What's cooking/Capsule reviews March 16 

What's cooking

The Chi family continues to expand their holdings. The Chis plan to convert the former Vermillion Bistro at 17200 Chenal Parkway into a Japanese bistro with sushi and hibachi grill and should have it up and running in early summer. The name is still undecided, though we’re hearing Blue Ginger is a possibility.

Hooters’ return to Central Arkansas, and specifically to McCain Boulevard in North Little Rock, has been delayed while the restaurant gets all its licensing in order, we’re told. The restaurant has been advertising for new hires.

Todd Gold was named by his peers the American Culinary Federation Central Arkansas Chapter’s Chef of the Year at the organization’s banquet on March 11. Gold, who started as a dishwasher at Bruno’s in 1988, plies his trade as a corporate chef at Axciom.
Other awards presented March 11 at the Statehouse Convention Center: Brandon Douglas (Nu Cuisine Lounge and previously at Chef Paul’s in Hot Springs), Sous Chef of the Year; Suzanne Campbell (Foxwood Golf Club, Jacksonville), Pastry Chef of the Year; and Lynda Gibson, Arkansas Culinary School’s Student of the Year.
Donnie Ferneau, who owns the Hillcrest restaurant Ferneau, was presented with the ACF’s Pursuit of Excellence Award. Pine Bluff’s Jamie McAfee, last year’s Chef of the Year, received a Hall of Fame award along with Duke Eyman. President’s Award went to Don Bingham and Ed Hornyak, and the “Steady Eddie” Award was presented to Norman Geisselbrecht.

Capsule reviews

UPDATE: SADDLE CREEK WOODFIRED GRILL What’s new at this handsome hunting lodge of a restaurant, with fires crackling on a gray winter day? Lunch is new. But the food seems to be the same, if a few dollars cheaper for some of the grilled entrees. In other words, you can have sandwiches, steak, prime rib, fish, pasta, sandwiches, a variety of fried starters and salads and if you needn’t stay awake in the afternoon, one of the giant rich desserts, like the slab of cheesecake we admired from afar. Woodfired pizza, grilled over a flame, was great – the margherita ($7.45) with good mozzarella, fresh basil, passable tomatoes and a tasty crust perfect for someone (us) with a bad molar. The steak and blue cheese salad ($11.95) is massive-slices of a chewy slab of sirloin cooked just right, over a huge pile of lettuce, bits of tomato, fresh mushroom, croutons and lavish chunks of cheese, all topped with skinny fried onion rings. Those rings? We wish we got the skinny kind rather than the humongo ones we ordered as a starter ($5.95). Triple rings of onion were encased in a weird bread crumb casing, crisp, but lacking in salt and too pebbly for us. The highly touted dipping sauce was, to us, an unappealing blend of Thousand Island dressing and horseradish, minus the islands. The waiter was too friendly, talking so much that we almost said, “Why don’t you sit down and have lunch? We’ll wait on the table.” The tea was great. Funny thing to say, but true. Pizza, salad, rings, tea — $35 for two counting tip and tax. Quality is high at this upscale entry from the Colton’s people, but it strikes as more of a dinner destination than a convenient lunch stop. Awfully dark for lunch. 2703 Lakewood Village, NLR. Full bar and wine list. CC $$-$$$. 812-0883 LD daily.

UPDATE: CHINA DELIGHT BUFFET Only open for a year or so, China Delight has new owners and cooks. The owners are the former cooks at China Inn in Lakewood Village, which is also under new ownership. It’s kind of like a Chinese fire drill, and there are a few changes from the previous owners. The Delight still has five huge buffet tables, three hot and two cold. The prices are better. The hot and sour soup is improved, and a few new dishes have been added. Two in our group raved about the exceptional jade dumplings and yummy red bean dumplings. On our recent Sunday lunch trip, the televisions throughout the restaurant showed a Razorback basketball game, which made for a lingering, long lunch. We enjoyed more food than we needed. But nothing like seeing a Razorback win to complete the meal. 7111 JFK Blvd., NLR, 835-2338. Beer and wine. $. CC. LD daily.


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