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RESTAURANT REVIEW: Relocated Three Fold is more, better

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Photographs by Ellis Widner

The Half + Half Bowl at Three Fold Noodles + Dumpling Co. allows diners to combine half portions of two dumpling or noodle dishes.

Bigger isn't always better.

But Three Fold Noodles + Dumpling Co. -- which recently moved to a new and larger location at 611 Main St. in downtown Little Rock and expanded its menu -- is bigger and better.

Three Fold Noodles + Dumpling Co.

Address: 611 Main St., Little Rock

Hours: 7 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Saturday

Cuisine: Chinese

Credit cards: AE, D, MC, V

Alcoholic beverages: Draft and bottled beer

Reservations: No

Wheelchair accessible: Yes

Carryout: Yes

(501) 372-1739, (501) 372-1811

eat3fold.com

Perhaps the biggest change comes with the new and larger kitchen: no more steam tables. Food is now prepared fresh to order and it showed in the heightened flavor, aroma and texture of every dish we ordered.

Like its former digs in Pyramid Place on Center Street, Three Fold's newly renovated Main Street space in the former Arkansas Democrat building also radiates a sleek, modern, minimalist, bright-white vibe and is even more spacious. Customers go through a line at the left side of the restaurant, study the menu on the wall and place their order at the counter. They are given a stainless-steel number stand and then stake out a table in one of the two dining areas; food is brought to the table. The customer retrieves utensils, soft drinks, infused water, and iced tea ($2.49) from a drink station at the back of the restaurant. Other beverages available include hot tea ($2.49), draft or bottled beer ($4.45-$6.49) and nondairy Bubble Tea ($4.49).

The menu is bigger, but the expansion adheres closely to what Three Fold does best. The foundation of the restaurant's simple Chinese cuisine (the slogan is "food with roots") is -- like their name -- in threes: dumplings, noodles or steamed bun dishes with your choice of pork, chicken or tofu. The portions are generous and it's not uncommon to have leftovers for lunch the next day.

Most of the menu's expansion is based on these three options. Three Fold has smartly added smaller portions of its main dishes. The noodle bowl and and steamed bun are $8.49 for a regular size, $6.49 for small; the dumpling bowl is is $9.79; $7.49 for small.

If you prefer your dumplings pan-fried, a regular-size bowl is also available ($10.79).

Another option is the Half + Half Bowl ($12.89), two half-size portions of two different noodle or dumpling bowls.

There are two new dishes for lunch and dinner: the Soup Noodle Bowl ($9.89) and the Salad Bowl ($9.89). And Three Fold is now serving breakfast 7-10:30 a.m. weekdays and 9-10:30 a.m. Saturdays.

The soup arrived at our table piping hot; the aroma was tantalizing, as though teasing the diner with the deliciousness to come. The soup was a flavorful and filling mix of house-made noodles, green onion, cilantro, slaw, pickled vegetables and your choice of pork, tofu or chicken in a rich broth. A tea-scented egg (soft boiled eggs that are cracked and boiled again in tea and sometimes spices or broth) can be added for $1. Along with protein, the egg added a subtle counterbalance to the hot soup and a cool splash of color.

My companion ordered the small portion of the tender and savory boiled pork dumplings with a side of carrot slaw ($2.49, also in cabbage and cucumber). The shredded pork dumplings were topped with green onions and a medium spicy dunking sauce (sauces also are available in mild, spicy and "poison"). He declared himself very satisfied and full.

On a second visit, I tried the Salad Bowl, a pretty salad of fresh spring greens, slaw, pickled vegetables, cilantro, a tea-scented egg and tofu (pork and chicken are the other choices) topped with a house-made dressing with just a hint of spiciness that allowed the varied flavors to shine. Like the rest of what we tried, flavors were very well-balanced.

The Half+ Half Bowl gave my companion an opportunity to check out the tender chicken dumplings and noodles with pork. This time, he passed on the slaw to save room for the tasty and sweet Sesame Balls ($2.49).

What, you might wonder, would Three Fold be offering for breakfast? Baozi ($4.29, three for $9.99) is a bun, pan-fried with your choice of egg (with bamboo and Chinese pickle), pork and sweet red bean. Visually, think of it as kind of a large Hot Pocket, but much, much better.

It arrived at the table in a brown bag that the server said can be ripped open and wrapped "to cradle the baozi as you eat it." That works, but my egg baozi was so hot I couldn't do that. I grabbed a fork and knife from the drink station and dived in. However you eat it, the dish is very filling. The restaurant also offers fleshly brewed coffee ($2.75) and hot house-made soy milk ($3.49) to drink in addition to regular beverage offerings.

There's only one drawback ... and that's out of Three Fold's control.

Construction on Main Street's 600 block -- on the restaurant's side of the street -- makes street parking challenging. Not so much a problem for downtown workers at lunch, but in the evening, you may have to park a couple of blocks away. A parking lot is also nearby.

But the effort is worth it. Who can resist a good restaurant that's getting even better?

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A tea-scented egg adds a colorful and flavorful touch to the new Salad Bowl at Three Fold Noodles + Dumpling Co. + Enlarge

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Three Fold Noodles + Dumpling Co.’s savory and flavorful Soup Noodle Bowl will warm up a cool day. + Enlarge

Weekend on 11/02/2017

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