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42 gets a winning overhaul 

At the Clinton Center.

click to enlarge MASSIVE: 42's Arkansas Traveler Burger.
  • MASSIVE: 42's Arkansas Traveler Burger.

42 Bar and Table is an absolutely stunning space. The original design of the restaurant at the Clinton Presidential Center was classy and understated, but the overhaul that debuted just a couple of weeks ago elevates the entire experience. Forget what you knew about the old Cafe 42. Thanks to the deft eye and skills of local design guru Garry Mertins, the new and improved 42 Bar and Table is a completely different space and vibe. We were slack-jawed at the look as we walked in.

A new entry, just to the left of the entrance to the Presidential Center, leads to a waiting area that hints at the patriotic grandeur of the restaurant. The bold design has a flag theme — the blue background highlighting white stars as you enter, a pin light illuminating the 42nd star, logically. The opposite wall is bold with wide red-and-white horizontal stripes.

A long bar with punchy red bar stools hugs the north wall. An expanded patio features heaters and fire pit tables, making it a compelling spot from which to enjoy a cocktail, particularly with the view of the river and lighted bridge just above.

Decor and vibe can't carry the load if the food's not good, but no worries here. We visited first for lunch, and fell back on a usual light-lunch strategy — the soup, in this case a silky mushroom bisque that was deep brown with an intense mushroom flavor. The half bowl is a large portion, ridiculously cheap at $4.

Back a few days later for dinner, we chose two of the seven appetizers, all of which sounded great. Three huge crab empanadas ($9) featured finely shredded crab and corn encased in a light pastry. The flavors worked well together, but we recommend more salt.

The bargain of the century is the Southern chicken biscuits ($6), three gnarly cheddar (but only lightly so) homemade biscuits sandwiching small chicken filets, homemade bread-and-butter pickles and honey mustard. We would have loved this dish even without the small, lightly breaded chicken filets, which weren't as distinctive as the other three ingredients. When you think what you pay for a fast-food biscuit sandwich, you realize how amazing these are for $2 apiece.

We saw the Arkansas Traveler Burger ($10) go by, and it's crazy huge. The menu makes it sound fabulous: "1855 dry-aged ground beef with your choice of homemade blue pimento cheese" (or other cheese) with all the usual accoutrements on a brioche bun.

We opted for the fennel and crushed red pepper salmon ($25) with asparagus risotto. The fish was perfectly done as ordered — medium. The grilled tomato beurre blanc offset some of the spiciness of the red pepper, and the fennel sounded a perfect note. The risotto was creamy and subtlety flavored.

The chicken potpie ($14) is served in the dish in which it's baked, intensely hot. That made us delay in diving in, but it was worth waiting for: flaky browned crust, plenty of cubes of chicken breast, English peas, carrots and pearl onions. It's not a transcendent version of the classic, but it's a nice choice that likely will be popular.

The lime cheesecake ($6) was creamy and good, with a basil accent, something our dining companion enjoyed.

42 Bar and Table
1200 President Clinton Ave.
501-537-0042
dineatfortytwo.com

Quick bite

The new entrance directly into the restaurant makes the whole 42 experience less of a hassle, as does the free valet parking offered each evening the restaurant/bar is open. Take in the views from the expanded patio.

Hours

11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 5 p.m. to midnight Thursday to Saturday (kitchen closes at 10 p.m.)

Other info

Credit cards are accepted, full bar.
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