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Cache takes cash 

But there's much to love about swanky River Market restaurant.

click to enlarge SLEEK: Cache features swank, modern decor image
  • Brian Chilson
  • SLEEK: Cache features swank, modern decor.

Your gut reaction the first time you're at Cache Restaurant will likely be, "This doesn't feel like I'm in Little Rock." That's really not fair to our city, which is growing in sophistication and worldliness, but gut reactions aren't necessarily logical or fair.

Cache is super swanky, modern, cosmopolitan and well-appointed in every way. It's a huge, two-story restaurant/lounge that wraps around the northeast corner of the new Arcade Building in the heart of the River Market District. But it's divided into distinct smaller sections that give it an unexpectedly intimate feel — from the comfortable bar area, perfect for happy hour chats, to the counter seats where diners can watch the dozen or so kitchen staff scurrying around the huge, upscale open kitchen to the downstairs main dining room.

Upstairs is the lounge, and it's presented just as compellingly — thanks this time of year to the sliding glass windows, which open up the place to the beautiful spring weather; and at the central corner of the lounge is a small outdoor patio where you can soak up even more of the River Market hustle and bustle below.

Cache (pronounced "cash," not "cach-ay") is owned by Linda and Rush Harding, and anyone who has followed Rush Harding's professional career as CEO of Crews and Associates, his high-profile support of UCA and his many philanthropic kindnesses knows he does nothing halfway. Cache is living proof.

Another "I don't feel like I'm in Little Rock" moment is likely to come when you get a load of the prices. We're not a town known for $74 ribeyes, $26 foie gras appetizers or $21 meat and cheese plates. And at lunch, a sandwich with chips will set you back $11-$13 before beverage, tip and tax. So, yes, you can bruise your credit card pretty severely at Cache, especially if you shoot the moon. But there are ways to minimize the financial commitment and still leave satisfied.

At our first dinner we each just got an appetizer, split a pasta and split a dessert. The braised pork belly ($14) features a decent-sized hunk of flavorful, salty, somewhat fatty piece of delectable pork, not a meal-sized portion but plenty to knock the edge off. The chanterelle mushrooms, charred corn and truffle corn puree were outstanding complements, much more than just afterthoughts or plate decorations.

The truffle polenta ($12), billed as "crispy," wasn't, and its blandness got more intense after we had consumed the excellent mushrooms and bits of goat cheese that accompanied. But it was filling for sure.

Our pasta choice is what we'll be going back for. The crab tagliolini ($16) is a gem: thin pasta with considerably more shards of lump crab than we deserved. It's not heavily sauced, but the Pernod (a French anisette liqueur) gives it a great, sharp edge.

On our return trip we weren't so budget conscious. The sea bass and scallops ($39) featured two large, pan-sauteed scallops that sat atop cipollini onion that had been sauteed to sweetness. The 4- to 5-ounce portion of perfectly prepared, succulent sea bass was accented by cauliflower cream that was rich and not too cauliflowery. Slightly charred broccoli, carrots and asparagus accompanied. The dish was excellent, but it wasn't $39 excellent, particularly given the portions.

Our dining companion's Tasmanian salmon ($30) featured a larger slab of well-prepared salmon, served skin-side up. It was moist, tender and not the least bit fishy. It sat atop a bed of amazing creamed leeks (we could eat a bowl of them), and the beet ribbons offered a nice counterpoint of sweetness.

Speaking of sweetness, we tried three desserts over the course of our two visits (all $9.95): a classic but not inspired vanilla creme brulee; a more distinctive, light-yet-rich cheesecake served with whipped cream and a bit of caramel sauce; and nougatine, a very rich flourless chocolate cake with bits of praline and nuts and a scoop of homemade vanilla ice cream.

To see the variety of steak, chicken, pasta and other entrees — plus to get a sense of the look and feel of the place — take time to visit www.cachelittlerock.com.

Given its prices, it would be logical to categorize Cache as a special occasion restaurant. But unless folks are celebrating even the most minor of holidays or occasions, that's not the way Cache is playing out. We booked well in advance for our Friday night dinner, but when we called one Monday afternoon for reservations that night we were told it was a complete sellout — but that we were welcome to dine at the bar, a lively and enjoyable experience.

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