When I was a teenager, I had one simple wish. I wanted to own less than a hundred items – clothes, furniture, food, movies (all together). If that sounds crazy, don’t worry, it is. But in high school, I was the kind of girl who read Joshua Becker and Leo Babauta and I had become obsessed with the idea of minimalism. It sounded freeing and liberating. The idea of not being trapped by material possessions. The idea of living in the world, but not living by the world. I was an idealist. I’ve since adapted my definition of minimalism to fit my lifestyle more, but the dreamer in me is still in love with that elusive concept.
So when I heard of a minimalist restaurant in Little Rock, Arkansas, I knew I had to take you with me. Why? Minimalism is a lifestyle about removing yourself from the commercial world, so how could a restaurant (an extraordinarily commercial building) apply that philosophy? It made no sense. But Three Fold Noodles & Dumpling Co plays the strings of minimalism beautifully. Come on, I’ll show you around.
As we walk in, we are first struck by the conservative vibe. The colour scheme is a delicate balance of black and white. There is the occasional pop of colour from the sparse floral arrangements and stretch of wooden tables. The lights are soft and ambient. Three Fold doesn’t feel like a gourmet paradise, rich in detail and plush comforts, but it doesn’t feel like your average shoe-string budget hop either.
We stroll towards the menu, displayed neatly on the wall. It appears, at first, that there are only three main options, but a little combinatory mathematics (Sigh. My true nerdiness is finally revealed.) tells us that there are, in fact, 27. Hence, the name Three Fold. Three choices of carbs – noodle bowl, dumpling bowl, or steamed bun. Three choices of meat – chicken, pork, or tofu. And three levels of spice (well, four, but I personally don’t believe “no spice” counts) – mild, spicy, or poison.
I’ve ordered a chicken noodle bowl for myself and a chicken dumpling bowl for you. And let’s just say, we’ve picked our poison (I sincerely hope you enjoy spice as much as I do).
We watch as the congenial staff transforms the translucent Chinese re gan mian (hot, dry noodles) into a colourful mix from added peanut sauce and fresh herbs. And your bowl of shui jiao is served with a chimeric crimson syrup as a side. The bowls have the same grainy texture as compostable kinds and the entire meal is set on a steely lunch tray. For a moment, the cafeteria-style line forces us into a sharp back-to-school feel. But as we are walking towards a few empty seats, we notice a decorative black bank vault door. Three Fold Noodles and Dumpling Company is built out in a restored bank foreclosure. The open flooring and white walls feel just as clinical as any bank experience (but it might just be me).
I stir the bowl with my chopsticks and take a bite. The mound of noodles have absorbed the thick, creamy sauce running over the heap. The noodles are soft and have a slightly hardened gel-like consistency. The herbs provide the slightest crunch to an otherwise soft meal. The dish isn’t underwhelming, but it isn’t over-the-top either.
Your turn. You take one of the dumplings and dunk it in the mini plastic cup of “poison”. The thick-folded dumplings are light and airy, the flavour of the shredded chicken infused in each bite. The “poison” isn’t spicy, but then again, I also find spoonfuls of plain Tabasco sauce to be mild. You have definitely chosen a winner.
We pick through the meal slowly. It is satisfying and scrumptious. It is then that we truly understand the charm of Three Fold. It is unlike any restaurant experience we’ve had. Three Fold isn’t a place that is easy to define. It’s austere yet complete with fresh adornment. It could be an upscale fast-food restaurant, but there are too few options for it to be considered one. It could be a gourmet restaurant, but the meals are more mess-style fun than culinary masterpieces. Three Fold is the gray area. Three Fold is the point where less is more. Three Fold is minimalist.
Address: 215 Center St, Little Rock, AR 72201 (paid for parking lot directly across the street)
Timings: 11AM – 8PM (closed Sundays), Website
Did you enjoy this review? Have you ever been to a minimalist restaurant? Be sure to tell me in the comments below! I love to hear from you!