There's nothing wrong with being in Little Rock. We live here for a reason — a bunch of reasons. But it's still fun sometimes to hang out at a place that makes you feel like you're somewhere else — somewhere that's a bit more hip, more cosmopolitan, swankier ... with food to match. That's 1620 Savoy, the new incarnation of the West Little Rock landmark that for almost 25 years was one of the city's best restaurants.
1620 closed at the end of June and reopened in late September as 1620 Savoy. On a Saturday night almost exactly one month into its new life, the place was packed, making us glad we'd called a few days earlier for a 7:30 p.m. reservation. Make no mistake — while 1620 is still part of the name, this is Savoy — a new concept with a new look and feel.
There are two distinct dining areas. Patrons enter into a fancy dining room, which includes at its rear a small bar area with a couple of tables and this night a duo playing muted jazz trumpet and guitar. Beyond, the more casual dining area is still plenty nice but different. However, it seems management is unsure exactly how it wants that side to be different. Pre-opening reports made it sound like there would be more of a "bar" menu over there — chicken strips were actually mentioned. But this isn't really a "bar area" — it's another large dining room; there's only a tiny bar there with a couple of stools, smaller than on the fancier side. The guess is the demand for the main menu is so strong that it only makes sense to serve it throughout the restaurant.
Given that, it might be wise to kill the trio of flat screens playing college football and the World Series (sans volume), a visual and mood-altering distraction with few diners paying much attention to the games. Still, there's a cool, trendy vibe on both sides — a vibrant atmosphere that's neither too noisy nor too subdued. The lighting and other fixtures on both sides are sleek and smart, and the bathrooms feature sleek black finishes and add to the cosmopolitan feel. There's an outside patio with fire pit that after 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights becomes Club Savoy with a DJ playing hip, thumping music.
After checking out the menu in advance at 1620savoy.com, we'd plotted our dining strategy, but it was tempting to change course and try one of the collection of nightly specials: Philly cheese steak soup, a wedge salad with crumbled bacon, a crab claw appetizer and the richest sounding entree imaginable — Beef Wellington with a foie gras mousse.
Yeasty, slightly sweet rolls were served with butter as well as a tapenade that was more subtle and less salty than most. Our resident beet fan couldn't help herself and went for the beet and goat cheese salad ($8), declaring the pickled beats very earthy and delicious — the beets surrounding a mesclun mix with roasted pistachios and a battered-and-fried, then quartered, goat cheese puck that offered a crispy-gooey, pungent taste complement to the subtly flavored vinaigrette and greens.
We chose the tuna crudo ($12) and were happy with our own puck-shaped appetizer — this one a tuna tartare mixed with celery, green pepper, onion and spices and sprinkled with black sesame seeds. The tuna was rich and flavorful, and the accompanying homemade cracker with those same black sesame seeds supplied a nice crunch.
Both entrees were well executed, but they presented a stark contrast relative to bang for our culinary buck. The 1620 Scallops ($24) includes five portions of scallop, which is not the same as saying five scallops. These must have been scallop sections, as they were much thinner than the usual plump scallops most restaurants offer. Our guess is they were split on the horizontal, so this must have been a 2.5-scallop portion, served with three half spears of asparagus, three mushroom caps, three jalapeno slices and a nice-sized pool of dreamy-rich hollandaise. Though thin, the scallops weren't overcooked, and the sauce provided a very rich accompaniment to the lightly seasoned mollusks, but there just wasn't much food.
The prime filet of beef ($25 for the six-ounce portion, $35 for eight ounces) was as good a steak as we've been served in a very long time. The six-ouncer — almost as tall as it was wide — came medium, as ordered, but clearly had been cooked very quickly. It featured a nice, salty char while remaining tender and pink inside. A chef friend once told us a very heavy hand with salt and pepper was the key to a good steak, and the chefs at Savoy clearly ascribe to that theory. The accompanying potato pave — a layered scalloped potato type dish — was decadently creamy, rich and downright luscious, full of cream and butter with a garlic kick. The diced roasted vegetables were fine but didn't get a lot of attention. There is a dessert tray, but nothing there thrilled us; besides, we had already pre-ordered a Jamaican chocolate souffle ($8) as the menu suggested and were full enough that splitting it would be fine. (There's also a Grand Marnier souffle.) Our waitress punctured the hot, fluffy souffle and poured a fabulous cream-based sauce into and over it. This dessert is subtle — not overly chocolaty, not overly sweet, but still rich, good and satisfying.
Chef Tim Morton is a long-time 1620 veteran and provides the continuity between Savoy and its much-loved predecessor. His kitchen partners — Payne Harding and John Masching — are both young, classically trained chefs with some big-city restaurant experience under their belts. General manager Rick Qualls, who also worked at pre-Savoy 1620, has New York and international restaurant experience. Together they've created a unique opportunity in our town — a Little Rock dining experience that doesn't feel much at all like you're in Little Rock.
1620 Market Street Little Rock 221-1620
If it matters to you, request one of the two dining room options when you make a reservation. Otherwise you'll be leaving it to the restaurant to make that choice for you.
5 to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday.
Full bar, all CC.
A&E Feature / To-Do List / In Brief / Movie Reviews / Music Reviews / Theater Reviews / A&E News / Art Notes / Graham Gordy / Books / Media / Dining Reviews / Dining Guide / What's Cookin' / Calendar / The Televisionist / Movie Listings / Gallery Listings