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Gypsy’s delights 

click to enlarge FINE DINING: Gypsy's serves dependable and affordable high-quality cuisine.
  • FINE DINING: Gypsy's serves dependable and affordable high-quality cuisine.

Gypsy's Grill and Bar is the reincarnation of the late Alouette's, one of Little Rock's top fine-dining restaurants that was itself a collateral descendant of, arguably, the city's first true fine-dining establishment: Restaurant Jacques and Suzanne. These culinary pioneers taught us that fine dining was so much more than a steak, an iceberg lettuce salad and a foil-wrapped baked potato.

Alouette's owner, Denis Seyer, has transformed that French favorite into Gypsy's, where “world cuisine goes casual,” according to Gypsy's excellent and informative website (gypsysgrill.com). In the process, he has sought to keep the many regulars' old favorites (“Denis Seyer's Famous Lobster Bisque” and Grand Marnier soufflé, for example) while downsizing prices.

Addressing the “world cuisine” claim, Gypsy's remains more Continental than global fusion, with the sauces for a variety of fish — Norwegian salmon, $18; butter fish, $19; halibut, $25; big-eye tuna, $26 — providing the exoticism: Caribbean with orange cilantro glaze, Cayman style, spicy Thai red curry coconut.

And as for “casual,” Gypsy's is comfortable — soft, indirect lighting, cozy booths, tables not too close — but elegant — crisp linen, art-filled walls, oriental rugs on polished floors.

Our evening began on a doubtful note, figuratively and literally. Our server didn't know what a mint julep was. Not being surprised, however, I told her to ask the bartender and, if that professional was similarly unschooled, I'd provide the recipe. She returned with a beauty of a julep, not a classic but close enough to provide icy refreshment on a muggy night.

The literal doubtful note was the presence of a guitarist setting up to play, a prospect that alarmed my dining companion, who thinks live music and a pleasant conversation-filled meal are incompatible. Not to worry. Although we were seated only a table or two away from the musician, his playing of classical guitar was soft and proficient — an enhancement as intended and not a distraction.

My appetizer of mozzarella caprese — generous rectangles of fresh mozzarella, perfectly ripe Roma tomatoes and fresh basil in an olive oil and balsamic dressing — was superb. My companion enjoyed her tomato basil bisque, noting that it was less bisque-like than it might have been (little, if any, heavy cream) but fresh and flavorful.

My entree, one of the evening's specials, was a large piece of strip steak in a creamy peppercorn demi-glace. Not too fancy, just delicious. Tasty herb-roasted potatoes accompanied it and benefited from being swirled in the sauce.

Companion's entree of the dinner portion of crab cakes (three) pleased her. She described them as “more New England style than Creole/Cajun with a good proportion of crab to breading, nicely flavored but not spicy.”

Our desserts were a hit and a near-miss. The hit: A mixed-berry tart in custard. The near-miss: A chocolate raspberry truffle cake that my friend declared slightly dry, as if it had been prepared the day before. I call it a near-miss because she still ate every bit.

Service was flawless (you can't fault a 20-something for knowing nothing of mint juleps): warm but not effusive. Prices, even for the high-end entrees and considering the quality, are reasonable.

Although I don't think Gypsy's would thrill more adventurous palates — no improbable-seeming combinations of obscure ingredients presented architecturally — it has earned a place on the list of French-accented American-Continental restaurants that make choosing a fine-dining restaurant in the Little Rock area so much more difficult than it used to be.

Seyer's tradition of culinary service to the community continues, and for that, we're grateful.

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