LITTLE ROCK Jerry Barakat has a more-than-30-year history of fine- and not-sofine dining hits and misses, rather more of the latter than the former even if you focus on the spaces he has occupied in the Village at Rahling Road, just off Chenal Parkway in the thick of the city’s westward sprawl.
But then, if you think about it, a baseball player who successfully swats only a third of the times he’s at the plate is considered a great hitter, and the rare batters in history who hit only four out of 10 are considered legends.
Barakat definitely hit a home run with Arthur’s Prime Steakhouse. And based on a couple of recent meals there, he’ll be continuing to score big for a long time to come.
While waiting for Barakat to open his Oceans at Arthur’s, a fresh seafood sideline (see today’s Transitions column), we took the opportunity to revisit Arthur’s for the first time in a long while.
With inspiration from Morton’s in Chicago, Arthur’s reproduces that sort of old boardroom, gentlemen’s club atmosphere, with plenty of medium-dark wood paneling surrounding white-clothed tables in two main dining rooms, plus a bar area, a banquet room and a sort of snug that can be used for small business meetings or private dining confabs.
There are a couple of wellplaced, modest chandeliers and pin-spots, enough so you can read the menu without going blind from romantic mood lighting.
Arthur’s menu is positively sumptuous, offering a couple of varieties of top-grade beef nobody else in town is matching, plus a range of seafood (even without the Oceans option) and chophouse specialties.
Moreover, Barakat, who has always been a stickler for service, has developed a whole range of tableside perks and ministrations that enhance the already fine dining experience.
All of this elegance, luxury, etc. comes at a price, naturally. Even if your alcoholic beverage consumption is modest or non-existent, it would be exceedingly easy to pay as much as $60 to $100 per person for dinner, which for most diners definitely puts Arthur’s in the special occasion category. (And, alas, a lot of folks don’t have that many special occasions.)
If you’re looking to save a little on that special occasion meal, stick with the soups and salads, which range from $7 to $16, and think about skipping the $12-$28 list of appetizers.
There’s a lot of simple pleasure to be found in Arthur’s French onion soup ($7), a very strong, sweet concoction just loaded with Vidalia onions in a rather winey broth. Despite the menu’s pledge of a Gruyere cheese crostini, the kitchen instead covers the bowl with a crisp and tasty Gruyerebread crumb crust which you can eat off the top, crumble into the soup or eat the soup from underneath and save it for last.
If you must indulge in appetizers, we can recommend the Lumptini ($14), a large portion of fresh lump crab meat cocktail served in a martini glass, or the Wagyu Beef Carpaccio ($16), definitely an indulgence: thin-sliced, cured (but not cooked) beef complemented by plentiful shaved, semi-sharp parmesan cheese and a fieldgreen garnish. The menu says there’s supposed to be mustard horseradish, but we didn’t find any.
Although Arthur’s fish, fowl and flesh entrees come with “Chef Selections of Vegetables & Starch,” the steaks don’t — side items are a la carte.
Arthur’s offers Japanese Kobe beef, by the ounce at market price ($16 an ounce the night we asked), which means a 6-ounce steak and a single side item would all by itself set you back more than $100.
That was entirely too rich for our blood. John, our waiter, said he suggests to firsttime Arthur’s diners looking for steak recommendations the Prime Sampler ($47), two 4-ounce beef portions, a dryaged prime petite filet and a “highly marbled” Australian Wagyu petite filet. Both filets came out medium rare as we ordered them, with a slight seasoning crust. And it was a somewhat less expensive option than either of the two Wagyu menu options — a $57 rib-eye or a full-size $59 filet.
Both were delicious. John said he often encourages guests to guess which filet on the sampler is which; we guessed correctly, based primarily on the texture. The dry-aged steak, which Barakat told us had been dry-aging for at least 28 days (14 before he got it and 14 after), was a bit “meatier”; the Wagyu was almost melt-in-yourmouth tender. The seasoning was just enough to enliven the beef without interfering with its flavor.
Other, perhaps more conventional steak adventure possibilities include a bonein filet (when available, $49), rib-eye ($38, $42 bone-in), Tbone ($37) and a New York strip ($37).
You can go fancier with a New York Strip au Poivre with Courvoisier green peppercorn sauce ($39) or with market-price surf-and-turf (plus lobster tail), Oscarstyle (with crabmeat, asparagus and bearnaise) or Carmen-style (with colossal shrimp, onion ring and peppercorns).
Arthur’s also offers Chateaubriand for two ($59 each), one of those tableside preparations we mentioned. (We’ve seen it as a Valentine’s Day special at a couple of places over the past few years, but to the best of our knowledge nobody in central Arkansas has had it on the menu since Coy’s in Hot Springs burned down and Denny Seyer closed Gypsy’s Grill.)
If you’re not in the mood for steak, you can still be in luck. Arthur’s Dijon garlic encrusted Colorado lamb rack (a pretty reasonable $32) is a winner, the seven chops beautifully entwined and, like the steaks, the crust enough to enhance the flavor without dominating. Ours was a bit rarer than the medium rare we ordered it, but we’d rather have it that way than overcooked.
Also a winner: the grilled sea scallops ($28), firm and flavorful even without resorting to the small lake of saffron green peppercorn sauce, which unfortunately resembled, more in looks than taste, a fancy tartar sauce.
The “Chef Selections of Vegetables & Starch” on both dishes was a goodly portion of excellent garlic-sauteed haricot verts and a fairly flavorful rice cake.
The haricot verts are available with prosciutto as a $7 a la carte side. We can also recommend the sauteed garlic wild mushrooms ($6), a surprisingly plentiful pile of shiitake caps and slices in garlic butter, and the S&L creamed corn ($6), served en casserole with a bread-crumb crust.
For our lamb rack and our steak, our waiter turned into a knife steward, bringing to the table a selection of extremely fancy steak knives of various international origins. We selected a Japanese, folded-steel, short-bladed snickersnee with a rosewood handle, which did yeoman service on both dishes.
Another of those tableside perks: a fully loaded dessert cart with at least a dozen varieties of $6-$8 sweets. But you’ll want to at least consider a couple of other on-menu options. Arthur’s has also entered the souffle market since last we visited, with chocolate and Grand Marnier varieties ($12, order at least 25 minutes in advance).
Though not yet the equal of Seyer’s concoctions at Gypsy’s and, before that, Alouette’s, nor of its direct descendant at Restaurant 1620, Rod’s Feature Souffle is at least respectable. Ours needed more consistency — it alternated between bready and eggy, and Barakat, who served it in person, overloaded it with the slightly alcoholic St. Cecilia Cream (sugar, vanilla and a bit too much Grand Marnier) to the point of soupiness. We found another not-unpleasant surprise underneath — crunchy caramelized sugar and some unincorporated, de-alcoholized liqueur.
And it would be hard indeed to pass up the grand tableside finale: Prime Bananas Foster for two ($15), banana slices sauteed in a mixture of liqueurs and flamed brandy surrounding generous dollops of vanilla ice cream.
Arthur’s has an impressive wine list with a few inexpensive by-the-glass options and a wide variety of post-prandial potables. But watch out for the bottled-water pitch at the top of the meal — there’s a $4 charge for that.
We’re all in favor of listening to classical music as we dine, but the one drawback to both our dinner visits was the short length of the music tracks: On one occasion, an endless loop of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons; on the other, the baby-grand Synclavier (the modern equivalent of the player piano) repeatedly ground out the same four Chopin greatest hits.
Address: Village at Rahling Road, 27 Rahling Circle, Little Rock Hours: 5-9:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 5-10:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday Cuisine: Steak, seafood, etc. Credit cards: V, MC, AE, D Alcoholic beverages: Full bar Reservations: Yes Wheelchair accessible: Yes Carryout: Yes (501) 821-1838 arthursprimesteakhouse. com
Weekend, Pages 31 on 04/05/2012
Print Headline: Arthur’s is a carnivore’s castle