Winter is the perfect time to explore the natural stone shelters where native Arkansans once lived
Since it opened in 2003, Mike Selig's Vermillion has joined the shining stars on Little Rock's culinary map, and not just because the food is good. The modern space is comfortable and unpretentious but dressed up, lovely. Here is where the movers and shakers eat, but you don't have to be a bigwig to be welcomed.
Back to the food. Just past the gleaming black granite bar at the front of the restaurant is the raw bar, where there's a delectable assembly of fresh tuna flown in from Hawaii and served sashimi style, oysters on the half shell, shrimp, mussels and clams. Vermillion was formerly named Vermillion's Water Grille, and the raw bar and the murals on the walls (originals by John Deering) hearken back to Selig's first love — fish.
But Selig's talents extend beyond the sea, and illustrate his food philosophy: “Accent but don't overwhelm.”
Take the insalada caprese. The fresh Arkansas tomato was served with a truffled mozzarella, seared frisee and a dollop of reduced balsamic. Simple, delicious.
We moved on to the gorgonzola and sweet basil-roasted hamachi (amberjack, $35) served with grilled truffled radicchio and raspberry vinaigrette. Again, no one ingredient over powered the next. The peppery taste of the radicchio balanced nicely with the intense gorgonzola and complimented the fish perfectly.
The peppercorn grilled aged Angus beef tenderloin ($35) didn't live up to the rest of the meal. The cut of beef, itself, was fine and it was cooked perfectly rare, just as it was ordered. But the peppercorns suggested in the title were curiously absent and the basil-stacked potatoes were a disappointment. The basil was missing and the potatoes themselves were dry and tasteless. Considering the quality of the rest of the meal, this might have been a one-time overlook by the kitchen.
Other entrees run the gamut. For vegetarians there is the vegan leek tostada ($19) served with caramelized green chilis in Arborio rice, shredded spinach and “Rooster's Beak Relish” (a variety of diced fruit and citrus). for the slightly less adventurous is pan-seared chicken picatta ($19), served with citrus braised fennel drizzled with hazelnut balsamic. A sesame-seared salmon ($24) is served with vegetable sushi crisp and dipping sauces Sriracha Dijon — hot Thai chili sauces and mustard — and pineapple plum.
The highlight of our meal came at the end with what an employee called “Vermillion's liberal take on beignets” ($9). The golf-ball-sized, cocoa-flavored pastries had a warm crispy outer layer with a slightly cooler cream cheese center.
They were served with a creme anglaise and a house-made jalapeno and cinnamon ice cream. If you try nothing else at Vermillion, this dessert alone is worth making time for.
When you have both the money and the time, Vermillion is a stop everyone who enjoys a good meal should make.
Mike Selig's Vermillion
200 S. Commerce, Suite 150
Vermillion's bar menu serves up more casual meals than the dinner menu. Choose from a smoked turkey club, angus cheeseburgers, corned beef Reuben, grilled ham and Swiss melt, Southern fried chicken sandwich, salmon cakes and fried bologna and cheddar. All of these selections are $8. For $2 more, you can add batter-dipped fries and a pickle spear.
11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday; 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
Full bar including a great wine list; all credit cards accepted.
Sorry, but I don't see how a return visit is going to make those soft…