Winter is the perfect time to explore the natural stone shelters where native Arkansans once lived
Recently, I had the opportunity to dine at Ashley’s in the Capital Hotel. You’re probably all fully aware by now of the departure by acclaimed chef Lee Richardson, and you’re probably equally aware that sous chef Matthew Bell was called upon to fill these rather sizeable shoes. Furthermore, you probably know that Bell will soon be venturing out on his own to open his own restaurant at the Oxford American on Main. What does all this mean to you and how does it relate to foie gras? Because Bell’s current menu, a menu that will not likely be around for much longer, features one of the greatest foie gras dishes I’ve ever tasted…anywhere. You need to taste it.
The dish in question features foie two ways. The first is a straightforward presentation…a thick slice of foie simply seared on both sides. This is, perhaps, the most unadulterated approach to foie and allows one to experience all of its inherent almost pudding-like texture, rich flavor, and smooth, oily mouth-feel. The foie is bedded on a smear of stewed fig puree, a thickened, sweet paste that works to enhance and compliment the otherwise fatty flavors of the dish. Lastly, a light sprinkling of candied bacon completes this portion of the dish. The final result is simply stunning…but things don’t end there.
Next comes a pair of extraordinary macarons. You may have realized by now I have a weakness for pastries. I adore macarons, but these were unlike any I’ve had before. They begin with light, airy pecan macaron cookies…perfectly baked with a delicate, crisp exterior and chewy, nutty-flavored interior. These are filled with a rich, decadent foie gras mousse. This was a stroke of genius. It's a dish that teeters between sweet and savory, nearly comfortable on the dessert menu but too rich, salty, and buttery to make its home there permanently.
Truthfully, the entire meal was full of impressive dishes. Suffice it to say, Chef Bell is holding his own at the Capital Hotel. But he’ll only be there until the end of the year, and then he’ll ship off to his next venture. I can only hope his successor (and I’ve got a pretty good idea who it is) will be doing foie as well as Bell’s doing it now, it’s already a rare enough treasure in this city.
The Capital Hotel is located at 111 W. Markham St., Little Rock. You’ll find this foie under the ‘first course’ section of the dinner menu.