Friday, August 8, 2014

A Quick Tour of One Eleven at the Capital.

There will be much written in the coming days about the opening of One Eleven at the Capital, the new restaurant within the venerable Capital Hotel in downtown Little Rock.  The establishment will open its doors to the public the evening of Friday the 8th of August, 2014... another landmark for a location with ties back to Arkansas's earliest restaurants.

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.

The first difference you'll notice upon entrance is the
new zinc bar.  Open mornings for pastry and coffee
service, in the afternoons and evenings it will offer
cocktail and alcohol service to the lobby, opening up
what's often been observed as a quiet space.  The bar
was carved from the old Ashley's entrance, a coat
closet and a portion of the kitchen's washroom.
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.
The new interior shifts the bench to a back wall,
removes the carpeting and replaces it with hardwood
and tile, removes many of the tablecloths and
adds distinctive minimal artwork for a brighter,
cleaner atmosphere.  Note the removal of the half wall.
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
silverware.
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
capers.  
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 Antune's simple, rich asparagus soup is full of cream and chicken broth,
and this simple shot warms the cockles.  The soup will be offered as part of
3 Cocottes, along with the beetroot salad and scallops, for $14 (though I
believe they'll be served in larger portions!).
Chef Antunes understands scallops.  The uncomplicated seared scallop here
is presented with sundried tomatoes and gnocchi, and it was marvelous.
Simplicity and richness abounds on the new menu, which combines the flavors
of Provençal France with American Southern notes, washed with Asian
influences.  The singular crabcake here is diminutive but free of fillers,
robust and delightful with the powerful punch of the coleslaw bed below. 
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,
too.
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,
delectable, irresistible.
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
dining room.
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.
Dessert should be a marvelous finale to a perfect dining experience.  On this
night, we were treated to samples of four different sweets.  This Popcorn
Panne Cotta with Caramel Ice Cream was easily the most complicated dish
of the evening, with bits of caramel coated popcorn and a tiny muffin included.
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.
Of course, there will be a lot of talk about the changeover.  I've had a chance to check out the menus and am excited, though I lament the demise of my favorite breakfast, the Delta Sunrise with its housemade corned beef hash.  But steak and eggs will be a breakfast option now.  Of course I will give it a try.

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.



This article brought to you by First Security Bank. For more great Arkansas stories on food, travel, sports, music and more, visit onlyinark.com.


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3 comments:

  1. Everything sounds delish! I really can't wait to try it out.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Looks absolutely divine. Really loved the post and will plan to go next time we are in Little Rock.

    ReplyDelete
  3. The pictures and descriptions have left me with quite an appetite! I can't wait to experience One Eleven at the Capital for myself!!

    ReplyDelete

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