Dining » Dining Review

Watercolor in the Park pleases the palate

Arts Center eatery is tasteful, tasty.

comment
MIXED MEDIA: Sriracha, honey, slaw and fried chicken: a great composition.
  • MIXED MEDIA: Sriracha, honey, slaw and fried chicken: a great composition.

We don't know if you'd call it a stigma, but we sometimes don't expect much from a restaurant set within a business or establishment whose main purpose is not to serve food. We're talking about the restaurant at the golf course, the snack bar at the courthouse, the deli in the hospital or the coffeehouse at the co-work space. Rarely does one of these operations serve any but golfers, or clerks, or visitors, or the odd millennial. Watercolor in the Park, the new restaurant at the Arkansas Arts Center, is taking a valiant crack at being its own destination.

It's the latest creation of Jim Keet and partners, which has been feeding Central Arkansas for years with Taziki's restaurants and, more recently, Petit & Keet. Fans of those establishments will find a couple of familiar items on Watercolor's menu. Keet worked the room on a recent weekday lunch, schmoozing patrons who nibbled on appetizers or listened intently while their soup cooled.

Keet said he and his team got the restaurant going, from designing the space to working out the menu, in about 60 days. Given how seamlessly everything ran and the quality of the food, it seems like it should have taken more time than that. The setting is beautiful. The restaurant is surrounded on almost every side by floor-to-ceiling-windows. A high, vaulted ceiling and recessed lighting give the feel of a gallery space. Walls without windows are decorated with watercolors. Servers walk with purpose.

MASTERPIECE: The Wagyu Corned Beef on Pumpernickel, tender and rich.
  • MASTERPIECE: The Wagyu Corned Beef on Pumpernickel, tender and rich.

For starters, you could do worse than the Hummus Trio ($8). Our assortment included black bean, roasted red pepper and plain ol' hummus. You'd expect the owners of Taziki's to make a pretty good hummus and you'd be right. All three were light and zippy with lemon juice. Pita bread, sprinkled with salt and pepper, was served lightly toasted and warm. It was more than enough for two of us.

If we had to attach an adjective to it, we'd call the menu new Southern. There's a daily selection of soup, a couple of salads, sandwiches, some heavier main courses and two dessert options (Hellas Bakery Baklava and Chocolate Spoon Cake). The sandwiches appealed, and met our expectations.

The Honey Sriracha Fried Chicken sandwich ($10) came off a little more sweet than spicy, but it's darn good. The King's Hawaiian roll made for a buttery yet substantial bun. Some slaw provided a needed break from the richness of honey and batter. This was a simple sandwich, but one that will likely become a favorite.

The Wagyu Corned Beef on Pumpernickel ($12) was one of the best corned beef sandwiches we've ever had. It was dressed with Swiss cheese and a lemon and black pepper aioli. The star was the tender and rich beef; the aioli dressing provided a nice bit of acidity. The bread, which came buttered and toasted, was no afterthought either.

We had fries with both sandwiches. There's not much to say about them other than they're pretty great. They were cut in the kitchen, nicely salted and solid.

Don't let the elegant setting fool you. The portions on everything were very generous, leaving us too full for dessert.

The menu here is concise, full of well conceived and executed dishes. The atmosphere is great. The service is friendly and prompt. We think Watercolor in the Park might pull off the difficult trick of becoming a destination all its own. We might even take a detour to see art next time we dine.

Watercolor in the Park
(in the Arkansas Arts Center)
501 E. Ninth St.
396-0390

Quick bite

Try the PK Wedge ($9) if you're in the mood for something fresh. It's hard to get excited about iceberg lettuce, but the wedge salad was a hit. The lettuce was fresh and crisp and the bacon and blue cheese provide a good bit of salt and earthiness. The green goddess dressing, a creamy blend of green onions and fresh herbs, was used sparingly but shone through.

Hours

10 a.m. to 11 a.m. for coffee and quiche and 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. for lunch Tuesday through Saturday, brunch 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sundays.

Other info

Beer and wine served, credit cards accepted.

Add a comment