Thursday, January 24, 2008

Dragon China / Hunan Balcony

2817 Cantrell Road, Little Rock

Used to be a buffet, now it's the twilight zone...

Sometimes being stubborn can have negative consequences. Today, when we pulled up to the Dragon China restaurant on Cantrell, the first thing we noticed was no cars in the parking lot. "Are they open?" we asked. But, since we had decided to go there for lunch we stubbornly walked in. It was as cold inside as it is outside which in January is not a good thing. The place was empty.

Stubbornly we made our way to the counter at the back and placed an order with the tired looking young lady and took a seat at a nearby table. Several times we saw people come in, look around, and leave. One other person came in and placed an order while we were there.

The food came out on paper plates with little plastic picnic forks and no napkins.

I've heard that the people that work in these "fujo" style restaurants all learn to cook "Chinese food" in this country. I think these guys skipped that part. One gets the impression that these are folks that just decided to start a restaurant and do the best they can to create dishes that look like the pictures. We should have known something was up when we saw that the word "buffet" on the sign outside had a black trash bag taped over it.

My advice? Run away. Don't call in an order for delivery. Don't even look that direction when you drive past. Keep eyes straight ahead and hold the steering wheel steady until you can get some place safe...

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

AP's Seafood Cove - the saga continues...

1400 John Harden Dr, Jacksonville AR * (501) 982-0791

One of my favorite places to eat, and not for the reason you'd think.

As I've mentioned before, AP's by all appearances is a seafood buffet with catfish and shrimp and fried clams. But the Thai food really steals the show and that's what I look forward to eating when I go there.

On a recent visit, the owner told me that she had a surprise and she brought us each out a bowl of steamed rice and a plate of salad. She told me that it was tuna salad the way they fix it in Thailand. The flavor was amazing and the fiery heat of the dish told me immediately why it was served with the rice. On some dishes they tone the heat back for the American palate, but this one was obviously made for the cook's own consumption and I think was very authentic. I am grateful for the opportunities to try these things. While on that visit, Panne told me that they were going to make chicken-rice that Friday and that I should come back.

It's really funny, but just a few nights before that I was watching Anthony Bourdain talking about Singapore and the fights people there have over who makes the best chicken rice. I wasn't about to miss an opportunity to eat something like that without having to leave central Arkansas!

This dish is made by cooking a hen all day and then using the broth to cook the rice and make an accompanying soup. The chicken is chopped up across a bed of the flavorful rice and comes with the usual cucumbers and cilantro sprigs. First you spoon on some sauce made with black beans, soy sauce, ginger and garlic (maybe some fish sauce?) and you eat a bite of chicken and rice and then you eat a spoonful (or two) of the soup. Back and forth. Tempting as it is to just eat all of one and then start on the other, I dutifully followed instructions and ate it the way I was told to.

I can see this being a wonderful social tradition, everyone gathered around the table eating and talking and drinking. Next time you have it, call me, okay?

The Cross-eyed Pig

1701 Rebsamen Park Road, Little Rock * (501)265-0012

When I first got my food there was a small bowl of catsup perched atop of two slices of white bread. My thoughts were, "where's the sauce." Then I realized that this must be the sauce. I tasted some on the tip of my finger and it really didn't taste much different from catsup.

The pulled pork on the sandwich was juicy and with just the right amount of smokey flavor. It occurred to me that it would be a shame to ruin it with that awful fire-engine red "sauce." Oops, they already did. Here comes the sauce, dribbling out all over the plate. The chicken, on the other hand, was so dry that it needed the sauce to lubricate it enough for the trip down.

The beans weren't bad, but weren't remarkable either as were the fries. I enjoyed the iced tea, very much and didn't hear any complaints from my companion about the water.

Overall impression? The Cross-Eyed Pig is over-priced ($8.00 for a chicken plate) and on your basic level of "yankee" barbeque, which is to say, not up to southern standards? Hey are these guys from Memphis? With Whole Hog BBQ around the corner, why bother?