2601 Kavanaugh Blvd.
The chef of one popular Little Rock restaurant becomes the owner-chef of another, named for himself.
Tuesday through Saturday. Opens at 5, serves dinner until 10. Bar is open till ????
Expensive. Credit cards accepted. Full bar.
The Hillcrest neighborhood has acquired another high-quality, upscale restaurant. Ferneau opened around the first of the year in the Ice House Revival building on Kavanaugh Boulevard, in the spot where Andre’s used to be. Though Ferneau has been operating pretty much under the radar — no advertising, no sign out front, not even a phone number listed with information — it was filled on a recent Tuesday night, and deservedly so.
The artist behind Ferneau is the eponymous Donnie Ferneau, chef and co-owner. Previously, he was the executive chef at the nearby and popular Ciao Baci. His brother, Jeff, is general manager and co-owner.
Our party of four split an appetizer of bruschetta — five generous slices of toasted ciabatta bread with sliced tomatoes and olive oil, served with a mound of goat cheese in the middle. Eminently satisfying, though some of the slices may have been a shade over-toasted.
The soup of the day was butternut squash, and it could be the soup of any day as far as we’re concerned — creamy, peppery, with bits of squash floating in it. Very nice.
The special salad of the night was smoked trout on spinach leaves, in a Maytag blue cheese dressing that didn’t overwhelm the salad, the way some blue cheese dressings do. The salad included asparagus spears, pine nuts, green onions, cherry tomatoes and some other things we can’t recall. And it was big. Of course, it cost $15, which announces that it’s not an ordinary salad. The person who had it, and loved it, chose the trout salad and the squash soup in lieu of an entree. Sharing in the appetizer and the dessert, she did not feel underfed.
A couple of us had the smaller, tossed salads in vinaigrette dressing before our entrees, one of which was sake-grilled ahi tuna, cooked rare and served with a kind of barbecue sauce on a bed of jasmine rice. Another entree was Pasta Lindy — bowtie pasta with chicken, bacon and peppers in a rich, creamy sauce. As with most everything at Ferneau, the serving was generous. Much as we liked it, we couldn’t eat it all at one sitting and took some home for next day’s dinner.
Wall-eyed pike with pico de gallo sauce and guacamole on a bed of polenta was a special of the day. Superb, said our pike eater, declaring it to be among the best pike that ever came down the … well, you know.
Incidentally, before the entrees, we were served lime sorbet to cleanse the palate. It worked, but it took a while. The sorbet was frozen rock-hard (it was a cold night). Eating it without sending the whole ball flying out of the dish and onto the table cloth was tricky.
Only a couple of us wanted dessert, and they decided to split one, but when it came the other two pitched in happily. The bananas Foster could have fed six. A pleasant ending.
There’s an extensive wine list at Ferneau, with some uncommon listings. The service was excellent. We found the place a little noisy, but then it was full of people having a good time, so perhaps that’s to be expected.
It has to be said that Ferneau is on the pricey side, by Little Rock standards. With tip, the tab for a party of four was $180, and that was with one dessert and one appetizer for the whole group; one person who didn’t have an entree, and the party going lightly on the alcohol (four glasses of wine, one pre-dinner cocktail).