Thursday, August 28, 2014

OMG And All That At Sakura Japanese Steakhouse In Bryant.

Sushi is a very divisive food.  There are people who like it, people who can't stand it and people who refuse to try it because of their mistaken conception that sushi is nothing but raw fish.

In Bryant, you'll find a roll that may change your mind about sushi, especially maki rolls.  It contains no raw fish, is covered in steak and burns with a great wasabi spice.  And for novice food lovers wanting to try something new, I have to recommend the Distinguished Gentleman roll.

We've been meaning to go to Sakura Japanese Steakhouse in Bryant for quite a while.  Many of our friends love the place, especially during all-you-can-eat sushi times.  I've dined there before at the hibachi grill and appreciated the skilled chefs on hand.  But this trip was all about the sushi.

Grav and I went with Hunter and met our friend Leif there.  The first thing that caught my attention was the open kitchen, where hibachi orders are prepared for those who aren't interested in a show with their dinner.  Two accomplished chefs expertly fried rice, grilled meats and vegetables and plated up dishes behind a counter that could be seen from one of the interior dining rooms.

Sakura is quite large, and any time I've gone in the evening it's been packed.  There are the hibachi tables in a chamber to the right of the entrance, and the remaining space is separated into separate dining by dividers -- from the left, a large window-lit dining room, an inner room that faces the kitchen and a sushi bar with barstools and booths.

We sat in the daylit dining area and ordered up Tempura Vegetables to nibble on while we decided on rolls.  This took some time.  Sakura's
menu is 10 pages, and its sushi offerings cover half that space.  Most rolls are pictured for convenience (you can see those menus at the bottom of this page).  It took us a little while to determine the selection of rolls we'd get.

The tempura, by the way, was fantastic, and suited us well.  Hunter especially approved of the broccoli.

Leif received a well-ginger soaked salad while we waited for our rolls, and then his hibachi also arrived.  He said it was done well but wondered if he would have received a bigger portion had it been created at the hibachi table. It was gorgeous, though.

Grav, Hunter and I chose to split five rolls, and they arrived all at once.  We had chosen the Dinner Special -- three rolls for $14.95 (Lunch specials are two rolls for $9.50 or three for $13.50) and had gone with a shrimp tempura roll (normally $6.50), tuna avocado roll ($5.50 on its own) and Philly roll (also normally $5.50).  We also ordered two specialties, the OMG Roll ($9.95) and the Distinguished Gentleman roll ($14.95).

Hunter decided she just needed to claim the three roll platter, diving in and getting all but a single piece of the shrimp tempura and tuna avocado rolls.  She also decided to take on the pickled ginger, which is normally a favorite.  This time, though, she not only got a piquant wad, she stuffed most of that wad into her mouth at once and learned an important message while turning a rather rosy shade of pink.  Bless her heart.

Grav was enamored with the OMG roll, which really is, frankly, oh ma gawd.  The roll was filled with spicy tuna and tempura shrimp, deep fried and then covered in scallions, tobiko and that crazy Japanese spicy
mayo.  This roll achieved just the right balance between crispy and warm on the outside and cool and savory within.  The pieces came in a pyramid stack, just gorgeous.

But then there was my Distinguished Gentleman.

Mine, because while Grav did try a few bites and liked it, he was far more interested in the OMG roll, which left me to savor all those marvelous flavors.  Topped with sliced filet mignon (cooked to order, by the way), it's packed with spicy fried crawfish, tempura crumbles and scallions and topped with the steak and jalapeno slices and doused with wasabi cream sauce.  It's sweet, spicy, hearty, meaty, a little salty and savory all at once. It is a meal unto itself, and I was thrilled to have it.

It is certainly the sort of roll you could use to introduce yourself to what a non-fishy non-raw maki roll is like.

You'll find Sakura Japanese Steakhouse off the Alcoa Road exit on the south side of Bryant.  It's open Monday-Thursday 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and 4:30-9:30 p.m, Friday and Saturday 11 a.m.-3 p.m. and 4-10 p.m. and Sunday 11 a.m. - 3 p.m. and 4:30-9 p.m.  Check out their website or call (501) 778-9585.

Sakura Japanese Steakhouse
7307 Alcoa Road, Suite 201
Bryant, AR 72015

Sakura Japanese Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

Click on menu pages to enlargen.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

14 Better Desserts To Represent Arkansas Than Red Velvet Cake.

The marvelous sweet potato pie with real
whipped cream at Wilson Cafe, Wilson.
About once a quarter, there’s another insane creation put out on a website or in a magazine, that quantifies each of the 50 states by a particular food item or idea. As you may recall, I took Thrillist to task for overlooking a heck of a lot of great Arkansas start-up chains in this particular piece. Today, my target is Slate, which has chosen Red Velvet cake for Arkansas’s signature dessert. Slate is wrong.

Mind you, I like Red Velvet cake. I really do. But it’s quite clearly a Louisiana food. We have no need to borrow desserts. We have oodles of our own.

The problem I have with lists like these is that without significant research they’re, frankly, crap. I can understand where the poor reporter who was assigned this story was going through. Chances are, this was a quick assignment that didn’t cover travel expenses. I’m sure there was some scanning of the web and some juggling around, and maybe even a conversation with other people who like to eat desserts. However, without visiting a place or knowing its cuisine, how the heck can you make some blanket determination about what sort of dessert should represent that state?

So, Slate (and fans of Arkansas food), here’s a quick list. Yes, there are a lot of pies on the list. Hello? Please comment with your suggestions. Perhaps we can educate folks everywhere about some of the glorious bounty of sweets we produce right here in Arkansas.

And no, I’ll save possum pie til the end. You know it’s coming.

Cinnamon Roll at Your Mama's Good Food, Little Rock.
Cinnamon rolls. A classic that came along long before biscuits-in-a-can, the cinnamon roll (along with fudge and smoked meats) once lined our highways with one stand after another, claiming to have the largest and best. There are still numerous amazing cinnamon rolls across the state, from the largest at Burl’s Country Smokehouse in Royal and the almost-as-large at Ferguson’s in St. Joe to the icing-less variety served with every meal at Calico County.

Chocolate rolls at Misty's Shell, Leslie.
Chocolate rolls. Searcy County in the Arkansas Ozarks has named itself the Chocolate Roll Capital of the World, and for good reason. This long-time homegrown favorite has recently emerged as a contender for great dessert across Arkansas. Similar to a cinnamon roll, its cocoa-and-sugar essence has become the must-stop food for folks traveling through Leslie and Marshall. Get yours at Misty’s Shell on U.S. 65.

Butter roll at now defunct Madea's Kitchen, West Memphis.
Butter roll.  If you have no clue what a butter roll is, I am so very sorry.  A divine combination of cream, butter and flour elevated to the highest essence of richness, it is a divine dessert you will rarely find on a restaurant menu.  Created from a biscuit-type dough rolled out, dolloped heavily with real butter and sugar and nutmeg, rolled up and baked and then smothered in more cream, sugar, butter and nutmeg (and sometimes cinnamon) and let to rest until every sweet drop is absorbed, then often topped with MORE cream, sugar, butter and nutmeg... this Arkansas delight is incomparable.

Fried pies at Rhoda's Famous Hot Tamales, Lake Village.
Fried pies. Oklahoma cannot have fried pie. It ain’t happening. Yeah, it’s sweet, the little story about the lady who fried pies. We have dozens of those stories. Our fried pies have been made in the Delta for generations.

Butter cake at Bonnie's, Watson.
Pound cake or butter cake. The first recipe my mom taught me to bake was a pound of flour, a pound of sugar, a pound of butter and a pound of eggs. She simplified this for me as a cup of flour, a cup of sugar, a stick of butter and an egg. Pound cake, or butter cake, became part of my life early on, and to this day I keep seeing it in restaurants, at potlucks and wherever. No one else has it, let’s claim it.

Coconut meringue pie at Papa Joe's, Humnoke.
Meringue pie. Generations of home cooks in Arkansas have beat the hell out of egg whites in efforts to create the perfect halo of essence over a variety of creamy fillings for these angelic pies. While Ed and Kay’s Restaurant has closed, ending decades of its fine standing with Mile High Pies, purveyors such as Brothers Cottage Café in Van Buren and Charlotte’s Eats and Sweets in Keo still serve up slices of marvelous meringue pies, from the traditional chocolate and coconut pies to caramel (Charlotte’s), peanut butter (Southern Grill, Batesville), cherry cream cheese (Hillbilly Hideout, Ozark), lemon (Neal’s Café, Springdale) and more.

Peanut butter pie at Overcup Diner, Overcup.
Peanut butter pie. We can’t claim to be the original home of Skippy Peanut Butter, but in Little Rock we make tons of it. Whether that has anything to do with the plethora of peanut butter pies offered across the state or not, I don’t know. You can find it on restaurant menus a little bit of everywhere, from Jonesboro (Gina’s Place) to Mabelvale (Three Sams BBQ).

Even Governor Mike Beebe loves Yarnell's Ice Cream.
Ice cream. Yes, I noticed that not a single one of the Slate state suggestions covers ice cream. Sure, there are desserts that contain ice cream, but none that cover the creamy goodness. So sure, we’ll claim that. We have Yarnell’s, which produces such delectable and honestly scrumptious flavors such as Homemade Strawberry, Butter Pecan and Ozark Black Walnut. Thank you, just put ice cream on that list for us now.

Lemon icebox pie, Skillet Restaurant, Mountain Home.
Lemon icebox pie. How can there not be an icebox pie on this list? The simple, easy to make marvel should have made the list somewhere, and as many cooks who delight in this cold confection as there are, let’s choose to name it a source of Arkansas pride.

Watermelon. I realize that yes, this is a fruit and not a created dessert, but WATERMELON.

How can you deny watermelon as a great dessert after seeing this face?

Chocolate chess pie at Alley Oops, Little Rock.
Chocolate chess pie. Virginia can lay claim to chess pie… after all, it’s just pie… but we’ll take the credit for putting chocolate into that baby and baking it up. Impossible to resist, simple to make and a frequent guest on restaurant menus all across the state.

Blackberries on the vine, Faulkner County.
Blackberries in sweetened condensed milk.  Another item you will never find on a restaurant menu, this simple yet decadent sweet is well known to kids who have grown up in rural Arkansas.

Pies in general. There is no other state that reveres pie like we do. And we do it so well and in so many different combinations: PCP (Pineapple, Coconut, Pecan), Dang Good (Pineapple and Coconut), Bourbon Chocolate Pecan, Tang (yes, the astronaut drink), grape, Grasshopper (chocolate mint), old fashioned
Chocolate and coconut cream pies at the Ranch House
Restaurant, Harrison.
fried (cocoa-sugar-butter filled), lemon-coconut, Black Bottom, blackberry, cherry cream cheese, Dreamsicle, strawberry icebox, strawberry cream, strawberry cream cheese, baked strawberry, peach, peach cream cheese, peach-blackberry, blueberry, Turtle, Almond Joy, caramel apple nut, Karo nut, sugar pecan, sweet potato, chocolate pile, chocolate cream, chocolate chocolate chocolate, possum pucker, raisin, shoo-fly, pecan, oatmeal, cushaw, four-layer, toasted coconut, caramel, coconut pecan, Bradley County pink tomato, chocolate caramel cream, brown sugar, egg custard, hot fudge, walnut, pineapple cream, banana cream, lemon custard… I could go on all day. Pie belongs to Arkansas. We are the pie state.

Possum pie at Stoby's, Russellville.
And of course, that brings me to possum pie. I direct you hither to more. Or to the book Arkansas Pie: A Delicious Slice of the Natural State. This one eponymous pie has been seen all over Arkansas and appears in menus across the state. It’s simple (here’s the recipe). It’s definitive. It probably should be considered as the state dessert, in my opinion.

What do you think? Have a better choice for Arkansas’s definitive dessert? Share it, please.

For this piece, I did my best not to duplicate other desserts listed in Slate's article.  There are a lot of other Arkansas desserts that could be considered, including but not limited to: pecan pie, apple pie, hummingbird cake, chocolate gravy (more of a breakfast item than a dessert), Earthquake cake, dutch oven cobbler, strawberry shortcake, sweet potato pie, apple dumplings, peach cobbler, strawberry shortcake, strawberry cobbler, mayhaw jam on biscuits (also another breakfasty thing), banana pudding, coconut layer cake, Pig Lickers (chocolate covered bacon), Ozarkies (more of a candy than a dessert), peanut brittle (same thing), cream pies and plain juicy, syrupy peaches.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Valiant Clinton Makes World Record Potluck Attempt.

Clinton is a resolute town. Struck by one disaster after another these past few years, its residents have rebuilt and grown stronger together. These folks celebrate with Survivorfest, a Saturday afternoon playing games and spending time together in Clinton City Park. But this year, there was an added twist – why not put Clinton on the news for something good?

Wendy Russ organized this crazy idea – to attempt to break a world record. Not just any record, mind you, but one for the largest potluck ever held.

The word went out, asking Clinton residents to participate. It spread, and others started to receive those invites, including me. The media received notice, and people started to pay attention that there was about to be a big to-do… and people turned out that Saturday morning.

The rules were simple: bring a dish for six or more, arrive between 10:30 and noon, be counted (twice) and prepare for a heck of a meal. Oh, and everyone who came had to partake in the repast.

So Hunter and I headed up there for this event. With us, two pans of brownies for our admission to the event. We arrived to find folks already filling up the parking lot at 10:30 in the morning. A shuttle operated by Grace Baptist Church was hauling folks up to the top of the hill.

The process was easy – check in at the front door, get a wristband (one means of counting the crowd), turning in a dish for each person, heading for the auditorium, giving your name to an attendant (at that door, the second recording for the event) and joining a growing crowd listening to local band Crossroads perform on the Clinton High School stage.

The crowd filtered in, each informed that once they entered the building they couldn’t leave until the potluck had commenced and everyone had been counted.

That didn’t keep people from enjoying the party. Kids played in the back of the hall. Individuals got up on the side stages and danced. There was even dancing in the aisles. Clinton folks know how to cut a rug and have a good time.

I took the opportunity to sneak into the staging area and shoot some of the food. And there really was every sort of food you could imagine. There were dozens of different breads (homemade, pre-packaged, cornbread, sweet breads), salads, stews, vegetables, meats, sandwiches, hot dogs, fruit, cookies, cupcakes, cakes, fig newtons and just about every casserole known to man.

At noon the announcement was made in the hall. Sadly, Clinton didn’t make the cut for the world record – but 410 people had turned out to participate in the effort. And everyone reaped the bounty of a fine meal together.

We all waited in line for our turn, and that came quickly. While the crowd filtered into the gymnasium, I noticed couples of all ages, children, even a three week old boy.

And inside, what a get-together… everyone filling clamshell boxes with food, then sitting down and talking with one another. Clinton may not have broken the record, but they did accomplish something. This celebration was about neighbors.

Will there be another attempt? Folks there were already talking about making a stab at it during Homecoming or the next year’s Chuckwagon Races (this year’s event is this coming weekend, not enough time to organize and pull it off). Whatever happens, it’ll be a marvelous time.