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story.lead_photo.caption Cache’s Baked Escargot appetizer comes in the traditional nine-dimple escargot plate, awash in maitre d’hotel butter and topped with bread crumbs and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. - Photo by Eric E. Harrison

Cache's website proclaims that it's "Little Rock's Finest Dining Experience."

And recent menu changes -- among them, less complicated dishes -- as well as a face-lift that has infused the dining room with a sherbet-shop color scheme has elevated the dining experience.

But the brag is hyperbolic. Cache (pronounced "cash") is one of the finer Little Rock dining experiences. But after our recent experiences, we had the same reaction we did after our first encounter just after it opened in 2014: At that rarefied level and elevated price point (our dinner for two, for example, exceeded $50 per person, plus tip, and we could have easily spent much, much more), you can have a dining experience at least as good or better at about a half-dozen other fine establishments.

We can't fault the service, which is consistently excellent, or the decor. Cache could easily be Little Rock's coolest dining experience, still reflecting the more than $3 million Little Rock businessman Rush Harding III put into the place when it opened at the meeting point of President Clinton and River Market avenues.

The long main dining room offers two- and four-seat tables of sturdy wood, a rank of four-seat booths and a pair of patios for fair-weather dining. A few months ago they re-upholstered the very solid chairs and booths, the chairs into bright, vivid sherbet pastels (predominantly raspberry and lime) and the booths in cream with cable-stitch stripes in the same sherbet-y colors. From just about everywhere in the dining room there is at least some view into the semi-open kitchen. You'd be proud to have the 21st-century-hip light fixtures hanging in your house.

Executive Chef Payne Harding's original menus were complex and rife with overwhelming descriptions of what went into them; the influence of Denis Seyer, who at one point the Hardings brought as a consulting chef appears to have lasted -- the menu descriptions are happily simpler.

The Caprese salad ($15) was the best of our appetizers, thick, beefy, fresh tomato slices topped with buffalo mozzarella, a surprisingly sharp pesto, a basil leaf and avocado dollops, drizzled with balsamic vinegars.

The Southeast Asian-style spring rolls ($12), one of the items on a new top-half-page of vegan items, looked impressive on the plate -- two bias-cut rolls with thin, slightly chewy rice-paper wrapping chopped veggies, served with alternating slices of olive-oil-drizzled radish and cucumber and two dipping sauces. But when we bit into one we discovered the spectrum of vegetables was too broad, and too much of them was onion. The spicier, orange-y dipping sauce in no way resembled the satay-style peanut sauce the menu promised; the other appeared to be just plain soy sauce.

Gallery: Cache Restaurant

The Baked Escargot ($15) also looked impressive when it hit our table, with each of the dimples in the traditional nine-dimple escargot plate containing one snail (except for the one that had several small snail chunks), absolutely awash in maitre d'hotel butter, with a baked-on topping of bread crumbs and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. The texture was excellent; escargot are frequently chewy, but these were particularly tender. But an escargot doesn't have much flavor; they're most commonly sauteed in garlic butter. These aren't -- although the cheese topping helped, we mostly tasted just the butter.

The most successful entree, and the one we'd go back for it if was on the menu, was that night's special, a good-size portion of Chilean sea bass that was, as our server promised, mouth-meltingly tender. It came on a bed of parsnip puree and surrounded by sun-dried tomato. It was delicious; it was also a whopping $48, which we only discovered when the check arrived. (We recommend that, while it might be gauche, to ask the price of the special up front. Sticker shock otherwise almost always ensues.)


Address: 425 President Clinton Ave., Little Rock

Hours: 11 a.m.-2 p.m., 5-9:45 p.m. “last seating” Monday-Friday; 5-9:45 p.m. “last seating” Saturday; 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Sunday

Cuisine: Eclectic

Alcohol: Full bar with IPad cocktail, wine and beer listings

Credit cards: V, MC, AE, D

Wheelchair accessible? Yes

Reservations: Yes

(501) 850-0265

The ponzu sauce, with plenty of pineapple overtones, was too sweet, dashing Intrepid Companion's high hopes for the Ahi Tuna Tataki ($23). It's one of Cache's new chef's creations, listed on the bottom half of the menu page below the vegan dishes, and most of which could go as appetizers or entrees.

The Veal Saltimbocca ($35) was a thin, tender prosciutto-topped veal scallop in a Marsala-caper sauce. The prosciutto was salty, the capers were salty, and our first impression of the sauce was salty. But it was also consistently too strong -- maybe too much Marsala. The sauce did work as a complement to the on-the-side mashed potatoes; the accompanying ball of spinach, however, took some work to unravel.

Cache dinners start off with a basket of mixed breads, including a pair of honey-glazed rolls and a pair of what resembled most closely cornbread muffins. Butter comes in cute little pots with paper Cache-labeled lids.

We have been consistently enjoying brunch at Cache, which though pricey has been consistently good. We revisited the Seafood Omelet ($16) for the first time in a while, and while the plate presentation wasn't anywhere near what it used to be -- the omelet was lumpy and shapeless and seemed sort of just thrown on the plate -- the amount and flavor of the seafood inside more than made up for it. Inside we found a full meal worth of smoked salmon, crab meat and Cajun-spiced baby shrimp, served with a side of slightly oily home fries well accented by onions and bell peppers. Though it wouldn't normally have come with cheese, the kitchen at our request graciously dropped some goat cheese on top; spread over the entire omelet it provided a nice flavor dimension.

New on the brunch menu is the Smoked Salmon Benedict (delicious, but ouch! $24), fluffy English muffins topped with a thick layer of smoked salmon, a thicker layer of spinach, a pair of poached eggs and a mild Hollandaise. Other equally pricey Benedict options: Traditional, $20; Crab Cakes, $24; and Beef Short Rib, $24.

Weekend on 09/20/2018

Print Headline: RESTAURANT REVIEW + PHOTOS: Remodeled Cache keeps its cool

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