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story.lead_photo.caption The crepe of the day, covered in lobster sauce and stuffed with crab meat, shrimp, salmon, asparagus and cheese, comes with fruit and a side salad or soup at Brave New Restaurant. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/JENNIFER NIXON)

Giving directions to out-of-towners looking for Brave New Restaurant is challenging to say the least. How does one clearly explain the winding route from Riverfront Drive along little side streets and past buildings and parking lots to the right one -- the WindRiver building, which doesn't necessarily stand out?

Once one gets there, signs inside tell visitors the restaurant is on the first floor (using the English system of floor numbering, one up from "ground"). Then it's to the left, down the long hall.

Brave New Restaurant

Address: 2300 Cottondale Lane, Little Rock

Hours: 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Friday, 5-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 5-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday

Cuisine: American

Credit Cards: V, MC, AE, D

Alcoholic beverages: Wine, beer, full bar

Wheelchair accessible: Yes

Reservations: Yes

(501) 663-2677

But the journey is worth it for those who find themselves in Brave New's upscale-casual home.

It has long been a fixture in Riverdale, a reliable spot for fine dining in an upscale but relaxed atmosphere, serving flavorful and creative dishes with a Brave flair.

Chef Peter Brave first opened Brave New Restaurant in a former tiny Steak & Ale on Old Cantrell Road in 1991 before eventually moving it to the WindRiver building. He recently signed a seven-year lease to remain in the building, which was sold earlier this year.

It may be tricky to find, but the location is otherwise ideal, overlooking the Arkansas River and with, from some seats, views of downtown Little Rock. During nice weather, there's an outdoor deck for open-air dining. Inside, artwork dots walls painted in white, dark blue and deep red. The overall effect is elegant and streamlined without being dull or minimalist.

There are no table cloths on the dark tables and guests sit in comfortable chairs with wooden backs and padded seats, the better to encourage lingering over leisurely meals.

After dark, the lighting is dim, the feeling intimate. But during lunch (on weekdays only), the dining room is bright and open, the floor-to-ceiling windows letting the light flood in. The better to see the collection of salads, sandwiches and entrees that make up the lunch menu.

Gallery: Brave New Restaurant in Little Rock

On the salad side, there's an emphasis on fish and seafood with offerings like the Avacado & Crabmeat Salad ($14.50) with avocado slices, grapefruit and lump crab meat topping a bed of bibb lettuce drizzled with balsamic vinaigrette.

Main courses include Lobster Ravioli ($15.50), lobster-stuffed ravioli with red bell pepper pesto sauce; and Pinenut Salmon ($15.50), crusted salmon filet served with a pesto cream sauce.

I opted for the Crepe & Soup or Salad ($14.50), which changes daily and comes with fruit and a choice of salad -- house or Caesar -- or soup. I chose the house salad with a garlicky vinaigrette, which was a light complement to the star of the plate: the soft crepe, stuffed with shrimp, crab meat, salmon, asparagus and Swiss cheese and covered with a very tasty lobster cream sauce. Rich and filling, it was difficult to stop eating.

My companion turned to the list of sandwiches, which includes a Nontraditional Grilled Cheese ($13) and a Duck Sausage ($13). He chose the Lobster Roll ($15), Canadian lobster tossed lightly with chives, lemon and aioli on a soft brioche bun from Boulevard Bread. The dressing was tasty but didn't overpower the flavor of the lobster. The sandwich came with fruit and what seemed to be house-made chips with a little extra spice for kick.

A subsequent dinner had a much darker ambience but the same excellent blending of flavors.

We started the meal off with the Baked Brie ($13), a small disc of cheese that shares a plate with walnuts, grapes and water crackers. The grapes in particular were a perfect complement to the gooey, warm brie, which was creamy and smooth on the crisp water crackers. It's the right amount for two very hungry people but would be a perfect light snack for three or four. Our waiter came by and offered extra water crackers when he saw we were running low.

Other appetizers include a Goat Cheese Mousse ($12) and a Wild Mushroom Tart ($12).

Between courses, servers came by with warm bread: crispy crunchy on the outside, pillowy inside, delicious with a dab from the triangles of softened butter sitting on the table.

There are three dinner-size (and priced) salads, including a Lobster Salad ($39) with lobster and crab meat and asparagus with a lemon tarragon mayonnaise and balsamic reduction.

Every other entree comes with a small side salad, a choice between a house salad of mixed greens with a garlic vinaigrette or a slightly citrusy Caesar.

They were out of the Mushroom Wellington ($21). One of the more unique menu items, it's a blend of chopped mushrooms, onions, garlic and pecans stuffed in a portobello cap and baked in a puff pastry cocoon, then served with tomato sauce and asparagus. It's a flavorful option for vegetarians or just those looking for something different. They did offer a vegetable plate or vegetable ravioli as a substitute.

They also didn't have their regular special, the popular walleye fish.

My dining companion selected the Grass Roots Free Range Half Chicken ($29 on the menu, but we were charged $26) and said the skin-on chicken, seasoned and crisped and stuffed with Boursin cheese, was delicious. It was served with creamy mashed potatoes and sauteed asparagus.

The Duck With Duck ($31) is just what it sounds like: two kinds of duck. In this case, a pan-seared breast, sliced into medallions with a tasty, crisp skin, accompanied by sliced grilled smoked duck sausage on a shallow pool of sweet lingonberry sauce. It was accompanied by fluffy wild rice with Craisins and sliced carrots.

Portions are generous and we both ended up with to-go boxes.

Our waiters were well-versed in the specials of the day and in the items that were not available. They were attentive to drink refilling needs and in checking on our progress without hovering or being too obtrusive.

Brave New Restaurant is well known for its Chocolate Creme Brulee ($6.50) and for good reason -- it's a rich and creamy concoction with strong chocolate flavor hiding under a perfectly bruleed, snappy top crust served in a small white pot. Whipped cream and an edible flower provide the garnish.

There are sometimes special desserts, but they always have the creme brulee, ice cream, sorbet and some variety of cheesecake. On the night we visited, the cheesecake ($9) was served with blueberries macerated in Maker's Mark bourbon and honey, giving the creamy and tangy cheesecake a sweet, zesty kick.

Weekend on 03/14/2019

Print Headline: RESTAURANT REVIEW: Brave New in Little Rock still reliable, worthwhile


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