Border Cantos is a timely, new and free exhibit now on view at Crystal Bridges.
To list all the Little Rock restaurants that burned hot and later flamed out since Graffiti's opened its doors in 1984 would be a daunting task. Much easier would be listing the handful or so that have 30-plus-year histories. Such is the nature of the restaurant business.
Graffiti's is one of several iconic local eateries that tie back to Restaurant Jacques and Suzanne, the city's first truly fine dining establishment. (Purple Cow, Cafe Prego, Ciao, Ciao Baci and Restaurant 1620 are others.) None still has former J&S disciples as its owners, but all soldier on successfully.
Graffiti's is a lively place, bordering on boisterous, but it's a friendly and comfortable space with a clientele that seems familiar with the restaurant — and often with one another. We were part of a large group for a weekday dinner, and the service and pace of the meal were perfect. We had a few quibbles with the food but no major complaints.
We started with a caprese-style salad ($7) — two fresh mozzarella slices that were grainier than most but very tasty, paired with decent tomato slices (very decent for November, actually) on field greens with basil and pine nuts, lightly drizzled with a nice balsamic vinaigrette.
We have long been fans of the osso bucco at Graffiti's and had settled on the classic veal dish before we arrived. We're used to osso bucco being served on the bone, but this time it was already deconstructed when it arrived — several very tender pieces in a rich reduction sauce that was almost too thick and definitely a bit too salty. The accompanying three triangles of cheese polenta were tough and dry. At $34 we expected better overall.
Our dining companions were happy with their Chicken Mediterranean ($15), chunks of tender chicken breast paired with a large quantity of red, green and yellow bell pepper slices, mushrooms and onion over angel hair pasta. The light sauce was bright with lemon and capers, which gave it a nice saltiness.
Classic lasagna ($12) featured a very rich marinara, plenty of Italian sausage and gooey ricotta, served bubbling hot in a chafing dish. It wasn't as thick as some, but it had multiple layers and there was easily enough to satisfy our friend. Another companion chose tortellini ($11), which arrived in the same style dish, also bubbling hot, with the same rich marinara, but with plenty of small pasta pillows stuffed with a very creamy cheese. She declared it simple but good, Italian comfort food.
We chose only one dessert — the near-perfect caramel custard ($6), light but rich with a thin but very richly flavored caramel sauce. The menu's description is simply "the best in town," and we must heartily agree.
7811 Cantrell Road
The menu at Graffiti's is comprehensive, so dinner can be as light or heavy as you want. But do make sure to save room for dessert. The caramel custard is superb, and there are other classic selections available.
5 to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 5 to 9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Credit cards accepted, full bar.