ELEGANT: The roast duck at Gypsy's.
Denis Seyer, one of the heralded folks behind the great Restaurant Jacques and Suzanne in the 1970s before — as all those J&S folks did — branching out on his own, is celebrating 25 years in the same location.
For 20 of those years, he operated Alouette’s, which continued the J&S tradition of Continental-style cuisine. But when Seyer sensed that the market had changed and French fine dining was no longer important, he switched gears, creating a more casual but still upscale spot he named Gypsy’s.
Celebrating those 25 years, Gypsy’s is offering a three-course dinner for a $25 fixed price, while its regular menu ranges from casual entrees to what it proclaims the “house specialty,” the very French-style presentation of sea bass with lobster béarnaise.
That alone makes us want to like Gypsy’s. A lot of people seem to like it — a midweek visit found the place close to full. You’re greeted by the friendliest of folks. The dining room setup reminds us of 1620 (another J&S spinoff), and retains some of Alouette’s fanciness. In fact, we entered cautiously, having dressed casual in shorts and dragged along a child, but we were encouraged immediately to come on in. Table service is helpful, attentive, and quick.
If only the food could live up to everything else. Some of it did it for us nicely, but a lot didn’t — enough to leave us a little disappointed. Tack on a bill that approached $100 even with a fixed-price dinner, and we were left placing Gypsy’s in the second tier in our personal hierarchy of the better Little Rock restaurants.
The sea bass and lobster béarnaise is as special as advertised, as rich and flavorful as expected. Some places have left us leery of sea bass lately; now we’re a fan again, and our next trip to Gypsy’s may see us repeating our order.
Desserts were also a big hit across the board. We ordered a chocolate crème brulee for the kid, called it pudding and let him correct us, dubbing it “candy pudding.” The thick, rich mixture was more suited for adults, though, and we had to patiently look at it while moving through our entrees.
Later, this group of sweetaholics would also enjoy the pistachio ice cream (which was the third course in the fixed-price deal) and the absolute must-have dessert at Gypsy’s: the hot fruit tart with Grand Marnier cream.
Now, for the not so good. The tiny circles of calamari would have been OK had they not arrived looking burnt, and pardon us if we don’t go for those tiny squids that are tossed in with the rings. The calamari wasn’t burnt after all, but just suffering from some oil that should have been tossed hours or a day earlier. We saw more evidence of this at a nearby table occupied by friends who ordered the coconut shrimp appetizer — it was also a deep brown color, and while its batter wasn’t overdone, its flavor was hurt by the oil, which must have looked like roux in the kitchen.
Hushpuppies cooked in the Delta are one thing, but please don’t serve up calamari and shrimp fried in dingy oil. (For a example of great calamari in Little Rock, try the appetizer versions at Ferneau or Vermillion Water Grille.)
Fortunately for us, our companion shared her lobster bisque, and the addition of sherry at the end, we presume, is what elevated this version over others we’ve had.
But while we feasted on sea bass, Companion was disappointed by a pork tenderloin with mushroom sauce that she said could have been had at any diner. The pork was overcooked, but still would have been tolerable if not for serious over-peppering. It was as if somebody had spilled black pepper in the dish. Just to confirm, we checked with our nearby friends, who agreed their pork too was peppered beyond reason.
Our friends also benefited from a serving mistake, getting our mixed fruit hot tart while we got their peach-only tart. We didn’t mind. The pastry was dessert perfection.
Hits and misses, to be sure, but one other likable thing about Gypsy’s is the selection of half-bottles of outstanding wines, including some boutique vintages we haven’t seen before. We tried the smooth 2003 Adelsheim Valley Oregon Pinot Noir, which had a pleasant nose and worked even with our sea bass. Plus, the bottle is a keeper with its fascinating label and portrait of a beautiful woman.
Change the oil, approach every dish like it’s the specialty of the house and not some throwaway, and the experience at Gypsy’s would rise another notch.
GYPSY’S GRILL AND BAR
11401 Rodney Parham Road
The restaurant is celebrating 25 years with a $25 three-course fixed price special with several choices, but Gypsy’s best dishes are on the regular menu. Where the menu says “this is our specialty,” “best appetizer,” etc., follow the recommendation. The lobster bisque, which does show up as a course in the fixed price special, has always been and continues to be a great starter.
5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
Expensive. Credit cards accepted. Full bar. Many half-bottles of fine wines available.