Much will be said for the passing of Ashley's at the Capital, the longstanding formal dining experience that saw one rebirth after another, most notably with the reopening of the restaurant and hotel in 2007 under the guidance of Chef Lee Richardson. For those who are wondering, after an evening with fellow food writers and photographers hosted by One Eleven at the Capital, Richardson's lingering presence has finally been excised from the eatery, and the remarkable French chef Joël Antunes can assuredly step into the pantheon of Little Rock's celebrated cheftorium of excellence.
Photographer Grav Weldon accompanied me, but his assignments have taken him elsewhere, so I offer to you at this juncture a chance to step inside the new restaurant and view the changes that first meet the eye, along with a sampling of the many dishes Chef Antunes shall offer. Dinner service begins the 8th, with breakfast to follow on the 9th, lunch on the 13th and finally Sunday brunch on the 17th.
|In the interest of showing change, here's an image Grav|
Weldon took of the previous Ashley's interior, complete
with dividing half-wall and mirrors. Note the lush carpeting.
|Tilework around the massive original support pillars|
echoes the reclaimed tilework in the Capital
Hotel's distinctive lobby.
|The semi-private dining nooks are still present,|
though the ornate chairs and upholstery have been
replaced with simple lines and a gray-brown color
palate that allows the consumables to better
draw the eye.
|Beverage service can now be conducted from|
an alcove in the main dining room, rather than
back behind the kitchen wall.
|Some tablecloths remain, especially for night service, and|
the rounds for entertaining larger parties remain.
|The original lush, heavy curtains have been replaced|
with simple roman blinds and screens, brightening
the north-facing dining space.
|Of course, One Eleven retains the quality of its predecessor,|
utilizing fine linens, crystal, china and hand-polished
|Bread service in woven baskets add a rustic touch. These rolls, cheese|
straws and lavash are baked fresh throughout the day.
|We were introduced to many of Chef Antune's|
new items during the dinner. This signature
edamame bean hummus with soda cracker
combines Arkansas-grown beans with
Middle Eastern flare while retaining the
famed Capital Hotel soda cracker.
|The hummus will be served as tapas during evening meals.|
|The Norwegian House Smoked Salmon will be one of several|
small plates offered with dinner selections.
|This fine morsel was served on a small pile of chopped cucumbers with dill.|
|Grav's favorite dish is this Caponata, a marinated Sicilian eggplant dish with|
|Simple yet rich, small yet elegant, a fine caponata.|
|Grav even had to pose.|
|This striking tiny salad isn't heirloom tomatoes, like I first thought. It's an|
organic beetroot salad with burrata cheese. I don't like beets, but I'd eat this.
|A fine Eggplant Baba Ganoush with Lavash.|
|Chef Antunes understands scallops. The uncomplicated seared scallop here|
is presented with sundried tomatoes and gnocchi, and it was marvelous.
|Still, as delightful as everything else I've sampled has been, my favorite by|
far has been the perfectly executed Oysters Rockefeller -- fresh and delicate
oyster upon a bed of celery and spinach under that crowning golden
melt. Truly remarkable.
|One could dine upon this spring risotto, bedecked in peas, zucchini and|
broth, and be fulfilled.
|The one dish I could not sample was this Berkshire pork cheek with pasta.|
It was beautiful and it smelled lovely, and Grav was delighted to have mine,
|Fortunately, I could enjoy the next dish, the Organic Belle Evans Farm Roasted|
Chicken with Zucchini, Parmesan and Lobster Mushrooms. Once again, a
delightfully rustic dish.
|I would be remiss if I didn't mention the cheese straws again... perfect,|
|Before the dessert course, I headed back to the kitchen to see the changes|
made there... which include far more counter space for plating.
|Small tasting-size dishes, delightful pots and|
ramekins will define much of the appearance of
One Eleven's service.
|A new kitchen layout eliminates blocked-in spaces and allows|
for more sous to produce dishes at a time.
|Chef Antunes is a fan of finishing spices, as evidenced by this platter of|
various salts, peppers and seasonings at the plating station nearest the
|I never thought I'd be excited by the mere sight of cream before.|
|Fresh made breads, a hallmark of Ashley's, will remain an important element|
for service at One Eleven.
|My adventure behind the kitchen doors offered me a glance of what was|
soon to come.
|As with the new serviceware, elaborate yet insightful garnishes will be part|
of the new brand celebrated at One Eleven.
|The interpretation here of raspberry cheesecake is excellent - a strong|
vanilla bean infused cheesecake base topped with raspberry gelee, crumbled
crust and jelly-filled raspberries.
|True to fine French cooking, Chef Antune's Chocolate Soufflé |
with Vanilla Chantilly Cream is a masterpiece.
|It was so marvelous, I had to shoot it twice.|
|And finally, doughnuts, delightful tiny doughnuts to round out a marvelous|
dinner. These will be served as a dessert with roasted apples and toast
ice cream... I'm hoping they'll be offered at the bar in the morning with hot, fresh coffee.
You will find out lots in the coming weeks on One Eleven at the Capital through its Facebook page. Be sure to share your comments.