick patty of super juicy ground chicken is topped with a creamy edamame hummus—a condiment that truly makes this burger a memorable one. Add some pickled onions and crisp lettuce and you’ve got yourself a damn near perfect burger.
Capeo is one of those underrated restaurants you tend to forget is one of our top dining destinations. The place is cozy, somewhat elegant, but not over-the-top fancy. In short, it’s a great restaurant to go for dinner, and in a town void of top-tier Italian food eateries, Capeo is a place you can always go for a good-to-great meal. My very traditional Veal Parm from a recent dinner was saucy, cheesy, and just an overall hit … as was my tablemates’ Tagliatelle Bolognese and Spaghetti Carbonara. Wine lovers will also have plenty of amazing options to choose from.
I’m not sure why, but I am always a little shocked by what a great business Mugs Café does at just about any hour of operation. They seem to have such a loyal clientele, the hallmark of success for any small business. Props to ownership for its continued quality and consistency. Btw…my cold brew coffee was spot on.
I’ve been pretty vocal over the past several months about Ciao Baci and why I now consider Chef Owen a top 5 chef in town. Past inconsistencies have given way to a restaurant where you can not only expect sophisticated yet unpretentious food, but also service that is second to none. I’ve touted it before, but the 5-course, $45 chef’s tasting menu is really the way to go. I’d go into detail about my last experience, but looking over the restaurant’s website, I see Chef Owen already has a new seasonal menu. The bottom line is this … go to Ciao Baci.
If you follow me, by now you know I love El Palenque. Simply put, it’s my favorite Mexican restaurant in town and dishes like the loaded nachos, chicken enchiladas, shrimp burrito, and shrimp ala plancha only solidify my case. All that said, I was a little disappointed with my Chicken Milanesa from the other day. The pounded thinly, then fried chicken breast was a little ho-hum and bland. It wasn’t bad, mind you, but definitely not a dish I’d recommend over some of the far superior options mentioned above.
We took a roadtrip to Bentonville this weekend. Per usual, we dined at The Hive (inside 21c Hotel) and Crepes Paulette. While both places were outstanding, The Hive shined even brighter than usual by churning out an insanely delicious wood fire grilled Berkshire Hog Chop and a dish of Alaskan Halibut. Kudos to Chef McClure and his crew. I also had a chance to pop into the new Pressroom location for a quick brunch. The space was absolutely gorgeous–clean, modern, and expansive, yet warm and inviting—and my Austin City Limits dish of eggs and beans resting between two tortillas and topped with salsa, avocado, and cilantro, was certainly good enough to inspire a return visit.
Even though Arkansas is a landlocked state, good seafood can be had here in Little Rock. You just need to know where to find it. Here is a nice rundown of my top seafood dishes in the area that I’ve eaten over the past 3+ years.
Shrimp a la Plancha at El Palenque
Here’s a little secret you may or may not know… Chef David Martinez is one of the best cooks in the city. Judging by the always packed restaurant, you do know. Order the Shrimp a la Plancha, a beautiful plate of grilled shrimp and onions with refried beans, rice, and avocado.
Thin Fish at The Faded Rose
If you are a lover of fried catfish, I just don’t think you will find any better than what The Faded Rose is cranking out with this super thin, fried-to-perfection version.
Black Cod Samfaina at The Terrace
A beautiful piece of pan-seared cod is accompanied by a deliciously salty ragu of tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and onions.
Specials at Trio’s
It’s really difficult to narrow it down to one dish, so I’ll just recommend that you keep an eye on Trio’s rotating fish specials. I recently had the glazed salmon, which was amazing, as was my cioppini, a bowl of mixed seafood of scallops, mussels, grouper, and shrimp.
Catfish at South on Main
The first thing I ever at South on Main, this seared catfish is still a staple on every seasonal menu. Chef Bell is a master at pairing it with other ingredients, making this fairly light dish a must-order.
Salmon at The Pantry Crest
When you look down at your plate of salmon with a side of asparagus, couscous, and spinach, you think “What the hell is so special about this dish?” And then you take a bite of the most perfectly cooked, simply seasoned salmon in town … and it all makes sense.
Crawfish Etouffee at The Faded Rose
A hearty portion of mildly spicy, slightly thickened, blond roux with a plentiful supply of small crawfish tails is topped with a pile of seasoned rice.
Bouillabaisse at Boulevard Bistro
Check to make sure it’s on the menu, as I think they rotate the bouillabaisse in and out. This dish is a seafood lover’s paradise.
Walleye at Brave New Restaurant
It’s been a few years for me, but I do remember the walleye being quite delicious and a signature Little Rock dish. To not include it on this list would be a travesty. Well, that’s a little dramatic, but you know what I mean.
Fried Shrimp at Doe’s
Doe’s does some pretty mean fried shrimp. The soft, lightly fried crust is what I enjoy most about these jumbo-sized bad boys.
Redfish at Maddie’s Place
I love red fish. Maddie’s seared red fish with garlic grits, green beans and crawfish etouffee sauce is as beautiful as it is tasty.
Ensalada del Sol at Heights Taco & Tamale
This beautifully presented salad includes skewers of medium-sized, well-seasoned shrimp resting atop a bed of crisp, chopped romaine lettuce. Perfectly ripe slices of avocado and mango sit on the edges.
Shrimp Soup at Rosalinda’s
Admittedly, the actual shrimp in this dish are average at best, but they impart such a wonderful flavor to the broth, making it a must-order on any visit to Rosalinda.
Shrimp and Grits at Ciao Baci
Ciao Baci’s version of shrimp and grits isn’t on the regular menu, so keep an eye out of it. Chef Owen uses top-notch shrimp, which make all of the difference.
Scallops at One Eleven
I rarely order scallops in Little Rock, but One Eleven has an excellent supplier, so if you’re hankering for some sweetness of the sea, this is it.
Green Shrimp Curry at kBird
Sweet, a little sour, and a tad spicy … the green shrimp curry really has it all to ignite your taste buds.
Shrimp Diablo at El Palenque
This dish is probably the spiciness plate I’ve ordered while living in Little Rock. That said, I’m a little bit of a wimp, but if you like hot, order the Shrimp Diablo.
Shrimp and Grits at The Faded Rose
Much like the delicious crawfish etouffee, TFR’s shrimp and grits features a delicious blond roux and plump, perfectly cooked shrimp.
Sushi at Kemuri
Any of Kemuri’s numerous sushi rolls are a hit. Like its sister restaurant, Oceans, if you’re in the mood for the best sushi in town, expect to find it at either of these two spots.
Tilapia Assada at Bossa Nova
I know most folks are down on tilapia right now, but Bossa Nova’s version, a pan-seared piece of fish with basil pesto, is pretty damn good.
Fried Catfish at Flying Fish
It’s Little Rock … you know I had to mention fried catfish a few times on this list. Like most everything at Flying Fish, the catfish is consistently good.
Crispy Squid Filet (or Calamari Snitzel) at Table 28
Tender, meaty strips of squid filet are beer-battered, fried, and then served with cocktail sauce. This is not your run-of-the-mill calamari.
Shrimp Tacos at Baja Grill
The shrimp tacos aren’t necessarily my first choice when dining at Baja Grill (Pig Sooey is), but that’s not to say they aren’t great. They are … mainly because the shrimp are a tad blackened and a little spicy.
Citrus Tuna Ceviche at Local Lime
This redesigned ceviche at Local Lime includes chunks of Ahi tuna, avocado, along with cucumber, lime, cilantro, and a ginger citrus jalapeno vinaigrette.
Boiled Crawfish at The Faded Rose
Hey, it’s crawfish season (until about mid-late May). On Wednesday nights starting at 4 p.m. (and until they run out), you can grab yourself a platter of the mud bugs. Just make sure to order a beer, as they tend to be spicy, but in a good way.
Buffalo Ribs at Lassis Inn
Eating Buffalo ribs at Lassis Inn is something every Little Rocker should do at least once in their life. This bottom-dweller fish is definitely an acquired taste, but if you enjoy yourself a meaty, hearty fish rib, these are for you.
Grilled Oysters at South on Main
Oysters, check. Butter, check. Parmesan cheese, check. What’s not to love?
Stock Pot at The Pantry
This dish is changing constantly, but no worries, it’s only a matter of if it will be “really good” or “great.” Delicate white fish, broth, and root veggies often provide the foundation of one of my all-time fav Pantry dishes. Keep an eye out as I don’t see this dish currently on the menu at either restaurant.
Mama Chi’s Spicy Fish at Chi’s
Delicate pieces of white fish rest in a thick and spicy sauce, making Mama Chi’s Spicy Fish a must-order each time I’m at this Chi’s location.
Shrimp Po’boy at Table 28
This po’boy doesn’t get near the attention as some of the other around town, but it’s just as good. Chef Rains loads it with fried shrimp, kale slaw, and pickled peppers.