Eat Progressive: Hillcrest

It might seem old-fashioned, but the progressive dinner can be a great way to enjoy multiple restaurants in one night. So we’re taking that concept and giving you and your friends some ideas for a fun night out in a great Central Arkansas neighborhood. The plan: hit five local restaurants for five different courses in one evening. Here are the rules:

  • All restaurants have to be in reasonable walking distance. No driving, and no walking a mile to get to your next spot.
  • All restaurants have to be open on Friday and/or Saturday night. These are the best nights to try something fun like this.
  • Only local restaurants are considered; no chains. Should be self-explanatory.
  • Only one course at each restaurant, though you can make up the courses and what order they go in. You can only visit each restaurant once during the progressive dinner.

This week’s neighborhood is probably the easiest one to do: Hillcrest. Again, these are just my suggestions for courses and order; feel free to make up your own.

1. Pre-dinner Drinks: La Terraza Rum and Lounge

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You’re not going to find too many cocktails better than La Terraza’s outstanding mojitos. The Venezuelan restaurant excels at the rum-and-mint-based drink and has more than half a dozen on the menu at any given time. My advice: get the spiced mojito, which has just enough kick to perfectly frame the sweetness of the drink. Bonus points if you enjoy this first course on La Terraza’s patio, which is one of the finest in the state.

Other options: The Pantry Crest for bottled negronis, Ciao Baci for cocktails or wine, SO Restaurant-Bar for wine, Kemuri for sake

2. Appetizer: Sushi at Kemuri

From La Terraza, it’s only a few blocks to the Ice House Revival and Kemuri, which boasts the best sushi in town for my money. By now, you probably know about the Crazy Monkey roll, which is fire-roasted at the table. However, you really shouldn’t skip over the basic rolls, including the California roll, which is made with real crab instead of crabstick. Or if sushi isn’t your thing, order from the robata, which is a Japanese grill that produces charred, smoky versions of eggplant, asparagus, beef tenderloin or mushrooms.

Other options: Ciao Baci for the bar menu, The Pantry Crest for bacon-wrapped dates or the board, SO Restaurant-Bar for roasted root vegetables

3. Dinner: Seasonal menu at Ciao Baci

Can I be honest with you here? I don’t know what’s on the menu at Ciao Baci right now. Oh sure, the restaurant’s excellent burger is on, as are a couple of pizzas and the regular tasting menu. But chef Jeff Owen is reliable in keeping his menu fresh and updated at all times, and it’s a rare day that I’m disappointed by a dinner there. Just pick out what looks good, and it will likely be good. And again, don’t miss the patio. Hillcrest is home to some of the best patios in the area.

Other options: Salmon cakes at Café Bossa Nova, Panang Curry at Kemuri, Weiner Schnitzel at The Pantry Crest, Paella at La Terraza

4. Dessert: Cheesecake at The Pantry Crest

Honestly, this dessert is the reason I didn’t pick The Pantry Crest for any other course; it is just way too good to pass up. On its own, it’s a sublime cheesecake, with a light sweetness and tanginess that never gets overbearing. But it’s the finishing touch that just sets this dessert apart from the rest. The kitchen puts a brûlée finish on the cheesecake, resulting in a whisper-thin, crisp shell on top that adds a completely new dimension. Those who have tasted this one have almost certainly ordered it more than once. If you want to get more than one dessert for the table, I recommend the Nutella crème brûlée, which offers the hazelnut spread the most restrained take I’ve ever had.

Other options: Chocolate Sack at SO Restaurant-Bar, cookies or cake at Mylo Coffee Co., fried pie at Ciao Baci

5. After-dinner drinks: Glass of wine at SO Restaurant-Bar

Look, you could certainly go to SO for any one of the five courses and be happy, but it is impossible to ignore the restaurant’s outstanding wine selection. It’s a restaurant that has won Wine Spectator awards for its wine list, and you can be sure that there is a wine that you will enjoy, no matter how big a connoisseur you may be. And as an added bonus, you’ll get to hang out with barman Veo Tyson, a four-decade veteran of Little Rock’s bar scene and one of the best conversationalists in the business. Honestly, there aren’t too many ways better you can end any night.

Other options: $.75 PBRs at Leo’s Greek Castle, coffee at Mylo Coffee Co., late-night drinks at either Ciao Baci or The Pantry Crest

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Eat Progressive: Hillcrest