Magness Lake, in Heber Springs, is a magnet for swans
Sometimes you're just too tired to cook. This happens to us most often on lazy Sundays, a day when, for whatever reason, a lot of Little Rock's finer restaurants close their doors. So it was that we decided to exchange our sweats for our Sunday best and head to SO. We're glad we did.
If you don't know exactly what you want to drink, fear not. The staff at SO knows what they're doing. Sensing our indecisiveness, our server ventured a guess: "You're looking for something wintry, to warm you up? Maybe a little bourbon in there somewhere?" He read our minds. What he placed on the table was a stroke of fall cocktail genius: a Manhattan as a base topped with just a splash of pecan vodka. We were leery, but trust us, it worked.
Our gullets warmed, we ordered an appetizer. We've always been fans of what we've come to know as armadillo toes: jalapenos stuffed with cream cheese, wrapped in bacon, and grilled. We were happy to see a higher-falutin' version on SO's menu, the beef brochettes ($13). Compared to what we've had before, they're a bit deconstructed. A tender morsel of steak is topped with cream cheese, a sliver of jalapeno, wrapped with bacon and grilled. They come sitting in a shallow drizzle of cilantro oil. All in all, these were solid, but they spent just a tad too long on the grill. A more medium cook on the steak would have taken these from pretty OK to just right. The cilantro oil is divine, scratching an itch we didn't even know we had.
The special for the night was wild-caught salmon ($40), pan-fried in a cast-iron skillet and served with grilled vegetables atop an apple-lemon gastrique, a sweet-tart sugar reduction. The cook on the salmon was perfect, giving it a nice crusty outside, with a tender-flaky middle — just like wild-caught fish should be. The chefs let the salmon do the work, only lightly seasoning the fish so as not to cover it up or hide its flavor. The gastrique had a subtle, mellow flavor that rounded out the dish well.
The cold-smoked filet ($45) came highly recommended by our server (whose recommendations never failed, by the way). We can see why. The cold smoke prevents the beef from getting that too-rich smoky flavor. It was perfectly executed. The cook — we always request a filet medium rare — was about as spot-on as one could ask for. Like the fish, the steak was seasoned sparingly but topped with a nice, rich garlic butter that added a flavorful, stout punch. The filet was tender and melted away. We were sad to see it disappear so quickly.
Side dishes rarely get their own paragraph, but the bone marrow mashed potatoes deserve one, and not just because of their impeccable presentation. The potatoes were served in a halved bone, soaking up marrow as they sat waiting to be tasted. They were consistent with everything else we had at SO, left to taste like exactly what they were: potatoes. No cheese, no overpowering garlic concoction, just potatoes heightened and glorified. It's rare we count mashed potatoes as a highlight, but here it's true. We were satiated, but couldn't help but order the chocolate sack ($13) for dessert. We love chocolate desserts, but have come across few as delectable and indulgent as this one. The dessert chef lines a wax paper sack in chocolate and freezes it. He then peels the wax paper away so what you're left with is literally a chocolate sack. This isn't throw-away chocolate either: It's lovely, dark and expensive-tasting. The sack is filled with homemade vanilla ice cream, graham cracker crumbles, chunks of moist chocolate cake, and drizzled with a raspberry sauce as rich as if it were preserves. The sack towers above the plate. "There's no elegant way to do this," our server told us, instructing us to lay it on its side and bash it with the butt-end of a butter knife to reveal its delicious innards. This was more than two could handle — they will pack it up for you, miraculously — but would do fine for a party of four. The combination of rich flavors and textures is a delight.
3610 Kavanaugh Blvd.
The wine list at SO is killer and the staff knows its way around it quite well. The Adelsheim Pinot Noir (2010, from the Willamette Valley in Oregon) was light, fruity, and peppery and paired well with our appetizer. A Real De Aragon Garnacha (one of the least expensive by-the-glass offerings at $10) from Spain was delightful: very complex and light enough to drink with fish if you're white-wine averse.
4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday.
Credit cards accepted, full bar.