Winter is the perfect time to explore the natural stone shelters where native Arkansans once lived
What defines a romantic restaurant? We're not sure — dim lighting, soft music, small tables for two that promote footsy-playing?
Restaurant 1620 is a perennial winner in the “most romantic” category of the Arkansas Times' best restaurant contest, and it doesn't have any of those qualities — or at least not in greater quantities than other fine-dining restaurants in the area. Our party of two sat at a table for at least four; we listened to a slightly overloud sax player/singer all through our meal; and we had no problem at all reading the menu even without the candle on our table being lit.
What 1620 does have, though, is excellent food, a fine atmosphere, a good but not intimidating wine list, and, at least on the night we visited, first-rate service that made us feel completely relaxed and taken care of. Maybe that's why people find it so romantic. What good is dim lighting and soft music if your waiter is so irritating you don't notice?
We started off with libations: a glass of Wild Horse pinot noir for the lady and a glass of Caol Ila 12-year-old Scotch for the gentleman, which made him so happy he actually whimpered a little bit. We're not Scotch drinkers ourselves, but he used the words “smoky” and “peaty,” which we gather are good.
We were more than happy with our wine as well — especially after we ordered our appetizer, the goat cheese tart, which comes topped with apple-smoked bacon and lump crab. Through happy accident, the Wild Horse and the appetizer paired about as beautifully as we've ever experienced. We'd go back again just for that.
We normally don't get that excited about salads — if a course has to go, that's usually the one we choose — but 1620's choices were creative enough that we gave in to temptation. Our companion ordered the smoked duck salad, which can also be ordered in a larger entree size, and we tried the apple chip and bacon salad. Both were excellent. Even the smaller smoked duck salad was so large — and so good — that our companion took half of it home. The apple chip and bacon was a superb combination of sweet and salty, with a fantastic amount of flavor.
If there was a weak spot in the meal — and we're speaking very, very relatively here — it was our entree. We ordered the rack of lamb, which was prepared with a crust of Dijon mustard, feta cheese herbes de Provence and bread crumbs. The lamb itself was perfectly cooked, but the Dijon completely overpowered the other flavors in the breading. We scraped much of it off, and the lamb tasted wonderful. We weren't blown away by the side of sweet potato au gratin, and we love sweet potatoes more than just about any single food on the planet. Our companion, however, raved about his entree, 1620's take on the classic steak-and-egg combination: A New York strip served with pieces of Manchego cheese and a Spanish potato, asparagus and lump crab frittata. Both of us drank Rancho Zabaco zinfandel with our entrees, and it was a great choice.
(We haven't yet mentioned the bread, which at 1620 is a basket filled with a variety of fresh-baked rolls and slices. Our personal favorite was a marbled wheat and pumpernickel. We ate a whole thick slice, in addition to everything else. Leave room for it.)
We finished up the evening with a chocolate Jamaican rum souffle, and we're not even sure there are words to describe how absolutely worth every single one of those kajillion calories was. It was heavenly.
And as we said at the beginning, the service was perfect. Our waiter knew the menu, knew what he was doing and took care of us without hovering. We've rarely if ever encountered better.
1620 Market St.
Great food, great service, great everything. Save room for a souffle for dessert.
5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Expensive. Full bar, good wine list. Credit cards and reservations accepted.
Sorry, but I don't see how a return visit is going to make those soft…