Thursday, November 08, 2012

Banana Leaf

Oh, Banana Leaf food truck, how do I love thee?  I love thee to the breadth, depth...Samosas, Chicken 65, Fish Fry, dosas, naan...

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


Overheard standing in line at Vino's today:  "Yeah they have really good beer here.  It doesn't taste like Bud Light."

Monday, September 24, 2012

1620 Savoy

"A new experience in fine dining."

1620 Market Street, Little Rock, Arkansas

After closing for a complete remodel and change of ownership, 1620 is now 1620 Savoy.  Same location, everything else is new.  While some may lament not having some of the old items on the menu, few will miss the old dark decor that was 1620.  And if it was the food after all that kept you coming back, you will not be disappointed in the new offerings. 

As you enter through the neon illuminated Art Deco entry, you are swept into a bright, black and white marble dining area with elegant seating and immediate bar access.  Designer/Manager Rick Qualls has done this up in a Paris style reminiscent of a Deco establishment in post-war France.  There are nooks and niches for privacy and intimate dining and drinking, and larger, elegant dining rooms for larger parties.  Two tastefully stocked bars are conveniently at hand.

On Fridays and Saturdays, after the restaurant's normal closing hours, it will convert to Club Savoy to continue the party until two in the morning.  Sunday brunch will begin October 7th.

Chefs Payne Harding, Tim Morton and John Masching have combined rare talents to form a striking and varied menu.  You can see the complete menu here:  1620 Savoy Menu.  We tried the Crispy Calamari and decided that is was the most perfectly prepared calamari we had ever tasted.  Crispy with none of the rubbery chewiness you often encounter in the big chains.  With a hint of  lime zest, the flavor was a home run and I could have eaten a pound or more of it.  The Phyllo Dough Pizza was a nice appetizer with buffalo mozzarella, roasted chiles, shitake mushrooms, and herbed tomato coulis all on a crisp phyllo dough crust.  Typically not a duck fan, I was bowled away by the Duck Savoy which was  juicy, flavorful medallions of duck with braised collard greens and roasted turnips.  I would try it again.

I look forward to trying some of the other dishes on the menu such as Miso-glazed Tasmanian Salmon, Spicy Cioppino and any one (or more) of the exquisite steak selections.

So, whether you were an old regular at the previous 1620, or have never been, this will certainly become part of your regular rotation.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Mr. Chen's Authentic Chinese Cooking

3901 South University, Little Rock

 Is this the coolest Asian market/restaurant ever for this area? The market has an incredible fresh seafood counter with the fish, crabs and other creatures laying on ice in hand's reach. You can smell, touch and pick the fish yourself. There's a huge bin of live crabs scurrying across each other. They have behemoth woks that look to be more than three feet across as well as the stepped down versions all the way to home stove size. Literally a whole aisle of soy sauces, fish sauces and other exotic liquids from every corner of the orient. And they seem to be sorted by origin, not type so you get all the Vietnamese sauces on one shelf, and the Korean ones on another. 

Then, you see the elegant restaurant to your left and are drawn in by the wonderful aromas and a friendly wait staff. Even though it was lunch time, the restaurant was not very busy which leads me to believe that so far it's a well kept secret. One I don't intend to keep, because something this good needs to be successful and long-lived.

I love the way they have the dining room set up with little rooms instead of booths and some regular tables and booths scattered about. The menu is quite large and loaded with all the usual suspects: Kung Pao Chicken, Mongolian Beef, Combination Fried Rice. So the less than adventurous diner will find plenty of non authentic food to keep them happy. But the similarity to other Fujo restaurants ends there.

I tried the Ma Po Tofu since that's kind of my barometer in judging a Chinese restaurant. I found it to be very fragrant, spicy and well presented in its own hot pot on the table.

It will take many, many trips to the Southwest Little Rock location to try all of the things I see on the menu that sound wonderful. Seafood Clay Pot, Fish Chunk Crab Meat Soup, Ginger and Onion Crab, Fresh Sauteed Snail, Sauteed Sliced Conch, Steamed Sea Bass, Spicy Intestines in Hot Pot, Braised Beef Belly in Hot Pot...

Just shut up and take my money!!!!

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Marcos Pizza

They're everywhere.

I don't usually like to discuss chains, but pizza is a pretty important component of daily American life. That's why it's essential to have a few outstanding pizza restaurants and some back ups, just in case. So, we always try the new kid on the block regardless of their lineage...

I'll make this simple, short and sweet: If you like Marcos pizza, you'll like Tony's frozen pizza. Tony's is cheaper and faster. If you want a sub sandwich, go to a sub shop. The subs are, well, substandard. Smallish, none of the extra goodies you want and very ordinary. If you want salad, there are plenty of really good salad bars.

Marcos claims to make authentic pizza just like in Italy. If this is what Italians are eating, then thank goodness we're in America. Not much reason to go to Marcos Pizza.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Pizza Hut Fail

I guess trying to compete with Little Caesars, Pizza Hut is offering $10, any size, any topping pizzas for take out. A couple of problems that make this a giant FAIL in my book are:

1. They are not hot and ready. You either have to order them ahead of time or wait fifteen to thirty minutes after you get there. Or both.

2. In their infinite wisdom Pizza Hut has decided that it is much more efficient to have a remote person take the order by phone and relay it to the store. Gee, what could go wrong.

After spending fifteen minutes on the phone trying to get a person who barely speaks English to understand what I want and where I want to pick it up, I find myself at the Pizza Hut cash register being told that no evidence of my order exists, that this happens all the time, and that I am welcome to wait fifteen to thirty minutes while they make it for me.

The best part was being 90% certain that I saw the guy behind the counter prepare my order and put it in the warmer. But I bet nobody put that together when they closed that night and it was still there.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Dempsey Bakery from a gluten free standpoint

Gluten Free.

A trip to Dempsey Bakery is like putting one foot in the past and the other in the future. The sign with its Established 2011 notation in combination with the red-and-white-checkered floor lend a retro feel. The white walls and sleek chairs foreshadow a modern gluten-free menu that provides a welcome leap forward for those of us who maintain a gluten-free lifestyle. How comforting is it to know that you can walk in, grab anything, and not have to worry whether you'll accidentally wander outside the bounds of a GF diet? Well, as many of you know, that can sometimes be as comforting as the smell of baking bread.

Never been here before? You'll be quickly adopted by a member of the extended Dempsey family. They will explain, recommend, and encourage you to taste. Since we agree that gluten-free food is made to be tasted, we get started immediately.

So what is there here to sample? Nicely displayed in open wood shelves are huge loaves of Everybody's Bread and White Bread. Baguettes fill a basket on the counter and are joined by Nana Bread, Pumpkin Bread, and Monkey Bread arranged in multiple levels. A bread slicer behind the counter means you can have uniform slices for sandwiches if you prefer.

In another area, freshly baked Hot Dog and Hamburger buns cool along with Wrye-Not Bread, small loaves of Herb Bread, and large White Rolls. Those all look pretty, but I just sampled the sweet, sticky Monkey bread so I'm primed for a Hot-Milk Cake sample which proves to be a gateway sweet. I'll soon consume a taste of the Brownie with mint-chocolate icing, a White Cupcake with delectable strawberry cream icing, a Snickerdoodle, some Nana Bread, and some other jelly-roll looking cake that was filled with icing instead of jelly. Oh yeah, I snuck in one more bite of Monkey Bread while waiting for a chunk of Baguette.

That may sound like a lot to you, but I didn't even ask for an Iced Shortbread Cookie, a Chocolate Cupcake, an Iced Chocolate Ho-Ho, an individual sized Strawberry Cheesecake or the Chocolate Rolled Cake.

In all that munching and comparing with my gluten-eating companion, the standouts were the icings and the Snickerdoodle cookie. The cookie was crunchy on the outside, had a bit of chewy on the inside, and its perfectly balanced flavors would rival a gluten filled version. We also enjoyed the Monkey Bread as evidenced by my inability to stay away from it.

Not as pleasing was the White Bread. While it had a high rise and a wonderful brown, crunchy crust, the inside left me with a slight aftertaste I did not like. I should note that if you were slathering it with some kind of spread or barbecue sauce, you probably wouldn't notice.

The white cupcake eaten by itself needed a bit more flavor. Perhaps a pinch of salt and a splash of vanilla would suffice. The crumb was moist and dense as is often true of gluten-free cake. Luckily, the strawberry icing swirled on top was quite tasty.

The Nana Bread smelled wonderful and tasted good. The texture was toward the gummy side. Maybe reducing the tapioca starch, eliminating the xanthan gum, or adding a bit of almond flour would improve the texture.

One thing I can emphatically say about the Dempsey Bakery folks - they're generous with the samples. Another thing I can say is that it concerned me when a number of those samples were offered with a verbal disclaimer that something hadn't come out quite right today. This creates a quandary for me. I love the friendliness and enthusiasm the staff has for the products and the customers. I like it that they want to include us in the process, but only to a point.

When I'm standing in a bright and cheery space with bright and cheery people taking a few bright and cheery moments away from work, I really want to be handed something perfect or tasty enough that I don't care if it looks perfect without a lot of hoopla. My suggestion would be to deeply discount the "seconds" in a bin in the corner, or repurpose them into croutons to top your soup or take home to your Caesar salad.

Now let's put all the fallen bread and gummy pizza crust in the past, look forward to the yummy Snickerdoodles in our future, and be grateful that there is now a 100% gluten-free bakery in LIttle Rock.

Dempsey Bakery from a gluten eater's standpoint...

323 South Cross Street, Little Rock

Bob Joe Circabellum, who will eat anything:

When my friend asked me if I had tried Dempsey Bakery I said no, even though it’s only a couple of blocks away from where I work all day. And I’m thinking maybe something about the “gluten free” designation had put me off. So when she said, “I’m gluten free, why don’t we go try it and write about it from the perspectives of gluten free versus non-gluten free diets,” I thought, that’s actually a pretty cool idea. Because, as she said, it’s either good or it’s not, right?

So we decided to have breakfast mid-morning today. Why not get a little bit of a few different things and see what we think.

First impression is how clean and bright it is as you come in. It’s a big room with red and white checkerboard tiled floors and red, white and stainless everywhere else. And it’s loud. If you’re a little over-the-hill and hard of hearing like me, that can be a problem. Not a very pleasant spot for a chat over coffee and pastries. They should probably soften some of the surfaces to alleviate that.

The baked items, though compared to rival bakeries are sparse, all looked wonderful. The breads have a beautiful brown crust, the cakes are cheerfully light looking and brilliantly iced. Baguettes, and rolls all appealingly lined up on their respective racks. But it strikes you as you stand to admire, there’s no overwhelming bakery smell. No aroma of yeast, no bread smell. And I guess maybe these breads just don’t smell the same, but even my gluten free friend suggested that maybe they bake a regular loaf each morning just to get the aroma.

“Have you been in before?” we were asked as we walked in. Let the sampling begin…
The proprietors seem eager to cut off small samples of any of the products, though the Mom cautioned us not to make a breakfast of them. So we tried bits of the monkey bread, the chocolate mint brownie, the baguette and the white bread. And we purchased a cupcake, a snickerdoodle cookie and a loaf of banana bread.

The chocolate mint brownie was as it should be. A somewhat chewy, chocolaty brownie with a refreshing mint icing. This would make a decent dessert, but not my idea of breakfast. The cake with citrus icing was quite good and I’d be tempted to take one of those to a party. The baguette was disappointing. It looked just like it should, but I guess you just can’t replicate the proper texture without gluten. Inside and out it looked perfect, but the texture was more like a crescent roll than a toothy French bread.

The cupcake was decent if just a little grainy, but the icings are top notch. The icing made the cake edible, but is so rich you just can’t have but a bite or two before you have to back away. The banana bread had the flavor down pat, but the texture was more like a gummy bear than a breakfast cake. Just too chewy. Not in a good way.

The bread, called everyone’s bread because they use that dough in all of the rolls, buns, specialty breads and who knows what else, is less than delightful. The crust has a good flavor, but inside is just not the flavor, texture or appearance of standard white sandwich bread. I could see Wonderbread Kids, nationwide, turning their noses up to this.

My gluten free friend and I agreed that the snickerdoodle cookie was the best thing we had there. Which begs the question, would I make this a regular stop? Despite the convenience, I’d have to say no. At sixteen dollars per loaf for bread, and nowhere near the quality I’d expect for that price, I think I’ll stick to Community Bakery and let the gluten-free folks keep this one.