Cache can't cut it | Rock Candy

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Cache can't cut it

Posted By on Tue, Apr 14, 2015 at 1:11 PM

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I want to like Cache. The space is beautiful, with lots of flourishes that make it one of Little Rock's best-looking restaurants around. I want to settle into a meal there and be blown away by the experience of eating delicious food in lovely surroundings. 

I want to like the place. But I just don't. And no amount of wishful thinking is going to make that happen.

On my most recent two visits for lunch, the problems started right at the door. Both times, it took a little while for a hostess to notice me, despite the dining room being only about a quarter full. The first time, I was regaled with an apology that included the hostess's need to get a bite to eat or something to drink (I'm not sure which, she was talking fast) since her kids had made her late that morning, a story which stretched on well after I had already been seated. The second time, the same hostess came to greet me and just said, "Can I help you?" and stood looking at me until I indicated that I wanted to have lunch—at which time she seemed surprised and sat me. I'm not sure what else a person comes in the front door of a restaurant at 12:30 p.m. to do, but at least I didn't get a rundown of her morning routine.

So by the time I'm seated, I'm already feeling weirded out both times. Luckily, my server was quite professional and handled things from there on out. Unfortunately, the food is just not very good.

Meal the first, fried catfish. In a state where catfish is both farmed and caught, there is no excuse for doing fried catfish and fries badly. The catfish in question here, though, tasted pre-frozen and quick-thawed as evident by its utterly mushy texture and bland flavor. The tartar sauce to the side was nice, but these sloppy fillets were almost impossible to dip without turning to pulp. I don't think much money is being spent on this fish, either, judging by the long black streaks of fishy-tasting flesh that lined the underside of each piece, things that are generally cleaned up in nicer restaurants (like Cache claims to be). The breading had no real taste to it beyond salt and barely adhered to the spongy fish anyway.

The fries were fine, although obviously not hand-cut. And for $11, I could have gotten far better results at the Flying Fish right down the block.

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Meal the second, a cheeseburger. I decide to take it easy on the Cache crew and order something that any place on earth should be able to do:  One cheeseburger, medium. I'll give the restaurant this, it was better than the catfish, and the kitchen cooked the burger to a perfect medium. But again, there was just no flavor to the food. Oh, sure, the meat was salty, but there was no actual beef flavor that came through. The brioche roll was dry and a bit soggy on the  bottom, the oily slice of cheddar cheese added some goo to the texture but little to the flavor, and the less said about the pale facsimile of a tomato served to the side the better. The fries were still not hand-cut. And this fabulous feast came at the bargain price of $13.

Let's compare, just for funsies:  For $8.00, I can get a burger with a side salad at The Root made with Arkansas beef that is pretty mind-blowing. For $1.75 I can add an order of hand-cut fries. At Big Orange, I can get a comparable style burger for $7.50, made with Creekstone beef. Fries are another $3.50, but they are also hand-cut. Even David's Burgers—a "lower end" place than Cache for sure, has a better, more flavorful burger and fries that can be had for well under the $10 mark.

In other words, there is no excuse for what Cache is serving for lunch.

What I am afraid is happening here is that the restaurant has spent most of its time creating a fantastic dining environment and they're now cheaping out on ingredients. Frozen fish, frozen fries, flavorless meat — and nothing that seems fresh or local — this was not the Cache that was presented to us back before the place opened. The restaurant I ate at this week was like every overpriced, listless hotel restaurant I've ever dined at — it was nothing more than glorified room service food, overpriced and under-quality. Cache's website says their "vision for Cache is one that transcends food," but it's obvious they've spent so much time looking into those transcendent and lofty spaces that they forgot to actually develop food worthy of being transcended. 

Oh, and the iPad wine list thing? It confuses people, especially when the hostess tells patrons (as she did me) not to bother looking at it. It's all gloss and no guts at Cache, which is a real shame for such a lovely location.

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