- IMAGINATIVE: Chef Adam Rosenblum.
Despite all of the new houses and shopping centers going up around Little Rock, census figures show the city’s population isn’t actually growing.
Then maybe Little Rock is just growing up.
It certainly seems that way, judging from high-end stores moving into town. And it is definitely reflected in the growing diversity and sophistication of Little Rock’s new restaurants.
Enter Imagine, the most recent addition to the city’s fine dining scene. Located in the new Pleasant Ridge Town Center on Cantrell Road near I-430, Imagine immediately deserves to be counted among the top 10 restaurants in Little Rock.
The menu is both unpretentious and refined, with a mix of interesting and satisfying tastes. The simplicity of its presentation — courses are labeled “beginning,” “middle,” and “end” — belies the amount of thought behind the food. A butternut squash soup ($5), offered as a starter, is incredibly intense, extracting the maximum degree of flavor from the winter vegetable. A seared red snapper entree ($20), meanwhile, is subtle and delicate, accompanied by a fresh array of lentils, white eggplant, leeks and red onion.
There is a definite French influence at Imagine, evident in offerings like the duck confit cassoulet ($9), a fried pork belly confit ($7), grilled quail ($9) and the seared potato and mushroom napoleon in a wine reduction sauce ($8). Sure enough, our server mentioned Chef Adam Rosenblum’s French training, but not everything is confined to that category.
If anything, the menu reflects breadth and creativity, ranging from a tea-brined pork loin with Brussels sprouts and a “creole tea vinaigrette” ($24) to seared jumbo sea scallops with split pea puree and fried leeks ($24). For the less adventurous, there is Caesar salad ($7) and a simple but excellent New York strip steak with roasted potatoes and fennel ($23).
Our server told us that Imagine is determined to serve food made from the freshest, locally produced seasonal ingredients. The menu expresses thanks to several Arkansas farmers, mills, creamers and even a game bird provider.
Despite its shopping center location, Imagine feels urban, with a comfortable and elegant atmosphere and rich chocolate and burgundy tones. The wine list is not long, but it is long enough, with appropriate pairings for its varied dishes. And while there weren’t many other customers in the restaurant when we dined late in the evening shortly after it officially opened, we were still impressed with the professional and attentive service.
We expect many changes to the menu as the season progresses and the restaurant evolves. Imagine’s biggest challenge may be dealing with the hordes of holiday shoppers who are tired, hungry and likely to leave little opportunity to rest between the lunch and dinner seatings.
But if the restaurant can survive that, it will be an enduring fixture in Little Rock. It certainly deserves to be.
11525 Cantrell Road, Suite 917
Imagine offers a sophisticated dining experience at lunch and dinner with a mix of Continental and American cuisine. The dishes use fresh, seasonal ingredients provided by Arkansas producers. Separate lunch, dinner and weekend brunch menus.
Lunch Mon.-Fri. from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Dinner Mon.-Thurs. from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., Fri.-Sat. from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. and Sun. from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Brunch Sat.-Sun. from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Moderate to expensive prices. Full bar. Credit cards accepted. Website at www.imaginearestaurant.net.