Some of the best restaurants reside in hotels. I used to know the lap of luxury well, so I can tell you about world - class dining in places like The Four Seasons, where I dined at L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon. Jean - Georges is still at Trump International although we never ate there when we stayed there. What?! Yes, passed it in the lobby every time we left or entered Trump. Never stopped, and regret it now. But we have enjoyed meals at LeCirque in both the Bloomberg building and when it was at The Palace Hotel. Here in Arkansas, we have the legendary Capital Hotel which I read in a recent article somewhere that outranked the NYC Four Seasons. Wow!
Ashley's very recently became My Restaurant. Two weeks ago, to be specific. It came from out of nowhere, unexpectedly, and irrevocably stole my heart. Before that, my impression was that this was a place for older business men in suits from Baumans with vast expense accounts, ladies who lunch (with Louis Vuitton bags), and travelers from Oxford, Mississippi, clad with children dressed in seersucker. I am none of those people. But I love good food. So a new chapter started in my love story for food.
The restaurant lies inside the Capital Hotel, a high end destination in my mind that ranked among others in Little Rock that distance themselves such as Barbara Jean and B. Barnett. My mindset was, set one foot inside any of those places and prepare to get fleeced.
Then one day I wound up at Ashley's with my friend Darielle from the office. We'd been good girls all week, bringing our food to the office, avoiding expensive or calorie - laden lunches. We were headed to the Capital Bar & Grill for something simple and quick, but I decided that since I hadn't spent $40 in one week on lunches, I could really enjoy myself on one needed day and spend $20 for the well worthy elaborate Executive Lunch displayed on the lobby menu. That lunch remained in the back of my mind for quite some time...it was quite memorable. I was wondering how long I had been missing out on this remarkable Executive Lunch! They needed to get the word out about it. Add some small plate options, and I would be a regular.
So two weeks ago I needed some cheering up, and this was the dish that did it for me at Ashley's. Combine a rough day at work with a tough realization that there are some things totally beyond your control. I sought solace at My Place with scallops, sundried tomatoes, artichokes, and gnocchi. Such a beautiful, delicious dish built with healthy and simple ingredients. It made me feel all better!
Ironically, I received the invitation that same day from Chuck Magill of the Capital Hotel in Little Rock. Step inside the ropes. Attend a private tasting and food photography event with the most active food participants in our city's food world. I was thrilled to be invited. I decided my favorite dish of the night was the braised Berkshire pork cheek with summer truffle. It was served with so many bright companions, including thin slices of chorizo, cumquat, and a tasting of perfect polenta.
We were given a kitchen tour during the event where I spotted Chef Joel Antunes with his back of the house team. I love a good kitchen camaraderie. We were told he prefers to be in the back. Most chefs do, it seems. I like that he said, "When people work for me in the kitchen, I want harmony. I want something very smooth. I don't want to stress because when people are stressed, they don't work very well."
I believe you can see some of that harmony in this Hamachi Ceviche with Orange Ginger Dressing. It was another one of my favorites among the 9 small tastings we received during the special private tasting. And now the other dishes that the 20 or so of us were very fortunate to enjoy over the course of the evening:
Yellowfin Tuna Tartare with Avocado
Best I've ever had
Asparagus Soup with Fresh Mozzarella Table side Presentation Step 1
Soup finished - simply sensational
Love the convivial serving ware
Stuffed Mushrooms with Parmesan
I love mushrooms & everything about this dish
Seared Scallops with Potato Gnocchi, Artichokes, & Sundried Tomatoes
We met again
Raspberry Cheesecake with Coconut Sorbet
Chocolate Souffle with Vanilla Chantilly
Pecan Chestnut Sundae with Chocolate Sorbet
Thanks to Chef Joel Antunes for joining us here in Arkansas after such an impressive tour of past renowned ventures. It was a pleasure to experience each and every extraordinary flavor combination that he presented to us. The hospitality of Chuck, Nick, Heather, Brant, and Josh were all so appreciated. The Capital Hotel has a wonderful staff.
It was an honor to be in attendance at this event. None of us are Baumans - suit wearing business men, ladies with Louis Vuittons, or seasoned travelers with kids in seersucker. But the people of Ashley's discovered that we all love good food, and they gave us 9 courses of food and exemplary service. That's one great way of inviting more people to come inside. I see a great future for Ashley's after the change. Visit them before they close after brunch on Sunday, May 4th, and afterwards in July to see their new look.
One of Eight Core Values
Till we meet again! xoxoxo