In the heart of Little Rock’s Capital Hotel, a short walk down a hall from the buzz of One Eleven’s kitchen, is a cozy, quiet wine cellar, crafted with old-world charm and room for 20 to privately share in conversation about wine, food and lives lived.
Such was the scene during a recent gathering for a taste of several small-batch vintages from California’s Napa Valley, each paired with one of four courses of a carefully-crafted dinner by One Eleven Executive Chef Joël Antunes and his crew. Soirée was there to watch the finely-tuned kitchen serve with impeccible timing and flawless execution.
Introductions are held with the first taste from Chateau Boswell Winery — the evening’s host — with their Absolutely Eloise Cuvee Blanc 2013, paired with an amuse bouche (mouth pleaser) of salmon cones, followed by a blend of fava beans, tomato aspic and ricotta.
The first course brings together four consecutive years of Chateau Boswell’s Ritchie Vineyard Chardonnay — 2010 to 2013 — challenging the party to a range of opacity and notes alongside a fennel flan and crayfish combination.
Back in the kitchen, the culinary clockwork runs steady, each cook manning requests from One Eleven’s main dining room, occasionally gathering — seemingly on instinct — when it is time to assemble the next flight of texture and taste for the oenophiles in the cellar.
This time it’s for the second course, sweetbread and scallops with violin zucchini cumin jus and red pepper, paired with the evening’s first reds — Pinot Noir from Chateau Boswell’s Sunchase Vineyard Sonoma Coast 2013, along with their Absolutely Eloise, Rita’s Crown Vineyard, Santa Rita Hills 2013.
Chef Antunes monitors, teaches, facilitates. When it is time to assemble, he joins and participates, instructing his capable team, never missing a beat. The end result is a chemistry that permeates the entire staff.
The courses of this dinner were planned around the wines, each vintage’s charactersitics taken into careful consideration, says sous chef Marc Guizol, who has been at the Capital Hotel for two years. He worked with Antunes in London and Atlanta before coming to Little Rock. “It is a team effort, it is how it is done ... Chef Antunes makes the final call, but it is something we work on together.”
And work together they do as the third course is ready for plating, this being the main course. Prime New York Steak with Swiss chard cannelloni, roasted shallot, raisins and capers. The guests are treated to complementing cabernet sauvignon choices, Chateau Boswell’s Oakville 2013 and Reserve 2008. Here the flavors are the most intense of the evening, carefully chosen in sequence to ramp up the palates of the guests.
The fourth course, a raspberry mille-feuille with Absolutely Eloise late harvest 2013, is a calm step across the finish line.
Petit fours and coffee are available as the guests say their goodbyes, some staying for further conversation, the cellar walls listening. If only they could speak.