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Seyer's 1620 shining again

By Eric E. Harrison

This article was published June 26, 2014 at 2:23 a.m.


The Grilled Tuna Loin Nicoise comes with a pear-tomato-roasted garlic salsa at 1620 Savoy

1620 Savoy

Address: 1620 Market St., Little Rock

Hours: 5 p.m.-“close” (around 10) Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Sunday

Cuisine: Eclectic with a slight Mediterranean accent

Credit cards: V, MC, AE, D

Alcoholic beverages: Full bar

Reservations: Yes

Wheelchair accessible: Yes

Carryout: Yes

(501) 221-1620

When the word came in late February, it was really good news. Denis Seyer, late of Gypsy's Grill and Alouette's and earlier of Restaurant Jacques and Suzanne, was back as chief consultant for RH Cuisine, which owns and operates 1620 Savoy and Cache.

Seyer's charge: Remake the 1620 Savoy menu.

Seyer, who established the original Restaurant 1620 in 1990 with then-Continental Cuisine partner and former Jacques and Suzanne colleague Paul Bash, has put the menu through major simplification, cutting most of the dishes down to four principal ingredients, emphasizing seafood — seven of the 13 entrees and four of the 11 appetizers feature fish and/or shellfish.

There's a hint of a French, or at least Mediterranean, accent again on most dishes, and "because I love Thai food, there will be scallops with Thai flavoring," Seyer promised back in March, a promise he has fulfilled with the Thai-facing Lemongrass Scallops.

Seyer, working with chef Tim Morton, has pretty much fulfilled all his promises. While we might miss some of the longtime favorites that have departed the menu (Dover sole? Alas, no longer), everything we had at 1620 Savoy, with a couple of exceptions, was absolutely delicious and gorgeously presented.

As has been typical of Seyer's cuisine over the many years we've been sampling it, just about every dish contains some surprise, usually pleasant. And while if you're not careful you could walk out of 1620 Savoy nursing a sore wallet (one of our meals priced out at top expense level, so we cut back a little second time around) Seyer's menu has plenty of midlevel options for the budget conscious.

And Seyer has also succeeded in straightening out Savoy's service, which in our experience had been kind of spotty. The waiter on our second visit was correct but friendly and on the casual side; the waitress on our first visit was correct and, alas, just a bit stiff. One "innovation" that Seyer has reintroduced: the use of the crumbing tool between courses.

Our two visits were our first meals in the much more cushy front dining room -- tastefully Art Deco, earth-tone color scheme, marble-tile floors, plush chairs at the white-clothed tables in the middle of the room, plush booths surrounding, the curtain fountain that partially separates the dining room from the bar. (All of our previous Savoy dining experiences were in the more laid-back, proletarian back room, where the tablecloths are black, the walls are mocha, the floors are carpeted in a busy pattern and the chairs are plain wood. Not demeaning it in any way, but for the price point, a little luxury is a nice thing.)

We were delighted with our Calamari appetizer ($12), baked, not deep-fried, so the coating was soft and the squid strips almost mouth-melting tender, with a side for dipping of honey-lime Sambal, a Southeast Asian chili-based condiment with a very pleasant flavor-to-zip balance.

We liked, but were a bit puzzled how exactly to get into, the Home-Smoked Salmon appetizer ($13), which came with a coriander-ginger vinaigrette in a sort of "cake" -- a circular cucumber wall, topped with arugula and other greens and salmon roe and sprinkled with capers. By the time we worked our way into the interior, we discovered only a handful of small slices of lox.

We revisited the once-loved Smoked Duck Salad ($11), which goes back at least as far as Alouette's and possibly Jacques & Suzanne -- chunks of lean smoked duck tossed with spinach, almonds, grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and mushrooms in just enough Caesar dressing to coat. It's still a marvel, and our waiter happily split an order for us without exacting the menu-mandated $3 "Split Plate Charge." (Or maybe that only applies to entrees.)

We'll give top entree marks to the Grilled Tuna Loin Nicoise ($28), plenty of sushi-grade tuna, lightly seared and drizzled with balsamic vinegar and olive oil, served in slices with a pear-tomato-roasted garlic salsa (don't mistake it for Mexican-style salsa; this is more like a bruschetta), sugar snap peas and roasted potatoes. And the plate presentation was as nice as the combination of flavors.

Our excellent Lemongrass Scallops ($26) came, not grilled, but lightly poached in a green curry broth (with a pitcher of additional broth to add to taste), served with baby bok choi and topped with chewier-than-we-expected sweet potato curls. The scallops were thin-slivered and practically melted in our mouths and the curry broth had just enough kick to keep it all interesting.

We can also recommend the Pork Tenderloin Medallions Mediterranean ($19), one medallion and two huge collops of lean pork loin in a vivid basil-bacon demi-glaze served on a bed of tangy white bean ratatouille (and we didn't even mind the bits of minced squash and zucchini, which gave it a little texture). It was just as good, if not better, as cold next-day leftovers.

Our off-menu special, half a barbecued chicken ($17), was a bit of a mixed bag. The chicken was very good, moist and tender; the barbecue sauce that coated it had a nice kick without being painfully spicy. The house potato salad on one side was marvellous but the bleu cheese cole slaw on the other had a sharp flavor that wasn't the cheese and may have come from the cabbage.

On our list of items to try the next time we win the lottery or a rich aunt comes to town: Savoy Simply Seafood ($34), scallops, prawns, mussels, calamari, grouper and spinach in a fresh tomato-white wine coulis over homemade spinach linguine; and the Rack of Lamb Provencale ($37), brushed with mustard and crusted with fresh herbs and olive oil.

The other major menu holdover, also around since Seyer's early days, are the dessert souffles ($10): Grand Marnier and chocolate with Jamaican rum. Our Grand Marnier souffle was the only major disappointment of either meal.

Yes, we ordered it when we ordered our entree, as the menu recommends, because it takes awhile to make. And yes, it came out all fluffy and our waitress broke the "crust" at the table and spooned in the sweet St. Cecilia creme and left the ewer at the table, as is right and proper. And we had no complaints about the texture, sometimes the bane of souffle fans.

But in the first bite the Grand Marnier hit us like a ton of bricks. By the second bite, we were practically drunk. Normally there'd be just enough for flavor and the alcohol would steam off in the cooking process. Not this time. (Waitress told us, a bit shamefacedly, that one of the souffle chefs has a reputation for overdoing the booze. Be warned.)

The restaurant has recently added a Sunday brunch, from which we can recommend the Gouda Cheese Toast ($4), topped with bacon marmalade, and the Lump Crab Potato Hash ($14), a huge plate of grilled potatoes and a surprising amount of crab meat, topped with poached eggs and a lemon dill hollandaise.

Weekend on 06/26/2014

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