Random thoughts and ramblings on local food and drink…
The annual TMR dinner at Trio’s—“An Evening in Oaxaca”–was held last Thursday night in the Pavilion Room adjacent to the restaurant. Co-owner Capi Peck, Chef Shanna Merriweather, and crew put together a delicious 5-course meal for 50 guests, highlighting many of the ingredients and cooking techniques Peck picked up on her recent visit to Oaxaca, Mexico. The evening started with an open bar, which included a variety of tasty, mezcal-inspired cocktails created by Merrick Fagan, along with wine selections from Alexia Elichiry of De Nux Distributors. A table sat near the bar area, filled with guacamole, molotes (imagine an empanada), elote (street corn), and chapulines (grasshoppers) for entering guests to start the meal. Truth be told, I think many folks, including myself, loaded up on these starters, and by the time the actual 1st course hit the table, stomach space was at a premium. Here’s a quick run-down of the rest of the menu: (1st Course) shrimp cocktail with cactus, (2nd Course) squash blossom quesadillas, (3rd Course) Grilled beef tenderloin in four-chile sauce with chicharrones and chile de arbol, corn tortillas with Oaxacan red mole, chayote with roasted poblanos, quesillo, and chepiles, and black beans, and (4th Course) flan, pastel de tres leches, and copita de mezcal. From start to finish, the food was truly fantastic, and while I had to wave the white flag by the middle of the third course, I can tell you every dish was planned and executed to near perfection. Peck knows her way around a dynamite shrimp cocktail and this one with its bits of cactus was no exception. I also loved the perfectly cooked, medium rare tenderloin topped with the chile sauce, but felt like the bits of chicharones were a little tough and added a texture that wasn’t needed on the plate. This was all part of a main entree course that included the star of the evening, an intensely flavored red mole. Peck, herself, made the rounds to each table, topping dishes with the extra sauce while gabbing with guests, something no one in this town does better. Kudos to Peck and her entire staff for once again pulling off an amazing evening.
I attended The Root Cafe’s “Dinner in October” the following night. If you’re thinking, “Wait, The Root is open for dinner?’ The answer is no, not quite yet, but they will be probably sometime in early 2017. For now, diners can get a taste of things to come, as ownership puts together these monthly communal dinners in The Root’s charming, one-of-a-kind setting. Chef Jonathan Arrington and Pastry Chef Sara Slimp created a masterful, 5-course dinner that had a touch of sophistication, while still holding on to The Root’s unpretentious qualities. Highlights of the evening included a gorgeous plate of red and black lentils (pictured above) with turnips, carrots, and apples, along with the main entree, a plate of pork belly, pinto beans, pickled boy choy, and cornbread pudding. While the dessert course of honey molasses layer cake was also a winner, the cake itself was a tad dry, but fortunately, had this amazing ginger infused, orange cream frosting that was also elevated by a spicy red chile sauce. Long story short … the food, company, and service were all fantastic. Keep an eye out on The Root’s Facebook page for details on the next ticketed dinner, which is typically held on the second Friday night of each month. I would not hesitate to sign up. The Root also does an open seating dinner on the 4th Friday of each month.
Have you ever been inside the Izard Chocolate storefront located just across the street from Hillcrest Kroger? You should. It’s a cool place and owner Nathaniel Izard is making a variety of excellent dark chocolate. Come to find out, he’s also starting to roast some of his own small-batch coffee. I’ve yet to try it, but if the coffee is anything like the chocolate, it should be a nice addition to the mix.
Speaking of coffee, did you know Honey Pies makes one of the better cups in town? I’m partial to their pour-over, which uses Leiva’s Coffee. And this from the store…”For every cup of coffee you buy, we donate a meal to a hungry child in Central Arkansas.” Just a heads up, Honey Pies new-ish hours are Monday-Saturday, 7 a.m -7 p.m.
Quick hits: I sat at South on Main’s bar and downed an Old Fashioned while listening to the tunes of Shawn Camp last Wednesday night. Just an overall great evening. Taziki’s is quietly one of the best take-out options in town. The chicken pasta salad on the weekend is a must-order. Juice Bar in Midtown (near Big Orange Midtown) serves this wildly addictive acai bowl. It’s filled with 15+ healthy ingredients and perfect for breakfast. The Pantry does it again … my go-to salmon wrap for lunch never disappoints. Shout out to our server, Bonnie, who once again proved why the restaurant has some of the very best food and service in town.