A recent writer’s conference in Little Rock allowed me to check out a couple of local restaurants. My friend and I arrived in town Thursday evening and wanted something quick and tasty and our Urbanspoon led us to
Located in a strip mall, this small greek “diner” has exactly what I look for in an ethnic eatery: great food, great people, and great prices. In fact, this was the best Greek food I’ve ever had. My friend, Tamara, had the Goat Plate. Her first time eating goat was a triumph. Not only did she enjoy the food, she ate it efficiently. According to our server (who I think was also the owner), you’ve got to use your fingers. There’s just no way to get the meat off those goat bones with a knife and fork. He congratulated Tamara for doing it the right way and we giggled over folks who work too hard at being polite. [Yes, I was laughing at myself. I will admit to attempting the knife and fork approach. It was too much trouble, though, and I resorted to the more appropriate finger method.]
My choice was the Mubarak Plate. Delish! And there was so much, the doggie bag I took back to the hotel provided lunch for the next 2 days (with the addition of a salad)! Gyros and Shawarma are old favorites, but I had never had Kifta Kabab or Kibbeh before. I was very pleased with my introduction to these dishes.
We had to order Baklava for dessert and I’ve never had better. It was a bite of pistachio-laden, honey-coated heaven.
Layla’s also has a small selection of grocery items available.
I have to say that this is probably the strangest location for a restaurant I’ve seen. I can understand a unique, whimsical setting–an old warehouse, a boat, the top of a UFO-like building–but this one was downright confusing. If we had not read in Urbanspoon that it was hard to find, we certainly would have thought we had the wrong address. Don’t be deceived by it’s location on the second floor of a nondescript building in the middle of a nondescript business park. This place is fabulous. After riding the elevator up and following signs posted down a dull, industrial hallway, we were met with a cool, inviting dining room boasting a beautiful, riverfront view. If the restaurant owners’ intent was to surprise, they succeeded, and their success didn’t end with the atmosphere.
We started our meal sharing an appetizer of Goat Cheese Mousse. My husband called in the middle of this course and I had to rush him off the phone. I wanted to make sure I got my fair share! As you can see, the mousse was so tempting we forgot to take pictures before diving it. Delightfully light and tangy, the perfect way to wake up the taste buds for our entrees.
The entrees were preceded by 5-Onion Soup for Tamara and a dinner salad for me. Tamara ordered the Pinenut-Encrusted Salmon. I chose the Mixed Grill. We each also had a Scallop. My favorite elements of this meal were the scallop and the quail. This was the second best scallop I’ve consumed. No criticism intended here. I have eaten many scallops in my life; I’ve only afforded two the honor of “consummation.” (The other was presented by Sepia.) BNR’s scallop had a lovely buttery texture, sustained by a perfectly weighted sauce. It was one of those dishes that require you to save a bit with which to end the meal. The Mixed Grill was very good. It was ample enough that I had to take some home with me. It was at home the following day (after a reheat) that I found the delight in that adorable little quail, and learned a life lesson about eating really good food. I was lunching on my leftovers with, I suppose, the attitude of “I’ve lost the opportunity to relish the fresh-made essence of this food” when I took a bite of the quail. It was not my first bite; in fact, it was the last. And it nearly made me cry. It was that moment when all the elements of a dish come together to create a near-spiritual experience. I know that’s a little over-the-top. But seriously, I was left wondering what this little fella would have tasted like in the restaurant, freshly prepared, in a setting that allowed my attention to be on the food rather than on whatever stupid TV show I happened to be sitting in front of. Ah, the marriage of the musky warmth of the stuffing with the wild, gamey richness of the bird! I cursed myself for not paying attention earlier, but that didn’t stop me from savoring that one final morsel. When I return to Little Rock and BNR, I believe the choice will be between Stuffed Quail and Trout with Spinach & Crab.
I did not take a picture of our dessert. It was gone before I realized I had neglected it. Tamara and I shared a Chocolate Crème Brûlée. It deserves a comment as well. When I think of crème brûlée, I imagine a light custard, the perfect end to a somewhat heavy meal particularly on a warm evening. This dish was not that dish. The carmellized sugar crust was slightly thicker than expected. The quality of the chocolate used in its preparation was evident; this wasn’t a melted Hershey bar. Rich and strong, not too sweet and only slightly bitter. The texture was much heavier than I am accustomed to in crème brûlée , like a dense yet not heavy cross between a flan (the kind my friend makes, not the milky pudding thing you buy in plastic containers in the refrigerator section of the grocery store) and ganache–velvety, but without the near-liquid aura or somewhat gelatinous texture of your average flan or crème brûlée. (Or maybe I just have never had a really good CB before?)
I look forward to another trip to Little Rock. The problem I foresee is wanting to try something new when I have already discovered places I want to return to. I suppose there are worse dilemmas.