Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Root - a local cafe

1500 South Main Street, Little Rock.

Let me start out by saying, I really miss the old Sweden Creme that was a landmark on South Main Street for nearly half a century. And maybe that's why I was so excited to see someone had rehabbed and opened a new eatery there. And boy was it crowded for lunch today. The menu mission statement is " build community through local food."

Through most of the world people eat "local" food because it's either not practical or too expensive to bring in foods from very far away. Here in the United States we are blessed with bountiful foods from far flung corners of the earth, and from next door. And, while tis noble to support your local growers, it's not always better or cheaper. I won't argue the points of locally grown vegetables, there is no argument - they're better. They taste better, look better, and gosh darn it they like me. And if I had an eatery, I would try to stock it with as much local goodness as is possible. But to build a business around the concept seems a tad foolish, and well, lamely trendy. And trendiness seems to be the draw here. At least that was the impression I got from the vast majority of patrons.

I tried their locally grown/produced bratwurst with a side salad. This cost eight dollars with no drink or upgrades. It took a good thirty minutes to get it and I was honestly shocked at the tiny portions they handed me. If eating local is why half the world goes hungry each night, then I'm again' it. I ate the brat in about four bites and started in on the miniscule layer of lettuce in the bottom of the container. Luckily they had given me only a tablespoon of salad dressing or it would have been overwhelming. The taste was good, no complaints there, but dang it, if I have to go out to eat after lunch, somebody has missed the point.

Did I mention that I really miss Sweden Creme?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

I was speechless, not!

People these days never cease to amaze me and today was no exception. It started uneventfully at the Flying Fish down on East Markham. I got my usual whole catfish basket with the delectable whole fried fish with crisp fins and tail and all the flavor of the bones, but I digress.

After waiting a bit for the little carousel of lights to go off on the pager, it was finally time to go and pick up our orders.

Lo, and behold, we come back to the table and there were people sitting there. Not just sitting there, mind you, but MOVED OUR DRINKS TO ANOTHER TABLE sitting there. A couple of choice words sent them scrambling to replace our drinks on the TABLE OF OUR CHOICE and hie, tail-between-legs, back to their table from before.

And the food tasted ever so much better after having put them in their place...

Thursday, June 09, 2011

La Frontera Mexican Grill -- Where's the beef??

This is a quick follow-up to Circa Bellum's review of this place on May 5. He and I went out there for lunch a couple of days ago and encountered a strange problem -- no beef. That is as in: no beef for tacos, and no ground beef (carne molida) for the chilis rellenos I ordered. And this place has a butcher shop under the same management? They also had no tamales. Hmm. Whazzup?

The queso chili rellenos were very good, as expected, but it's just weird that they didn't have any beef. And, Circa said that they had been out of tamales another time he had gone there. Curious.

Maybe they're going through some growing pains. You might be well served to wait a bit longer before you try the place.

Chang Thai & Asian Cuisine - Recent bad CHANGes

9830 Arkansas 107 / Sherwood

A quick post. My friend and I had lunch today at Chang (I think Circa Bellum did a review some time ago of this place), and were unpleasantly surprised. Previously, the food had been pretty good -- not great Thai, but an acceptable option to some other local places. Today: not good. Soups, actually inedible. Thai salads, dismal. Entrees barely OK (buffet).

When I was checking out, I asked the owner if she had anyone new working in the kitchen. She smiled and said, "yes." Then the smile sort of faded from her face as she realized that the question might not have been complimentary. "Was everything OK?," she asked. And, rather than lie, I told her the food had not been as good as the last time, and tried to leave it at that.

Bottom line: the recent changes at Chang are not for the better. I'm going to wait a bit before going back and then see what has transpired. As I was driving away, I realized I had seen and talked to Chang's former cook/chef over at Pho Thanh My recently. So, that might explain the problem.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Taj Mahal: Definitely worth a try.

1520 Market Place, Little Rock

My friend and I went to Taj Mahal today, and I was pleasantly surprised with what we found: seemingly authentic Indian food (I'm no expert on this type of cuisine; actually, I honestly can't think of anything I'm an expert on, but that's beside the point) using fresh ingredients, with good service and a desire to please. I say "pleasantly surprised," because I had been to Taj Mahal once before -- evidently, shortly after it had opened -- and wasn't impressed. When I told the manager I had been there before and noticed quite a difference today, he rolled his eyes slightly and gently suggested that they had had some growing pains at first.

He said that the restaurant has now been open about six and a half months. That's encouraging. Also encouraging is the fact that they have added a full bar. How any restaurant can survive for very long without a full bar is beyond me, given the customary mark-up on beer/wine/liquor and attendant revenue boost a bar provides. I think we all know of many "restaurants" that have terrible food and likely survive exclusively off of their bar proceeds. Excuse me, did someone just say Dizzy's??

Anyway, the food was quite good, and very similar to the offerings at Amruth both in terms of quality and relative heat. I asked the manager to compare his place with Amruth and Star of India, and he said he would try to be unbiased. Amruth, he though, was more of a café, and his place more of a sit-down restaurant. OK, I'll agree with that. He also said that Amruth tended to concentrate on northern Indian cuisine, and offered fewer dishes with meat in them. Taj Mahal, he said, tried to vary their menu regularly, included more meats, but still focused primarily on northern Indian dishes. Not being an "expert" on anything, I had to accept his opinion on this. But, I'll admit that it makes me very curious about southern Indian cuisine now, and why nobody around here offers it.

The manager also echoed my feelings about Star of India and its Americanized and much milder Indian dishes. Star has a successful formula, a faithful clientele, and no desire to change. It's a good place for unadventurous diners who want to eat Indian-like food. And, interestingly, Star's response to the arrival on the scene of both Amruth and Taj Mahal was to drop their prices by 25%.

Bottom line: I think you should give Taj Mahal a try. If you're like me and went there when they first opened and weren't impressed, go back -- the food is noticeably better. It's tasty, fresh and significantly different from the dishes -- even the same dishes -- at Star of India. The lamb vindaloo, in particular, was quite different. It had a darker, peppered sauce with a very distinct and pleasant flavor of lamb that I have rarely tasted in Star of India's version. The chicken curry also had a subtle sweetness that I thoroughly enjoyed. I think we'll go back in the evening and check out the difference between lunch time and supper.

Cost for two for lunch buffets, a tea and water = $22.19, based on $8.99 apiece for a "weekday buffet." Not cheap, but about what you'd pay at Star of India, and the food, like that at Amruth, is much better, definitely hotter and seemingly authentic.