When Jess and I first started Arkansas Foodies, Brave New Restaurant was tops on our list of places to visit. I’ve been reading about the quality food that Chef Peter Brave has been making in Little Rock for years, but I’d never had the opportunity to sample it. Jess’ reason was a little more personal: a year or so ago, she was in a class on European History at UALR with Chef Brave’s dad, Bob, and the two of them hit it off and talked about various things over coffee before class – including the food at BNR. The restaurant routinely gets good reviews from area publications, local blogs, and all the major review sites, and Chef Brave has the reputation of serving up delicious bistro fare that straddles the line between upscale casual dining and true haute cuisine (but not of the small portion on a big plate kind). We finally made our way up to Brave recently, and I’m pleased to say that it easily lived up to the hype.
The first thing to say about the restaurant (after how good the food is) probably would be that it isn’t the easiest place to find. The second floor of a rather anonymous-looking office building isn’t exactly the first place you might go looking for a fine dining experience in Little Rock, but when the elevator doors opened, we could hear the low hum of dinner conversation and smell the wonderful food. We started our meal with Scallops Rockefeller, four sweet sea scallops baked on the half shell with spinach, shallots, Parmesan cheese, and just a hint of Pernod. A small squeeze of lemon juice really set the flavors off, and we found ourselves scraping the shells clean. Scallops can easily be overcooked to a flavorless, leathery texture but these were soft and meltingly tender.
For her entrée, Jess chose the Beef Tenderloin, a generous 8 oz. of beef covered in a rich peppercorn demi-glace and served with grilled asparagus, roasted potatoes, and a tomato half covered in Stilton cheese. The steak was cooked to a perfect medium rare, and the demi-glace added a nice touch of flavor to the beef. The Stilton tomato half was a unique addition to the plate, and the mixture of tangy cheese and hearty tomato complimented the steak well. The potatoes were mealy and soft with a firm outer skin, and while Jess thought the asparagus was flavored a bit too strongly of the grill, she said that it was more a matter of preference than an actual shortcoming.
I had always heard that Chef Brave wasn’t shy about his portions, and this point was hammered home to me with my selection, the Mixed Grill: a huge medallion of grilled steak, several slices of pork tenderloin, a spicy bison sausage, and a roasted quail filled with boar sausage stuffing. Served with a stuffed zucchini half, roasted potatoes, and a piquant pickled cabbage, this was a plate that made me very happy that I had eaten lightly all day in anticipation of the meal. Even though the plate was covered with an herbed demi-glace, each meat’s own unique flavor came through with every bite. The stuffed quail was easily the brightest star on the plate, though, the rich, juicy flesh of the bird complimented by the sweet and savory stuffing.
Brave New Restaurant serves a full lunch menu as well, and we planned our second visit for a Friday afternoon. Jess chose the Herb-Crusted Spicy Salmon, a butter-brushed salmon filet topped with herbs and spices and served with cabbage and orzo. The salmon had a nice balance of salty, spicy, and sweet and went well with the dipping sauce, a yogurty concoction that tasted of berries. The orzo was well-cooked and tender and made a nice, light companion to the fish.
For my lunch, I picked the Combination Plate: half a sandwich, salad, and a cup of soup. I chose the Non-Traditional Grilled Cheese for my sandwich, a tasty combination of fontina and Swiss cheeses, shrimp, tomato, and bacon on buttery toasted bread. For my soup, I had the Cream of Brie, a thick, hearty soup topped with chopped walnuts and diced apple – and while the sandwich was good, the soup was amazing. I could have eaten just a bowl of this soup and been content for the rest of the afternoon. A sugar-topped muffin, house salad, and some nice mixed fruit rounded out the plate, and it was one of the most enjoyable lunches I’ve ever had.
Of course, no visit to Brave is complete without a decadent cup of their Chocolate Creme Brulee. This stuff is seriously good. A thick, creamy chocolate custard is covered by a crunchy, carmelized sugar shell and topped with a generous dollop of whipped cream. Jess and I were barely able to finish it between us because the dessert is so rich. It’s hard to save room for dessert at Brave New Restaurant, but with something this good on the menu, you’ve got to try. During both our visits, we were impressed with the professional, polite, and efficient nature of the staff. These are the sort of servers that seem to know just when to step in and just when to let things be.
Brave New Restaurant is located at 2300 Cottondale Lane, Suite 105. Just take the elevator up and turn left. They’re open for lunch Monday-Friday 11-2 and for dinner Monday-Saturday 5-10. Reservations are pretty much a necessity on the weekend, and they take them online. This is one of the best places in Arkansas to eat, so don’t miss it!