On the first Saturday evening of fall, is there anything more enticing than cocktails on a patio? We found ourselves on one of Little Rock's best patios at La Terraza Rum & Lounge in Hillcrest. At our corner table under the canopy of the giant oak trees, we sipped on La Terraza's signature cocktail: mojitos.
We could have gone with the giant, 48-ounce, Instagrammable mega mojito, which is on happy hour all day. The couple at the next table was braver than we and sipped on the comically large martini glass the entire two hours we were there. We opted instead for a Ginger Mojito ($9). Bartenders at La Terraza have mastered the art of balance. Ginger has a tendency to bully other flavors in a cocktail, but at La Terraza the ginger added just a bit of spice balanced out by the fresh lime and mint. The Black Spice Mojito ($9) is another great option. We've found that some drinks with added jalapeno or pepper can be overpoweringly spicy instead of pleasing, but that's not the case here. The sweet and tart notes are offset with spice from the dark rum and cayenne pepper, which leaves an enjoyable bit of lingering heat.
La Terraza's mojito list has something to please every palate, and the food menu presents plenty of options. Our server, who was enthusiastic and knowledgeable, gave us a tour of the menu, including the page of vegan options, pointing out traditional Venezuelan dishes as well as those with Spanish and Italian influences, which have a presence not only in Venezuela's cuisine, but also in its language and culture.
The Mini Arepas ($7), a fried mixture of cornmeal and cheese, were the perfect nibble to go along with our drinks. The guasacaca sauce, served on the side, is the star of the dish. Chopped avocados, cilantro, bell peppers and garlic were combined with oil and vinegar to create a sauce reminiscent of Argentinian chimichurri, but a bit lighter.
With our second round of drinks we enjoyed a bowl of Sopa de Mariscos ($13), a soup of shrimp, mussels, clams and calamari rings cooked in a light tomato cream broth. The portion was plenty for two to share. The soup was well balanced with sweetness from the cooked onion, spice from pepper, the acidity from the tomatoes, and saltiness from seafood. For those who want to experience this as a meal, try the Zarzuela de Mariscos ($28), a larger portion served with rice.
The Pernil al Horno ($18) came highly recommended and featured slices of tender, oven-baked pork with a demi-glace served with fried plantains and Cuban-style rice and beans. While each component was enjoyable on its own, all together they were even better. The plantains, which were smashed, lightly battered and fried, offered a sweet component to the dish, but we could have done with a little less salt. The beans and rice, served mixed together in a bowl, had a rich, smoky flavor and would have been enjoyable as a standalone dish.
The Pollo al Champiñon ($20), chicken in a mushroom cream sauce with "chef-style potatoes," reminded us of chicken marsala. Boneless chicken breast pieces and mushroom were cooked and served in a brown sauce that was light in consistency but rich in flavor, soaked up by the au gratin-style potatoes.
The ambience at La Terraza is altogether enjoyable. The patio setting is hard to beat. Our server was downright enthusiastic to have us and came ready to recommend throughout every course. The word "thoughtful" comes to mind. Care has definitely been taken in creating the cocktail menu, and the porch outside is dotted with fleece blankets to keep diners warm should a chill come to visit. Our experience with the food was uneven. Menu items range from meh (the carpaccio) to inspired (the soup!) and the price tag was a bit higher than we expected, but we'll return even if only for the mojitos.