Arkansas’s first environmental education state park interprets the importance of the natural world and our place within it.
Consider Chenal Valley. Thousands of $300,000-and-up, way up, homes. Politically conservative. Plenty of residents who know their way around an expense account.
If you had to pick one kind of restaurant to put at the gateway to such a neighborhood, what would you pick?
How about a steak house? Red meat for red-blooded Americans. But scaled up for the Audi and Lexus crowd.
It seems so obvious in retrospect now that Jerry Barakat has opened Arthur’s Prime Steakhouse, a classy place on Rahling Road, just off Chenal Parkway. (The name honors Barakat’s friend, Arthur Boutiette.)
Barakat shuffled his Sesame-Jasmine’s operation down to the west end of the shopping center. In the old Jasmine’s space he’s created a restaurant that would pass as a country club dining room anywhere in Middle America. Starchy white tablecloths. Fine wood paneling from floor to ceiling. Wooden blinds. A wall of wine racks. A baby grand piano. A wait staff wearing tuxedo shirts, bow ties and vests. Got the picture?
Prices match the setting. Steaks and other main dishes do NOT come with a spud and a bowl of iceberg. Beef choices range from $29 for a slice of prime rib to $50 (yes, I said $50) for a ribeye cut from Australian-raised wagyu cattle. Wagyu supposedly yields a more richly marbled beef.
If you’ve been to the Palm, Morton’s or any of the many other similar steak houses, the menu will be familiar. All the servings are enormous — whether an appetizer or salad or side dish. Emphasis is on choice ingredients. “Colossal shrimp cocktail” and “jumbo lump crab” cocktail are among the appetizers ($12-$16). Ahi tuna tartar was little disappointing in presentation and taste. The raw chopped tuna was pressed and formed into a round loaf and sliced. It was a huge portion and rolled in a bit of avocado, but we couldn’t detect a hint of the promised soy-lime ginger.
Soups and salads run from $6 to $12, including lobster and shrimp bisque, ahi tuna nicoise and spinach, Caesar, field greens and — the steakhouse classic — iceberg salads. I never can resist a wedge of iceberg, not when it’s topped with diced tomato, a generous pile of crumbled Maytag blue cheese, smoked bacon and toasted pecans (I’m not so sure about the sweet glaze on the nuts).
The entrees would take many days to explore. Lobster, prawn, tuna, halibut, scallops, lamb, pork tenderloin and chicken breast ($19-$32) are available if you don’t want steak. But why else go to a steakhouse?
The meat is prime, bought in Chicago and dry-aged at the restaurant, our waiter said. Filets, ribeyes and strips can be chosen with orwithout bone. Under the heading “Kobe beef” (meaning Kobe-style, not actual Japanese beef) is the Australian wagyu — a ribeye ($50) and eight-ounce filet ($46). My companion had the filet and shared a bit. It was wondrously tender. Velvety is a good word. It was cooked medium rare as ordered in the restaurant’s high-temp broiler. Was it worth $14 more than the plain old boneless prime filet? I know the publisher, who picked up the tab, hopes so.
I went with the $35 New York strip, the king of steak cuts. It weighs 16 ounces, which means it’s thick enough to be cooked properly. What’s proper? Crusty on the outside, but red (not pink) clear through and running with juice when the thin steak knife slices in. Ours was perfect. The steak, closely trimmed but not so closely trimmed that all the good fat was removed, was carefully seasoned. I didn’t need to add a grain of salt or pepper at the table, but the meat also wasn’t overwhelmed with seasoning, as happens at some steak joints. This steak had it all — satisfying chewiness and big, rich flavor. Wherever else Arthur’s fell short, it made its bones with us on the main event.
There’s a choice of eight sauces for the meat, served on the side. A good steak doesn’t need sauce, of course, but we ordered some silky béarnaise anyway and blissfully dipped fries in it.
Creamed or sautéed spinach, asparagus and potatoes six ways, including a baker, are among the side dishes ($6-$7). Our sauteed spinach was good and garlicky, but badly needed salt. The truffle fries were just shy of spectacular, even if we didn’t see or get a sniff of truffles. The thin fries were perfectly cooked. Crisp and hot and salty, they were enhanced by a judicious amount of parmesan cheese. The serving was huge and wrapped in a cloth napkin that formed a cone in a metal holder.
Sure we ordered a Grand Marnier souffle ahead of time. It was just an excuse to get the pitcher of warm Grand Marnier sauce to pour on top. But the hands-down dessert winner was a dish of chunky peanut butter chocolate mousse topped with whipped cream and sided by a separate dish sufficient as a dessert on its own — two scoops of banana ice cream and a split fresh banana. Put them together and you’ve got Chunky Monkey, except better. Yes, there’s cheesecake, too, though not made in house.
The wine list is broad and naturally deep in big reds. You can buy a bottle of Penfold Grange for $300. But I was very happy with one of the house pours, smooth Trapiche malbec ($7 per glass).
Service couldn’t have been more attentive. In fact, I wish it had been a bit less attentive. A server with a crumber swept the table every few minutes, refreshed water after a few sips and inquired repeatedly about our satisfaction. Too much attention for us.
And about that piano. It plays itself. The program looped back to the Beatles tune that greeted us over the course of a pleasant dinner of nearly two hours. It was long enough to realize that a player piano, however fine the sound, can grate at times. Damn things never take a break, never mind requests.
Arthur’s Prime Steakhouse
27 Rahling Circle
If you do the three-course thing, with one drink and one glass of house wine each, you’ll drop $100 a head counting tip. But you probably want to share starters and desserts, so generous are the portions. Same thing on side dishes. Wagyu beef is for the status conscious. The standard prime is mighty good stuff.
5-9:30 p.m. Mon.-Thurs., 5-10:30 Fri.- Sat.
Expensive. Credit cards accepted.
The best pizza!!!!