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story.lead_photo.caption Petit & Keet Bar and Grill’s Bone-in Berkshire Pork Chop is served with roasted sweet potato and sauteed broccolini. ( Jennifer Christman)

Petit & Keet aren't just the names on the west Little Rock restaurant now occupying the former 1620 Savoy.

They're the people working in Petit & Keet Bar and Grill, too, at least during its first month of business.

That's owner and Arkansas Food Hall of Famer Louis Petit mopping up droplets of water spilled on floor. And that's owner Jim Keet, who also heads Taziki's Mediterranean Cafes in Arkansas, circulating with other family members, shaking customers' hands on a busy night.

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Photos by Jennifer Christman

The two have not only put their names on Petit & Keet, they've put their stamp on the new dining destination, which, though completely casual, is perhaps more bistro than bar and grill.

We could never decide what was prettiest: the decor, the food, the cocktails or the people socializing while enjoying them. All those elements, plus excellent service and relaxed pacing help create an amiable atmosphere and memorable evenings.

A redesign that morphed into a complete renovation (guided by KO Construction and Garry Mertins Design) has resulted in a sleek black-and-red exterior, a multifaceted maze of interior drinking and dining spots with dramatic red drum chandeliers and an inviting patio.

For our first dinner, our party of four was seated at a table in an area by the bar; for a second dinner for two, we were seated at a half-banquette in a slightly more formal-feeling room. It can be loud, but tolerably so; a romantic dinner is possible for those who can block out the ambient noise and stay in their bubble.

Stylized specialty cocktails are not only sippable, they're supremely Instagrammable. Served in a tall glass, the frosty and refreshing $8 Peachy Keet of ... well, we're not sure (quoth the menu: "signature frozen concoction, secret recipe") had me feeling peachy. My friend ordered her Smoking Gun ($7) with plain tequila instead of Mezcal, though she still detected something smoky in her "Nonsmoking" Gun of pineapple and agave simple syrup.

The intriguing Petit & Keet menu is limited, but there's something for most appetites and budget. One who doesn't wish to splurge for the 6-ounce filet ($29, tying for the priciest item) can do the Paneed Chicken ($16), or simpler yet, a $12 Nashville Hot Chicken sandwich, as we call it, or "Handheld" as the menu calls it. A Classic Burger ($11.50) is the cheapest choice.

We sampled three appetizers or "Shares." The best and most bountiful was the Beer Steamed Chorizo Mussels ($16), about 20 shellfish with spicy chorizo in a slightly bitter beer broth and served with grilled bread. The substantial amount would make a worthy main meal.

We also savored the tender Tempura Calamari ($11), garlic-marinated squid steak served with fried lemon slices (more for admiring than for eating, we decided after attempting an acrid bite) and a lively aioli.

The Panko Crusted Avocado with Crab Ceviche ($12) drew mixed reviews. The three breaded and fried avocado wedges with lime-marinated crab and "avocado wasabi creme, sweet sour Fresno chile gastrique, and micro cilantro" looked lovely and tasted fresh and pleasant. But it was pricey for the portion and an awkward appetizer to split for a table of four (and I only got half of one -- sigh).

Also tiny was the one-size PK Wedge salad ($10). I fretted ordering it before a meal thinking that the salad would be large. I needn't have worried. The salad of baby iceberg with smoked bleu cheese, bacon lardon, grape tomato and a green goddess dressing was a baby indeed. It was a fine size for a starter salad. Had I ordered it as an entree (after all, it seems priced as one), I would have been hangry.

The Pumpernickel Caesar comes in two sizes (small $6.50; large $11). My date's small plate of fluffy lettuce, balsamic Caesar dressing, shaved pecorino and bready pumpernickel croutons was just right for a first or second course.

Salads (under the menu category "Cold") can be ordered with chicken, salmon, steak, lobster or shrimp for additional charges not specified on the menu.

We ordered the $2 Local Artisan Bread Basket. It did not surface, but we forgot about it and were not charged for it.

For my first main meal, I selected the Maine Lobster Roll ($20), served with house Kennebec fries. The soft challah hoagie embracing lobster dressed with mayonnaise, celery, lemon, scallion and Old Bay seasoning was a true treat for this native Marylander (who owns an "I Put Old Bay on My Old Bay" T-shirt).

My friend's meaty Bone-in Berkshire Pork Chop ($27) was cooked correctly, served with roasted sweet potato, sauteed broccolini and "molasses & mustard creme chervil" that accented without overpowering the meat.

On a return visit, I'd gamble with salmon -- something I don't always love at restaurants. But Petit & Keet's Charred Miso Salmon ($19.50), served with tasty sauteed broccolini with an onion essence, heavily salted shiitake mushrooms and a pitcher of luxurious soy beurre blanc I wanted to bathe in, was divine.

Though the weight was not specified, my date's New York Strip ($29), pan-seared and chargrilled maybe a hint more medium than the requested medium-rare, was a nice size and superbly seasoned. It came served with creamy mashed potatoes and a seasonal vegetable -- again, broccolini, but no complaints here.

We shared both of the desserts offered: Cheesecake ($7) and Chocolate Spoon Cake ($7). The strawberry-accented cheesecake was decent, but not dynamite -- perhaps because its round shape didn't provide enough graham cracker crust.

We'd say the serving of seriously rich spoon cake, plated with a drizzle of salted caramel sauce, was too chocolatey if there was such a thing.

Both visits, I'd leave Petit & Keet happy, relaxed and a little less petite.

Weekend on 06/08/2017

Petit & Keet

Bar and Grill

Address: 1620 Market St., Little Rock

Hours: 4-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 4-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday

Cuisine: Eclectic

Alcoholic beverages: Full bar

Reservations: Yes

Wheelchair accessible: Yes

Credit cards: AE, D, MC, V

(501) 319-7675

Print Headline: Petit & Keet a dynamic duo


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