Sea bass with Italian grits

I wouldn’t be surprised if you had told me you’d never actually seen E’s Bistro. It’s a small place, inconspicuously tucked into an unsuspecting strip mall off of JFK in North Little Rock—not exactly a location that captures the eye from the outside. It’s likely that the adjacent bargain clothing store, Half of Half, has drawn more attention from passersby than this little restaurant. But after dining at E’s Bistro, it will be difficult for me to pass without thinking back on the fantastic meal I was treated to recently.

The dinner in question was a special fixed price event (organized by Kevin Shalin of The Mighty Rib), in which we basically threw $65 per person at Chef Ken Dempsey and said, “Our palates are at your mercy, sir.” And what Chef Dempsey came up with was really something remarkable—a 4-course dinner, heavy on seafood and brimming with exciting and inventive dishes.

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We started with a small square of butter-toasted ciabatta, topped with smoked crab, shaved pickled radish and a soft fried quail egg. This came paired with a micro green salad flavored by a honey-basil vinaigrette. It was a solid beginning, prepared with finesse, and displaying a delightful array of flavors. Surprisingly, the micro green salad was, perhaps, my favorite part of this course.

Next came a plate of baked mussels flavored with parmesan bread crumbs, smoked gouda, cilantro, and a dash of hot sauce. Excellently done, mussels were still soft and tender, and retained
 their briny sea-soaked flavor. But most of us agreed the real star of this course was the accompanying Indian spiced tomato soup. There wasn’t a drop left in any bowl on the table.

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I was most fond of our next course, however—sea bass with Italian grits. Each diner was served a very sizable portion of perfectly cooked, pearl white fish—light, flakey, delightful. This was bedded on buttery, herbaceous roasted garlic Italian grits. Finally, the plate was drizzled with a sweet and mildly spicy green chile sauce. The grits, especially, were splendid, and they could have been served on their own and I would have been just as satisfied.

Dessert came in the form of a creamy, fluffy, “Hershey Bar Pie.” While I’m not really big on Hershey’s chocolate, luckily, this tasted of much higher quality. It was a respectable pie, but I was still reeling from that previous course.

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Chef Dempsey has got a really special operation in this corner of North Little Rock. It’s probably safe to say that it hasn’t really gotten the attention it deserves at this point, but hopefully it’s getting there. And although I’ve become increasingly ornery about crossing the river to Dogtown to grab a bite to eat, I would not hesitate for an instant to sample the dynamic and extremely well-executed menu at E’s Bistro.

E’s Bistro is located at 3812 J.F.K. Blvd, North Little Rock, AR. (501) 771-6900