Thursday, January 24, 2013

Restaurant Review: RJ Tao

Kangaroo, anyone?

A few months ago I was browsing Groupon and saw one for a local restaurant I had never heard of: RJ Tao.  After doing some googling, I found out that were a new fusion restaurant over in a trendy part of Little Rock (they were sandwiched between Red Mango & Sushi Cafe). They don't have an actual website, and their Facebook page was still under development, so it was hard to get a feel for everything they served. However, there was a review on the Arkansas Times, and the review covered some of their menu items, including both dessert & starter fondues, tuna tartare and kangaroo.

The kangaroo is what grabbed my attention, and I immediately bought the Groupon. It was on the verge of expiring, so once we got back from Charlotte, we planned a date night there.

The atmosphere is just cool. Seriously cool. You're welcomed in by Buddha statues lining the entry way, and are taken into a dark and funky dining room. They have booths tucked into alcoves, plenty of tables, a well stocked bar, and a giant Buddha statue/water wall. They also had a really nice patio, but since it's January, I wasn't digging that, although they had the AC kicked up inside, so it might have actually been warmer...

The service was excellent. Fearing Sushi Cafe type waits, we arrived pretty early, around 6:00. The dining room was pretty empty. Our waiter was knowledgeable and courteous. He answered my husband's beer questions and took our drink orders, told us about the specials (python sliders...) and left us to make our selections. Graham wanted to try the python. I wasn't feeling all that adventurous, so that didn't happen. I had read wonderful things about their burger & Parmesan truffle fries, so I went with that. Graham was still feeling adventurous and had the kangaroo tenderloin.

At one point while we were waiting for our meals, the waiter came out and asked if we liked shrimp. We do, so he told us he would bring us a complimentary order of their Balinese Shrimp since our entrees were taking so long.

These were excellent. I'm not a fan of walnuts, but they paired really nicely with the shrimp. This were served over a bed of greens with pieces of red bell pepper and the aioli as a dressing, and everything was delicious.

My burger was absolutely delicious and huge. A half pound is a lot of meat, and I took half of it home with me. All of their meat is ground in house, and the flavor was excellent. It was topped with a remoulade, lettuce, tomato & red onion. While the burger was delicious, the fries were out of this world. Seriously, the most perfect fries imaginable. I would have been more than happy to eat nothing but those fries for dinner. And I'm a sucker for a cute presentation, and this was adorable. They had the fries sticking out of a white ceramic cup. I need to get some of those for burger night at home...

I was a little intimidated by this, but it was quite good. The waiter had a hard time describing it. He said it had a real "red meat taste" to it, and compared it to bison. We've never had bison, & didn't really get what he was saying by "red meat taste", but once you try it, you get it. The texture was just like a steak, but it had a richness & depth that beef doesn't have. The tenderloin was on the small side, but I don't think you could eat a porterhouse sized portion of this, despite the fact that it was delicious. It really was rich & it was filling. I doubt I'll ever order this, but I do like that I have tried kangaroo. This was served on a bed of wilted spinach & sauteed mushrooms, and alongside asparagus. I didn't try the asparagus/mushrooms, but the asparagus was perfectly cooked and had so much flavor.

I don't think we'll be back, since we're down to 5 months left in Little Rock, but this place is definitely worth checking out. I think most of the unfavorable reviews come from the fact that it takes a restaurant a while to find it's way. Please don't let that keep you from trying this place.

At the very least, order a plate of those fries...

RJ Tao on Urbanspoon

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