Maybe we didn't have a moment of zen when we first sat down for dinner at Zen Thai & Fusion.
"No wine?! What?!"
Zen, in west Little Rock's Pinnacle Creek shopping center on Cantrell Road at Taylor Loop Road, does not serve alcohol yet, though it will. Its sister restaurant — Zangna Thai Cuisine, on the other side of west Little Rock in the Shackleford Crossing shopping center — does not serve it.
Zen, like Zangna , also is not open on Mondays when we seem to have our most serious pad Thai withdrawal shakes.
Nevertheless, Zen's food is totally zensational. We enjoyed a wonderful dinner and lunch in the pleasant, low-key dining room that has been everything from a Blue Coast Burrito and a Mooyah burger joint to Pasta Jack's.
The two-page menu is simple (though not actually simple to read due to the cloudy, cumbersome menu jackets) and divided into four main sections: appetizers, entrees, soup and ramen. There are sides ($1.50-$3) including fried rice and steamed noodles for those needing a bit more bulk. Drinks include things soda (Pepsi products, and we weren't warned when we ordered Coke products), Thai iced coffee and iced tea (a sweet Thai version; there is no unsweet selection) for $2.50-$3.50.
Of the appetizers we sampled, the Tempura Brussels Sprouts ($7) were the standout. Lightly battered, the nicely spiced sprouts, balanced by a sweet tempura sauce, had the right amount of crunch.Gallery: Zen Thai & Fusion in Little Rock
While both were tasty versions of fried spring rolls, sliced on the diagonal and served with a sweet fruity sauce with a pineapple essence, the Crispy Eggrolls ($7) and the Tiger Roll ($8) contained different fillings. The eggrolls featured ground chicken, cabbage, carrots and bean thread noodles, while the tiger, which tasted more like crab rangoon, contained cream cheese, imitation crab meat and noticeable chunks of shrimp.
Other appetizers ($7-$8) are potstickers, fried California hot wings and Kimono Shrimp, fried in spring roll wrappers.
There are nine rice/noodle/curry entrees (about $11-$14) that can be customized with one's choice of protein — tofu, chicken or shrimp.
On an early visit, salmon was a choice in the Panang Curry & Rice ($16), and an amazing choice. The tender filet in a plush, zesty sauce of coconut milk, panang curry paste, bell peppers and a splash of lime juice served on spinach practically brought happy tears to my eyes. But I didn't see it as an option on a later visit, bringing sad tears to my eyes.
I would have liked a bit more basil in the Spicy Basil & Rice with shrimp ($13). Mostly what I tasted in the stir fry that featured about a half-dozen decent-size shrimp was onion, bell pepper and more bell pepper.
Other entrees include two versions of fried rice (Asian, yellow curry), Pad Thai, two kinds of noodles (Street and Drunken) and two curries (red and yellow).
The recent cold weather made the soup/ramen side of the menu extremely appealing.
Creamy with straw mushrooms, tomatoes, onions, scallions and lemongrass, the entree-size Chicken Tom Kha Coconut Milk Soup ($11) was full of flavor, as well as filling.
There are nearly a dozen flavors of ramen, ranging from Chicken Kids Ramen ($7) to Five Spice Duck Ramen ($15)
A friend reported her Shrimp Ramen ($12), described as featuring a "fish cake," as well as cauliflower, mushrooms, imitation crab, scallions and boiled egg, was good, if mild. She said it could have used something to make it a bit spicier.
Another friend tried the Tom Yum Ramen, which translates to "hot and sour," and which she ordered with a combination of tofu and chicken ($12). Her description: "Mmm, warm, flavorful broth, plenty of ramen noodles, and slices of chicken breast, tofu triangles, a couple of crabsticks, a piece of cauliflower and snow fungus topped with a bit of cilantro. Everything went together beautifully.
"I could eat this three times a week."
Just — sigh — not on Mondays.
Zen Thai & Fusion
Address: 14810 Cantrell Road, Little Rock
Hours: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. and 4:30 p.m-9 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday
Cuisine: Thai, ramen
Credit cards: AE, D, MC, V
Alcoholic beverages: Not yet
Wheelchair access: Yes
Weekend on 03/07/2019
Print Headline: Zensational fare at Zen Thai & Fusion