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story.lead_photo.caption The Dijon Garlic Encrusted Spring Lamb Rack consists of eight perfectly cooked chops, served with mint sauce and the chef’s choice of sides — saffron rice and green beans — at Arthur’s Prime Steakhouse. - Photo by Eric E. Harrison

In moving his Arthur's Prime Steakhouse from its long-standing location on far west Little Rock's Rahling Road to a bigger, more easily visible and more easily accessible spot on Chenal Parkway that used to be half of an auto dealership, owner Jerry Barakat has almost miraculously reproduced the restaurant's old-world, old-wood charm in the new setting.

You'd never know the place just opened in November and not a couple of dozen years ago.

Barakat has taken advantage of the increase in his square footage to establish two main dining areas, plus a seeming infinity of side and/or private dining rooms; a space he's designating as a wine cellar (with plans for tastings and exclusive wine dinners) and a party/event room in the back -- with its own private entrance, yet -- that by itself is bigger than a lot of this town's restaurants.

Barakat has also brought along his extensive menu more or less intact -- though we're told there might be some changes in coming months (taking advantage, perhaps, of the bigger kitchen space) and the even-more-extensive, award-winning wine list.

As has been typical of Barakat's establishments throughout his nearly four-decade career as a Little Rock restaurateur, the things that make Arthur's special, even more than just the impeccable service, almost a Barakat trademark (because he has demonstrated time and again, sometimes somewhat forcefully and in view and hearing of customers, that he won't settle for anything less), are the quality and presentation of his food.

Gallery: Arthur's Prime Steakhouse

It's the attention he and his kitchen pay to the smaller things. In particular, and it's something that we find altogether too frequently isn't the case with Arthur's high-end competitors, it's in making sure, for example, that side dishes are fully flavorful and not just filling up the plate.

The chef's-choice garlic mashed potatoes, green beans and saffron rice that arrived alongside our entrees, were all at least as interesting as the main items on the plate. Or the a la carte sides like the heaping dishful of sauteed garlic wild mushrooms ($9) or the Arthur's Mac-n-cheese ($10) that so thrilled Intrepid Companion would be worth a visit by themselves.

The atmosphere at Arthur's is of barely restrained elegance -- we mentioned the old-wood feel provided by the paneled walls (that in the original location echoed Morton's of Chicago); the tables have white cloths and sturdy wooden slat-backed chairs. Panels partially screen the massive bar. The space between Arthur's and its sibling, Oceans at Arthur's, in the other half of the former auto dealership, has become an enclosed patio that will provide fine-weather dining and waiting space.

An actual pianist plays the actual baby grand piano not far from the door on weekends (an unbroken medley of standards, show tunes, pop tunes and noodlings). High-end (no pun intended) chandeliers light the dining areas. Waiters are elegantly clad in black pants, white tux shirts, bow ties and long black aprons.

And yet, it's no dichotomy to see many customers dressing down -- in any other establishment where the cuisine standards (and, consequently, the prices) are as high as they are at Arthur's, diners in ball caps and stressed jeans would look outre, yet they look and are equally at home here as are the patrons dressed to the eights, if not the nines.

That Arthur's is absolutely the place to go in its new setting shows in how hard it is to get a weekend reservation, even with the seemingly inexhaustibly large number of tables. Checking day-before online to try to get in about 6:30, we discovered we could get a table for two at 5:15, 8:45 or thereafter, but not between.

You'll be tempted to go overboard and fill up on the small loaves of fresh bread with honey butter. Don't. Appetizers are expensive at Arthur's, but worthwhile. We goggled a bit at the $36 price tag for the shelled Lander's Alaskan King Crab Legs, served either in a warm saffron broth or chilled and split, but Intrepid Companion enjoys her crab legs; we chose the latter, a decent amount of tasty crab meat out of the shell (we figure we have to factor the cost of shelling into the price) and served with drawn butter in an attractive oblong salver.

The Wagyu Beef Carpaccio ($18) looked more appetizing on the menu, and on the plate, than it tasted; the thickly shaved Parmesan and a few fried capers did little to relieve its basic blandness, though dipping it in the mustard horseradish, balsamic vinegar or the olive oil enhanced it nicely.

We'd go back nightly to get Arthur's French Onion Soup ($10), a seasoned-just-right broth with a nice quantity of onions topped with an inch-thick (at least) crust of baked Gruyere. We would have been more thrilled with the thick Lobster & Shrimp Bisque ($12), made with dry sherry, if it had been piping hot instead of lukewarm. But the entertaining presentation made up for that a bit: First the waiter serves a bowl with an "island" of one crostino and one shrimp with a green onion vertical "flag" rising ceiling-ward, over which he subsequently pours the soup.

We ordered steak, of course, because first and foremost Arthur's is a steakhouse, and reveled in the huge Kansas City Bone-in Strip ($41), which was perfectly prepared (medium rare as we ordered it) and seasoned. (Though unlike some places where it's considered an insult to the chef, there are salt and pepper shakers on the table -- the customer, as it's supposed to be, is always right. But no steak sauce. That's heresy!) Other prosaic options include a filet, a bone-in rib-eye, a New York strip (ordinary or au poivre, in a Courvoisier-green peppercorn sauce), beef medallions with shallots in a red wine reduction and blue cheese; and, at $59 per person (including two sides -- for the rest of the steaks, side dishes are a la carte), Prime Chateaubriand, prepared and served table-side. (And if you must have your steak medium-well or well-done, they'll prepare them that way, but the kitchen forcefully recommends they be "butterflied for presentation & integrity.")

Arthur’s Prime Steakhouse

Address: 16100 Chenal Parkway, Little Rock

Hours: 5-9:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 5-10:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 10:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., 5-9 p.m. Sunday

Cuisine: Steaks, seafood, high-end entrees

Alcoholic beverages: Full bar, award-winning wine list

Wheelchair access: Yes

Reservations: Yes

Credit cards: V, MC, AE, D

(501) 821-1838

arthursprimesteakhouse.com

Now, if you really have money to spare and want the ultimate in steak experiences, Arthur's offers those as well:

• Australian Wagyu filets, rib-eye and "tomahawk" (all at market price), or the $79 Prime Wagyu Sampler (prime and petit Wagyu filets)

• Certified Japanese Kobe, billed on the menu as "the Ultimate Beef Experience (upon availability -- by the ounce, market price), extra to add a surf-and-turf lobster tail, $16 additional if you want it Oscar style (with jumbo lump crab meat, asparagus and bearnaise) or Carmen style (with colossal shrimp, onion rings and peppercorns).

If you're really not up for steak, but still want to indulge in red meat, we can and do absolutely recommend the Dijon Garlic Encrusted Spring Lamb Rack ($46), eight delightfully meaty and perfectly cooked chops (and we consider ordering lamb cooked more intensely than medium rare, by the way, an unforgivable sin) served with a ceramic container of gelatinous mint sauce we sampled but decided we didn't need. Other carnivore options include a bone-in veal chop in a port wine-sundried tomato demiglace; broiled Pork Tenderloin Medallions in a raspberry-chipotle reduction; a roasted chicken breast in a black truffle-mushroom sauce; and a bone-in Berkshire pork chop in an apple-cider reduction.

And if you'd rather indulge in seafood, you could go to Oceans at Arthur's next door, or you could go for the Alaskan Halibut ($30), with a drizzle of bearnaise sauce; we saw no evidence of the macadamia crust the menu promised, but the fish was first-rate without it. Intrepid Companion said she would have liked a little more of the ginger vinaigrette that dressed the Seared Rare Ahi Tuna Mignon ($31), discs of tuna seared on the edges and one side and red-rare on the other, served with chunks of lump crab meat from which Intrepid Companion shied away as slightly fishy-tasting (but was a bonus for the member of the party who only tasted the crab-boil spices). Other seafood choices include a market-price lobster tail, broiled jumbo fresh water prawns, salmon in a mango ginger habanero glaze, Chilean sea bass in a lobster miso sauce and jumbo sea scallops in a saffron green peppercorn sauce with fresh pesto.

All nonsteak entrees include "Chef Selection of Vegetables & Starch," and bless the chef again for the saffron rice, garlic mashed potatoes and green beans that graced our plates.

No meal at Arthur's is complete without at least considering dessert, and if you're considering dessert, you can't go wrong with one of the items on the tray -- the white chocolate or dark Belgian chocolate creme brulee, the peanut butter chocolate mousse with banana ice cream, one of three preparations of cheesecake (New York style with fresh berries, Godiva chocolate or Brown Cow), the Key lime pie with raspberry sauce. But do consider the Prime Bananas Foster for two ($20 seems less steep when you realize it's only $10 apiece), made at table-side, which Barakat usually prepares himself -- a quartet of bananas sliced down and poured into a brandy-banana liqueur bath reduced by flame and poured over vanilla ice cream.

We mentioned that service was impeccable and it was, almost too much -- yes, our waiter on both dinner visits overemployed the crumbing tool, and if you get up and go to the restroom, you'll find your napkin re-folded on the table when you return.

Photo by Eric E. Harrison
The Kansas City Bone-In Strip is one of several high-end steak options at Arthur’s Prime Steakhouse.
Photo by Eric E. Harrison
Seared Rare Ahi Tuna Mignon is served with lump crab meat and sides of garlic mashed potatoes and green beans.
Photo by Eric E. Harrison
Alaskan Halibut with bearnaise sauce, with saffron rice and green beans on the side, is one of Arthur’s Prime Steakhouse’s nonsteak entrees.
Photo by Eric E. Harrison
Arthur’s owner Jerry Barakat prepares Bananas Foster for two at the table.
Photo by Eric E. Harrison
Arthur’s French Onion Soup comes with a thick baked Gruyere cheese crust.

Weekend on 01/17/2019

Print Headline: RESTAURANT REVIEW + PHOTOS: Impeccable service, food at Arthur's Prime Steakhouse in new west Little Rock location

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