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Velo Rouge offers a fun, if somewhat rocky, dining ride.

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THE NEW VELO ROUGE Brasserie brings to downtown Little Rock a refreshing, unpretentious sense of culinary creativity, but it still seems to be ironing out the kinks.

The restaurant, with its finely tuned eclectic cuisine, demands a knowledgeable server, someone who can describe the menu offerings with passion and accuracy. Though friendly, our server didn't demonstrate such fluency. And while an eloquent server certainly would have enhanced our dining experience, the lack of one wasn't so unsettling as to deter our return.

The menu, too, lacks descriptive powers, reading more like a list of ingredients at the beginning of a recipe. While we appreciate brevity, the menu's authors may have cut too quickly to the culinary chase.

The timing of the food was a bit off. The appetizer barely preceded our entrees, both coming about 25 minutes after we placed our orders in the thinly populated restaurant. But Velo Rouge is young, so we trust that will improve. From entry to exit, our lunch, including dessert, took about an hour and 10 minutes.

One of our party ordered the Red Bike Burger ($11), calling it one of the best burgers he's had in recent memory. He noted that the caramelized onions provided an "extra kick" that he has yet to find elsewhere in Little Rock; the house-ground prime filet was excellent and seasoned just right. And this burger was huge, almost dauntingly so.

Another diner tried the Lunch Rapide ($15), soup/salad and entree combo. The main course consists of a choice between the Gnocchi Provencal, which is a homemade potato pasta topped with a black olive-fennel meat sauce, or the Petite Friture, a basket of fried vegetables and whitefish.

Our colleague chose the broccoli cheese soup, which was thin but full of flavor, and the fish basket, which featured a hefty chunk of delicious fried cod, nicely crunchy and not too greasy. The fried seasonal vegetables, however, should come with a warning label: Several slices of fried lemon were mixed in with the broccoli and onions. Our server explained that the fried lemons were there to cleanse the palate, but it was strange to have them mixed in with the rest of the fare.

The Croque Monsieur ($10), a mild sandwich of ham, Gruyere cheese and Dijon mustard, would have been only decent had it not been for the ciabatta, which was, our tester said, "without a doubt, the best ciabatta I've ever had."

Velo Rouge, whose warm wood decor features a red bicycle, reflecting its name, is a welcome dining addition. And though our lunch got off to a bit of a rocky start, we found most of Velo Rouge's offerings delectable. And once the servers are brought up to speed, we'll probably pedal that way as often as our pockets allow.

Velo Rouge Brasserie

225 E. Markham St., Little Rock

(501 324-8600

***

Cuisine: Parisian chophouse

Dress Code: None

Noise Level: Moderate

Price Range: $6-$22

Credit Cards: All major

Reservations: Same day

**** = Outstanding

*** = Good

** = Fair

* = Poor
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Comment:Velo Rouge offers a fun, if somewhat rocky, dining ride.
Publication:Arkansas Business
Geographic Code:1U7AR
Date:Jan 14, 2008
Words:501
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Velo Rouge Brasserie.
Not so yummy.

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