Magness Lake, in Heber Springs, is a magnet for swans
As they moved into the former Vesuvio Bistro space — in the Best Western Governor's Suites in West Little Rock — the folks behind Table 28 knew they had a tough act to follow.
Thankfully, executive chef Scott Rains is not afraid to take a few risks — willing to flavor his menu with tasty bits you won't find anywhere else in Central Arkansas.
He brings a love for this region's abundant local produce, meats and artisanal products to Table 28. He's committed to sourcing local ingredients whenever possible and hopes his restaurant can continue to foster a strong relationship between local producers and the burgeoning Little Rock restaurant scene.
Table 28's menu starts with a dozen or so "small plates," a tapas-style selection ideal for sharing. We first sampled the "Quail Bird Lollipops" ($11) — ground, seasoned quail, formed into meatballs and sauteed until slightly crisp. These are topped with a rich and spicy Tabasco butter and gorgonzola fondue. The quail was soft and flavorful, the Tabasco and gorgonzola played together extremely well. A fabulous beginning to the meal. We continued with a spectacular oxtail dish ($9). Oxtail is a soft, fatty meat and, when properly prepared (as this dish was), it's delicious. This dish featured braised oxtail resting on a slice of crusty, chewy bread, topped with a horseradish cream, and fried onion strings. The garnishments were perfectly complementary to the meat.
But we were absolutely floored by the "Crispy Squid Filet" ($12). This was squid unlike anything we'd ever tasted. Delicate and yielding, its consistency approached that of a soft, melted cheese. Its flavor was mild, not fishy, and each long, thin, strip of squid was perfectly breaded and fried crisp. It came paired with a ginger-chile dipping sauce. Absolutely lovely.
Salads included a nicely done Caesar kale ($7) with parmesan, salty anchovies, and house-made croutons using Boulevard bread. Even better was our "Warm Bread Salad" ($8), with crispy sauteed cubes of bread, bright red and orange grape tomatoes, sweet onion, tomato basil and crescenza (a soft, creamy cow's cheese similar to brie). We've probably never wolfed down salads with as much enthusiasm, and it quickly became clear that greens are not an afterthought at Table 28.
When entrees were served, nothing could have prepared us for the presentation of the aged ribeye "Tomahawk" ($59). The size alone was staggering. This slab of beef is as large as your face and comes dangling on a foot-long bone. This is a celebration steak. It was decorated with thinly-sliced, fried onion rings, paired with a bleu cheese fondue. It was an absolute showstopper. Not only was the ribeye visually appealing, it was cooked perfectly, a gorgeous medium-rare. Don't be surprised if this steak becomes a local legend.
Our server highly recommended the "Tongue and Cheek," ($24) touting it as one of the chef's signature dishes. Here beef cheek and tongue are slow-cooked in red wine for hours until the mixture practically crumbles under a fork. The beef is topped with crispy fried leeks and horseradish cream, and finished with a handful of baby greens. It's no surprise that Chef Rains is particularly fond of it. Our sides included creamy buttermilk mashed potatoes ($6) flavored with boursin. The result is a smooth, buttery potato dish that had us singing its praises with every spoonful. The fried Brussels sprouts ($6) are studded with crisp bacon and toasted pecans. Frying the sprouts gives them a slightly burnt, nutty flavor and renders them tender and soft inside. We were filling up fast, but we could not stop eating them.
We finished with a fine dessert course. Most notable was the sticky toffee pudding ($8). This is a thick, dark, and sweet cake-like pudding, served warm in a deep ramekin. It comes topped with whipped cream, blackberries, and crunchy hazelnuts. It was bliss. The texture of the pudding was perfect — creamy, moist, a little runny — and the perfect end to an extraordinary meal.
1501 Merrill Drive
5 p.m. until 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 5 p.m. until 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Credit cards, full bar.