It's hard to believe it has been more than three decades since the folks who brought you Jacques & Suzanne's and Le Casse Croute opened Graffiti's in a "mini-mall" on Cantrell Road close to what at the time was the city's western edge.
It has gone through a few changes since Paul Bash and Denis Seyer created it in 1984, originally as an Italian restaurant, including a menu skewed toward more pan-Mediterranean.
Address: 7811 Cantrell Road, Little Rock
Hours: 5-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 5-9:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday
Credit cards: V, MC, AE, D
Alcoholic beverages: Full bar
Reservations: Large parties
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
The restaurant recently went through another change of command, with former owners Patrick Dayer and David Jones handing it off to Sarah and Armando Bolanos, who also own and operate La Terraza Rum and Lounge, a predominantly Venezuelan place on Kavanaugh Boulevard in Hillcrest.
They've kept the casual decor -- an L-shaped dining room featuring white metal chairs at glass-topped tables, the logo prominently affixed to a large menu that used to be a place to inscribe, with colorful markers, the wine specials. Paper menus still double as place mats, although the new ones are exactly half as big -- there are fewer items on it (not listing the desserts saves space) and it uses small more up-to-date fonts. And it doubtless saves on printing costs.
The atmosphere remains pleasant, perhaps more so since on our most recent visit the pin-spot illumination remained constant -- nobody turned down the already dim lights to the point where it was difficult to really see what was on our plates (much less, as so many people do nowadays, photograph them).
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Photos by Eric Harrison
Photos by Eric Harrison
They have given the menu a face-lift, however, keeping some favorite dishes, ditching others that were possibly less successful, and changing some preparations.
Having stressed when they opened that place the European connections, primarily Spanish and Italian, to Venezuelan cuisine, nothing in the menu changes is particularly surprising.
What was surprising, perhaps, was the changes between a late January visit, just before the new menu went into effect, and a late February visit with the new menu in place.
For example, the half-dozen appetizer meatballs, which in January ($6.50) were covered with cheese and baked in a casserole dish, in February ($7) came in a chunky, zesty red tomato sauce, served in a brick-red bowl. We'd rate the sauce as an improvement; the meatballs, now a little spongier, possibly because they're made differently or perhaps just in the way they're cooked, not so much.
The garlic bread ($7.50, half order $4.25), which was specifically identified as being on ciabatta, isn't now. The February version was fluffier and less overtly garlicky and we liked it better.
Probably the best menu addition is the Cheese Board appetizer ($12), which featured a couple of good-size but reasonably thin slices of smoked Gouda and wedges of fresh manchego and brie, a loaf of fluffy bread (not, as the menu promised, toast) and sides of a spicy citrus marmalade (!) and pitted Greek olives.
Another addition, available as a special in January, is the Veal Scallopini ($26), two almost schnitzel-like veal cutlets sauteed in a lemon butter brown sauce with a side of pesto pasta. Those two wagon-wheel-looking things on top turned out to be lemon slices, something we luckily figured out before we took a big ol' bite out of one of them thinking they were mushrooms. The generous portion of sauce nicely accented the veal, which was decently tender, but we actually thought the pasta was the best part of the plate.
We got plenty of seafood in our Linguine With Seafood ($26) -- replacing what used to be Fettuccine with Seafood, A Graffiti's Specialty ($28): firm shrimp, baby clams, small scallops, plentiful bits of fish -- but the noodles were something softer than al dente and the rich red sauce, while spicy enough to lift it above standard spaghetti sauces, wasn't sufficiently extraordinary to excite.
It has been almost exactly 30 years since we tried Graffiti's Chicken Parisienne ($17), a longtime menu favorite for many and something we're glad to see has remained. So our memories, while pleasant, are somewhat dim, but it's still a palate-pleaser: sliced and grilled chicken breast baked en casserole with noodles -- now linguine where once the kitchen used fettuccine -- in a tomato-cream sauce topped with melted mozzarella and Parmesan.
Service was good on both visits, the first time from a veteran server who gave us just the right balance between help and hover, and the second time from a pair of waitresses who were very adept at meeting our needs and from Armando Bolanos, who splits his time between the kitchen and the floor.
Weekend on 03/08/2018
Print Headline: At 34, Graffiti's continues to thrive