Winter is the perfect time to explore the natural stone shelters where native Arkansans once lived
Graffiti's is one of the iconic fixtures on the Little Rock dining scene. Many of its customers likely don't remember eating out before there was a Graffiti's, and some veterans probably have forgotten it was one of the many fabulous restaurants born out of the ashes of Restaurant Jacques and Suzanne, the city's first truly fine dining establishment.
Its heritage surely helped build instant momentum, but it's the years of dishing up consistently good, reasonably priced food served in a comfortable, sometimes boisterous atmosphere that has kept it thriving for decades. Meals at Graffiti's can be about as light or heavy as you want them to be, and while not huge, the menu still has enough variety to remain fresh, even for frequent visitors.
Our last meal at Graffiti's wasn't our favorite, owing to our choices that evening. (We've come to realize the roulette-like nature of picking two or three among dozens of menu items often sets diners' opinions of whether a particular restaurant is "good" or "bad." That's unfortunate.)
Things started well with the homemade meatballs appetizer ($4.75), a half-dozen hearty, flavorful, tender, ample meatballs coated with — but not swimming in — a tangy marinara. But neither of us was very fond of our main courses, Simply Scallops ($18.95) and veal scallopini ($22.50).
What possessed us to order a dish labeled "Lite" we can't say, but the "liteness" was one of our problems with Simply Scallops, which included uncharacteristically fishy scallops with tomato, garlic and shallots tossed with pasta. The white wine and "touch of butter" that made up the sauce didn't provide enough flavor to carry the dish, particularly given the off-putting scallops.
We know lemon is an essential ingredient in veal scallopini, but a little lemon goes a long way, and a lot of lemon goes way, way too far. Besides lemon juice in the sauce that covered the not-quite-tender-enough medallions, slices of lemon were laid across them. And the net result was a citrus tartness that overwhelmed the dish, which is best when chefs treat it delicately. The accompanying pesto pasta was done well.
On past visits we've feasted on the veal osso buco, eye-rollingly tender, savory and delicious, and the Fettucine Wild and Creamy — a mushroom-studded, cheesy pasta dish that is almost legendary among our friends. But this trip we ventured off the beaten path and found the going a bit rough.
Dessert joined our appetizer as pleasant bookends to our meal. The words "truffle ball" in the description of Chocolate Extreme ($4.75) caught our eye, and the rich, decadent, gooey dessert really delivered — the intense chocolate experience tempered by toasted almonds and whipped cream (as well as by raspberry sauce; it seems you can't get chocolate desserts without raspberry these days, a trend we're tiring of).
Graffiti's is fun, and it's good, and that's why it's been around so long. Given our impressions developed over years of dining there, we're betting the odds of us enjoying our next visit are high.
7811 Cantrell Road
We were thrilled to learn all wines sitting on the counter at one end of the dining room were $25, particularly when we found a luscious chardonnay from the Carneros region of California among the grab-bag selections. Wine list prices also are reasonable at Graffiti's.
5-9 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 5-9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Credit cards accepted, full bar.