Magness Lake, in Heber Springs, is a magnet for swans
Eureka Springs is a weird place, right? We recently went with our out-of-stater spouse, her first trip to the magical, enchanted/haunted, gay- and biker-friendly hiccup in the northwestern fabric of Arkansas and had a lovely time. Her most astute observation: "It seems you're somewhere other than Arkansas yet simultaneously surrounded by Arkansans." We think she meant it in a nice way.
Le Stick is a solid addition to the food scene in Eureka. The dining room is nice and dim, peppered with neon here and there and facing a beautiful bar backed by blue neon and lit with tiny, tasteful chandeliers. The ladies on staff, servers and cocktail conjurers, wore corsets on top of their black blouses. We thought it bold, if a little outre. The wife wasn't as impressed. The overall mood inside is of a Las Vegas recreation of what a New Orleans restaurant might look like. But they make it work. It's comfortable, with a gothic glow.
We happened to dine on a night when the menu was set for a special occasion ($68 per fixed course meal). So we can't speak to the regular offerings, but we can speak to the competency of the chef and serving crew, who shone throughout each of the six courses. There were a couple of minor disappointments, but nothing that can't be overlooked with an impressive wine list and a strong finish.
The first two courses paled in comparison to the following four. Our first bite of the mousse-like salmon brandade with caviar struck us as a bit fishy, but not in the way, we think, Chef Donny Cummings intended. This was followed by a gazpacho soup garnished with a spare stalk of bib lettuce, cucumber and a single grilled shrimp. The gazpacho was thick, but tasted fresh. It was well seasoned, even spicy. The shrimp was spicy, too, and quite tasty. We just found the offering a bit stingy.
An oaky Edna Valley Chardonnay and a dazzling white Barons de Rothschild Bordeaux smoothed the rough spots of these first two courses. Our server said she didn't know much about wine before starting at the restaurant. She said she was much more comfortable making suggestions now — and has even become quite good, we'd add — after sitting down with the owners for a tasting course complete with descriptions of subtle hints and faint notes. We enjoyed a Grenache/Syrah blend and a Bila-Haut Cotes du Rhone with later courses and, though wine by the glass sets you back $10, the wine list is well curated. We didn't have one glass that wasn't well paired and delicious. We were also offered a taste when unsure, which is very kind of busy servers.
The next course featured an arugula salad with walnut-encrusted goat cheese and a semisweet and tart orange vinaigrette. The arugula was fresh, crispy, clean and peppery. The cheese was so buttery, sweet and delightful that even our cheese-hating spouse liked it. We love a salad that's not an afterthought and this is one of the best around.
The next course — champagne-fried lobster tail with a sparkling rosé beurre blanc sauce — makes us weak just writing about it. It was better than wonderful, delicately done, a four-star dish. And there's good news! The owners told a very pleased crowd at the end of the night that it would soon become a regular on the menu. We always thought it a tad lavish to fry lobster. Why mess with something that is going to be good just by being on a plate, boiled? We're happy to say we were presumptuous. The batter was light and provided the faintest crust. This fried, beautiful meat sat atop a wonderfully indulgent, buttery sauce that was perfectly complementary. We can't say enough about this dish. Really.
Another standout was offered as an "intermezzo." Our server placed a small spoon before us. In it sat a lovely ginger and jalapeno sorbet, dolloped into a bit of cucumber vodka. This was literally one bite of food, but not one we're likely to forget soon. The punch of flavor was phenomenal, heightened by alcohol and smoothed by its own coolness.
Next came pork medallions seasoned with a cocoa and coffee rub. The potatoes and asparagus were solid sides, but the pork was beautiful. The seasoning, which promised by its own description to be overpowering, was tastefully done. The meat itself was tender and perfectly cooked.
We were looking forward to the dessert from the moment we booked the reservations: a strawberry vol-au-vent, or puff pastry, stuffed with Grand Marnier custard cream. "Light" doesn't quite cut it. It was airy, buttery, creamy, orange-tinged and all-around delicious. A delectable end to a meal served and prepared well.
Le Stick Nouveau
63 Spring St. (below the Hotel New Orleans)
Anything on the wine list is sure to be a winner. If you're not sure what bottle or glass lines up with your tastes, the staff is knowledgeable. They'll point you in the right direction. After having the vol-au-vent, we'd trust this chef with any dessert on the menu, so save room.
5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday, closed Monday and Tuesday.
Credit cards accepted, full bar.