Posts Tagged Fantastic China

Dinner at The Root & Fantastic China, Lunch at Tacos 4 Life & North Bar

Sweet and Sour Chicken Sandwich at North Bar

Sweet and Sour Chicken Sandwich at North Bar

 

Thoughts on my latest dining experiences…

I already mentioned it on the blog, but the new dinner service at The Root Cafe is something to truly get excited about. The food from chefs Jonathan Arrington and Sara Slimp is both fun and creative, but sophisticated, while also managing to capture the down-home essence of the restaurant. Our group of four ordered most of the menu the other night, which wasn’t a difficult task, given its small, focused selection of dishes. We started out with the Arancini, a collection of fried balls of risotto, as well as “Radishes a Few Ways” and some house-made Toast slathered with pimento cheese and topped with chow chow. The radishes were a work of art and quite delicious, but the pimento toast was the appetizer that really stood out for me. We have some great versions of pimento cheese in this town (duh, it’s our most cherished dish) and this one stands up to some of the very best. The dinner menu consisted of only four entrees, and we ordered them all, including the Butternut Squash, Chicken Adobo, Roasted Pork Belly, and Beef Tenderloin with Green Garlic Mashed Potatoes and Mole. The bottom line is this … I tried all of the dishes and they were hits. If you want me to get into specifcs, I can, but the point is you need to go to The Root for dinner. And do it now! The weather is magnificent and you’ll probably get to take advantage of the the restaurant’s al fresco dining experience. The Root’s dinner service, along with those at South on Main and Raduno, gives the SoMa District-goers three excellent options.

Folks have been raving about the food coming out of the new North Bar in the Park Hill neighborhood of North Little Rock, so I figured it was time to go check it out. For those wondering, North Bar is in the space formerly occupied by Ira’s and E’s Bistro. Seems like North Bar has finally found the magic for that spot. The casual, sports-bar-meets-neighborhood-eatery vibe they have going on there definitely works. Televisions adorn the walls and burgers adorn the menu, a good combination to have in this town. I kept things simple and ordered a Flyway Bluewing beer (on tap) and a North Bar Burger. The burger was served on a familiar Arkansas Fresh brioche bun, along with all of the fixings, and proved to be a tasty take on an American classic.  The accompanying waffle fries were a bit of a disappointment in both amount and taste. My plate only consisted of a small handful. Don’t get me wrong, the fries weren’t terrible, just ho-hum, but didn’t stand out like the juicy burger. My buddy’s Sweet and Sour Chicken Sandwich was the star of the table and is probably what I’d order on my next visit, which will be sooner than later because North Bar is a hit.

I had a nice meal at Fantastic China in the Heights. It really didn’t stand out in any way, but it was solid. I had the Chicken in Hot Garlic Sauce, which also came with fried cream cheese puffs, an egg roll, fried rice, and wonton soup. The soup was excellent, so I guess something did stand out. Folks really want the spring rolls to come back on the menu, and you won’t find any argument from me on that topic. Listen, in my opinion, Little Rock lacks in top-notch Chinese food, but Fantastic China is solid and consistent and is probably the best option in town.

Tacos 4 Life’s Little Rock location (off of Shackleford) recently opened, and from the looks of it, at least early on, the restaurant is being widely embraced by local diners. On my one visit, I made sure to arrive at the 11 a.m. opening, which was smart, because the place was full 15 minutes later. I applaud any restaurant that has a cause, but at the end of the day, the food has to be good for me to go back on a regular basis. And it wasn’t … specifically, the flavor just wasn’t there. My grilled chicken puffy tacos with a side of rice and refried beans was bland, and while the service was fast, attentive, and quite friendly, the food just didn’t do it for me. Some readers told me I ordered wrong, so there’s that. Maybe I’ll go back in a few weeks and try something else.

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Soft Pretzels, Mr. Chen’s, and One Awesome Mojito

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Thoughts from my recent food adventures around Little Rock…

I know many folks love Mr. Chen’s, and while I’m not saying the place is bad by any stretch of the imagination, I am saying it gets a little too much credit for being the best Chinese food in Little Rock. I wasn’t overly impressed with the Salted Crispy Chicken dish, which, as expected, was salty, but its real shame was the lack of an accompanying sauce with the chicken. Again, it wasn’t bad, but could have been a lot better. I was also a bit underwhelmed by the Taiwanese Pan Fried Noodles, a plate highlighted by tender beef and shrimp, but there was also this lackluster pile of noodles which proved almost too difficult to cut.

So, just where is the best Chinese food in Little Rock? To me, it’s Fantastic China … and my lunchtime combo of oyster sauce with mushrooms, fried rice, and fried spring roll did nothing do dissuade me from that line of thinking.

Count me as a fan of Flyway’s new array of soft pretzels, which includes a lavender salt pretzel with honey mustard that I devoured with my pale ale at the bar, while my bar mate crushed the espresso salt pretzel with stout chocolate sauce. If you’re looking for a unique sweet treat, this is one is for you. Flyway has a variety of pretzels now on its regular menu which pair wonderfully with a their selection of beer.

A quick shout out to the folks over at Mugs Café. I popped in a few weeks back, and, as always, loved my cup of coffee. The place is so consistent, seems to always have a steady flow of customers, and is a true gem for the Argenta District in NLR.

Am I saying Al Seraj is a Top 10 restaurant in Little Rock? No. I won’t compare it with the likes of Table 28, South on Main, One Eleven, etc. But the $10 lunch buffet of Mediterranean delights makes the restaurant 100%, without a doubt, one of the best fast casual spots in town. BTW … if you’re interested, I think the dinner buffet costs a buck or two more.

I finally tried the frozen mojito at Heights Taco & Tamale and damn was it good. This drink, along with Local Lime’s frozen margarita, proves Yellow Rocket has truly mastered the frozen cocktail concept. Well done. And as for HTT, it really needs to be said … what a gorgeous bar. Also, props on that massive flat-screen television right in the dead center.

After the UALR men’s basketball game the other night, my buddy and I had dinner and beers at The Pantry Crest. The place was hopping but our food orders came out fast, no small feat when a restaurant is that full. My seared salmon with spinach, quinoa, and charred asparagus was absolutely perfect, as was my friend’s burger (so I was told…never got a bite). Seared salmon is not a sexy dish, especially at a place like The Pantry Crest, but if you’re looking for something a little lighter, order it.

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Bourbon, Beer, Chinese Food, and a Little Art

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Thoughts from my recent food adventures around Little Rock…

Lunch at Fantastic China
Listen, we just don’t have a ton of quality Chinese food restaurants here in the Little Rock area. I’ve had good food at A.W. Lin’s, Mr. Chen’s, Chi’s, and Mr. Cheng’s, but none of them, in my opinion, can compare to the complete experience at Fantastic China. Make no mistake, each of these restaurants does some dishes very well … heck, even better than Fantastic China in some cases. But to me, it boils down to fresh ingredients, consistent service, and an ability to deliver quality food to the table each and every visit. I’ve never had a bad dish at Fantastic China, and I just can’t say that about the rest of the places in town. My lunch plate of Chicken with Hot Garlic Sauce was a wonderful combination of sweet, sour, and spicy flavors. My accompanying fried spring rolls stuffed with cabbage and carrots was definitely the best I’ve eaten in Little Rock. The entire plate … the chicken, spring roll, rice, and cup of wonton soup … was only $7.50.

Desserts at Trio’s
Surprise, surprise … Trio’s serves a platter full of outstanding, house-made desserts. Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past 30 years, this isn’t news. That said, the raspberry cream pie definitely deserves a shout out every once in a blue moon, just as a reminder that Trio’s is still churning out divine desserts. While the Key lime pie is still my favorite, the creamy raspberry pie slathered with a thick, spreadable preserve topping is worth a trip to Trio’s by itself. In fact, that’s exactly what we did the other night, as a sweet tooth got the best of my family, and the only thing that would satiate our craving was Trio’s chocolate crème brulee, Mexican chocolate torte, and the raspberry cream pie. And nothing goes better with pie than a cup of warm coffee (ceramic mug/one hand).

South on Main’s Art of Bar
Going to South on Main’s Art of Bar is beginning to become somewhat of a holiday tradition. The event, which sees 15 local vendors (artists, craft-makers, etc.) selling their creations throughout the restaurant, offers up a perfect opportunity to buy local goods, have a cocktail (or two), and visit with some familiar faces. No purchases for yours truly this year, other than the delicious Lost Forty Honey Bock at the bar, but it was still nice to partake in the well-run event.

No Frills at Burge’s
If you’re looking for an inexpensive, no frills lunch, head over to Burge’s for the turkey melt. For $6.79, a pedestrian bun is piled with sliced, smoked turkey, lettuce, American cheese, and mayo. What the sandwich lacks in appearance, it certainly makes up for in taste. Again, it won’t “wow” you, but sometimes the best lunch is a quick one, and Burge’s cranks those sandwiches out in just minutes.

December Special at Local Lime
Local Lime’s December special is a chicken/spinach/poblano tamale creation with fresh corn, an addictive tomatillo sauce, queso fresco, and cilantro. It’s good, and as always, LL achieves a masterful combination of ingredients, blending flavors and achieving an overall highly creative dish. But while the masa portion of the tamale was spot-on, the chicken was almost non-existent. Add more chicken and this dish will go from good to great in a hurry.

Rock Town’s Single Barrel Bourbon
I am by no means a bourbon aficionado, but I do know when something is enjoyable, and the Single Barrel Bourbon I sampled the other night at a Rock Town Distillery’s private tasting and tour was absolutely fantastic. The Single Barrel Hickory Smoked Whiskey, a slightly smokier, albeit just as smooth spirit, was also a hit. Both are available to purchase in the company’s tasting room.

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