Terry’s Finer Foods used to be just a high-end Heights grocery store until owners Lex and Ellen Golden took it to a new level in 2010 by adding a “slightly French bistro” in the annex that once housed a pie shop.
A few months ago, they moved the restaurant to the other side of the grocery, into a space formerly occupied by a high-end gift shop. The move provides a few more seats but primarily uncramps the restaurant’s style, allowing a lot more space (you’re not quite so much dining cheek-by-jowl with your neighbors), a fancier decor and plenty of room at the back for the full bar.
(Oh, and if you’re into irony, Terry’s recently introduced - a pie shop: The Pie Shop at Terry’s Finer Foods, in fact, inside the grocery store. And the space that was formerly the restaurant?
That’s a Neapolitan-style pizzeria in progress.)
That fancier decor includes an anthracite color scheme - that’s the dark gray the Arkansas Razorbacks have used for a questionable uniform choice (that’s another debate) against which the comfortable, tasteful, yellow-clothed banquettes along the walls and tables in the front, rear and center nicely contrast. Seating varies from plusher semi-thrones to captain’s chairs.
Along the north wall, built in shelving houses plenty of antique books and nice wine bottle-base lamps - plus the wine-bottle chandelier near the bar - that accent the mostly indirect lighting. Several pieces of French-scene artwork have successfully made the move. We do miss the ranks of (empty) French first-growth bottles that lined the windows of the old space, even if they did cause the false impression that Chateau Margaux was actually on Terry’s wine list.
On the tables: cute Paris-scene plates, and some heavy-duty sterling silverware in a number of patterns. (If any two pieces actually match, it’s probably an accident.)
When it f irst opened in 2010, Terry’s f illed a French-restaurant niche that had been vacant since the closing of west Little Rock’s Gypsy’s Grill. Since then, having a very French chef take over at Ashley’s at the Capital Hotel has provided a little competition.
But Terry’s has certainly managed to hold its own cuisine wise, and the menu, which has always featured some of the dishes from the Goldens’ original mid-’90s Heights French restaurant, Chattie’s, has remained remarkably unchanged through a procession of chefs (currently Jeffery Moore).
Some preparations have changed slightly and the side items are seasonal, but you’ll still find the traditional French onion soup leads the expanded list of appetizers, soups and salads, and the duck confit, a grilled salmon filet, the Dover Sole Meuniere and the Magret duck breast among the entrees.
Prices, of course, have gone up in the interim. The Onion Gratinee, $5.25 the last time we had it, is now $8. But it’s still done the traditional way, onions soaked in a made in-the-kitchen veal stock with a big crouton, topped by a goodly layer of bake-melted Gruyere that runs modestly over the side of the brown ceramic crock. As it was four years ago, our dinner version had too much crouton, which soaked up a lot of the tasty, rich onion broth, but otherwise it was superbly delicious. The crouton on a subsequent lunch version was a bit more modest.
We also enjoyed a soup of the day ($6), a potato-Boursin, which, though it had an excellent consistency and a notably Boursin-herb tang, was after all only a gussied up version of potato-cheese soup.
We ooohed and aahed over our lunchtime Croque Monsieur ($12), a grilled sandwich of shaved ham and melted Gruyere well awash in a creamy bechamel sauce that did not quite carry through on its threat to overwhelm the sandwich. It came with a sizable (half the plate, actually) side salad of field greens. A “Croque Madame” version topped with a fried egg is available for $1 more.
We’re no big fans of eggplant, but we did like the Eggplant Friture ($12), lightly breaded slices flash-fried, which let them retain moisture without getting mushy, a big plus. It comes with a lemonade gelee and sizable and very tasty side of Israeli couscous globules prepared like tabbouleh with a tart basil-oil vinaigrette.
The dinner menu only offers a baker’s half-dozen entree choices, but the appetizers offered us quite a challenge. The herb-crusted ahi tuna ($14) with cauliflower salad and grapefruit vinaigrette? Baked brie ($8) with apples and fig jam? The house made pate ($7) with Dijon mustard and cornichons (a longtime favorite)?
Or perhaps throw caution, our diet and our social conscience to the winds and blow $24 on the seared foie gras in a pistachio-and-black-pepper baklava and ginger-pear chutney with toasted country bread. (You have to be a foie gras fan, of course, but we’ve sampled Terry’s foie gras, and all other issues aside, take our word for it: You risk anything else coming out of that kitchen being an anticlimax.)
We wavered for a while on the half-dozen escargot ($9) broiled in garlic, butter and parsley, but eventually went with, and reveled in, the full pound of mussels($13) in a Meyer-lemon-garlic-herbs-butter broth. It looks at first, and second, glance like an awful lot of mussels (more than two dozen), but they’re small and we disposed of them quickly, sopping as much broth as we could with the accompanying spear of toasted garlic bread and the complimentary chunks of crusty baguette that come in a green-clothed basket.
Our Pan-Seared Salmon ($23), a filet the size of a deck of playing cards (exactly the size portion dietitians recommend) came out perfectly prepared with a slight salt crust, accompanied by a small lake of sour-cream-like creme fraiche, and, on the side, asparagus and thyme-roasted beets. (We’ve never liked beets and got sucked in by their allegedly being “thyme-roasted” - alas, they were just red-juice-oozing beets.) A lunch version ($13) comes with sauteed spinach and fries; we’ll see next time if they’d do it that way for dinner, too.
We can’t say enough good things about the Breast of Magret Duck ($24), several slices of lean, medium-rare duck in a slightly sweet, slightly tart orange/saffron reduction (!) accompanied by roasted cauliflower and smoked asparagus.
We were too full for dessert on our lunch and dinner visits, but we’ve heard very good things about the S’mores Napoleon ($7).
Terry’s offers table water in chilled wine bottles, but of course it doesn’t originate in those bottles - that’s just a fancy delivery system. It has expanded its wine list since our last visit. A $7 glass of prosecco held up remarkably well against the onion soup, the duck breast and even the smoked asparagus.
Service was uniformly excellent (in fact, we had the same waiter for lunch and dinner), just formal enough for the menu but with a nice, friendly overlay in keeping with the casual atmosphere.
Terry’s Finer Foods the Restaurant
Address: 5018 Kavanaugh Blvd., Little Rock Hours: 11 a.m.-2 p.m., 5:30-9:30 p.m.Tuesday-Saturday Cuisine: French accent Credit cards: V, MC, AE, D Alcoholic beverages: Wine and beer Reservations: Yes Wheelchair accessible: Yes Carryout: Yes (501) 663-4154 facebook.com/Terrysfinerfoodstherestaurant
Weekend, Pages 29 on 04/17/2014
Print Headline: Terry’s French accent is tres tasty