- NU-NESS: Nothing stale here.
Nothing is ever mundane with Nu Cuisine Lounge. From the experimenting by the barkeep while you’re sitting at the dark cozy blue-tinged bar waiting for dinner, to the novel selections offered on an ever-changing menu, it’s interesting and it’s fun. And, when you’re naming your leading restaurants in Central Arkansas, Nu must certainly be on the list.
For us, the fun is seeing what new combinations executive chef Paul Novicky has dreamed up. He changes the menu about every six weeks (the next change is coming after June), and he told us later that one of his personal rules is never to repeat what he’s done before.
So, for the next month, run and try these two entrée items:
Roasted pork tenderloin with braised vegetables in a grilled flour tortilla, with jalapeno Spanish jasmine rice and lime scented guacamole crème fraiche; or
Artichoke dust crusted tilapia fillet with gingered almond couscous and spicy cantaloupe/honeydew salsa and yellow pepper consommé.
Does the first one sound like a burrito? It looked and tasted like the greatest burrito or fajita we’ve ever seen. Of course, for $23.50 it’s going to be.
The staff, Novicky told, us, jokes in the kitchen about making burritos. And a customer, praising the chef and his menu one time, joked that he’d next be making tacos and burritos.
Don’t joke. Novicky, who learned fundamental French cooking under the great Denis Seyer at Alouette’s, will find a way, and it will be like nothing you’ve had around these parts.
Our two dining companions on a recent visit to Nu raved about everything. The pork tenderloin “burrito” was simply brilliant in presentation and taste. Now, we can’t say we went out of Nu saying, “Boy, wasn’t that artichoke dust just the kicker on that tilapia,” but we did note that overall it was cooked perfectly and, again, looked spectacular on the plate.
Our other entrée was the evening’s special: roasted medallions of duck breast with gorgonzola and truffle potatoes, beets (we normally hate beets, but not these) and, for the coup de grace, foie gras. Yes, an ample slice of fatty duck liver, seasoned perfectly, pan seared and presented on top of the duck. (We could have also had a foie gras salad with coconut fried pineapple, but we’re just now acquiring the taste for the French-style delicacy.) We’re not sure where else you can find foie gras around here; it’s a staple at Emeril Lagasse’s restaurants, and we’ve had it at one of his, and this matched it easily. We’ll admit, though, that maybe we’re getting more used to it.
Here’s to Nu and Novicky for offering it.
(We found out later the restaurant brings in 30 pounds of foie gras a month, a lot of it from Canada.)
Everything on the menu sounds good, which makes decisions difficult. Our waitress was well versed in all the offerings, including which wines to choose. The house’s pinot noir never seems to fail in matching the duck (we’ve ordered and enjoyed it three times there now since Nu first opened in fall 2004), while our companions were pleased with their Saucerre chardonnay.
Nu’s take on a caprese “Monte Cristo” salad was, like everything, something to behold, with tomato, fresh mozzarella and proscuitto on toast with a raspberry vinaigrette and balsamic syrup. An opening thyme and onion cream soup also was full of flavor and enhanced our taste for the coming duck entrée.
The dessert menu had not changed since our previous visit about a month earlier, so it gave us a chance to finish up covering the list. Our favorites are the baba cake and the éclairs with chocolate sauce.
To us, though, a trip to Nu isn’t complete without a stop off at the bar, either as a prelim or a night-capper. We apparently stumbled this night into the perfect time, as we were the only ones at the bar while the manager and staff were going over new combinations. Besides regular pours of bourbon for two of us (Knob Hill for one, Maker’s the other) and a cosmo for our third diner, we were the guinea pigs for some of the fancier drinks they wanted to add to their menu. Our vodka lover liked the pomegranate martini, another drink had a grape sweet-tart taste. Dangerous stuff. Get some music playing, like they have on Thursday nights and weekends, and it could prove to be a long next day.
It’s really too long for us between visits to Nu. We still want to give a few more newer entrees a spin, like the seared diver scallops with star anise infused honey and coconut milk coulis, or the spicy tuna filled Tasmanian steelhead salmon tempura with wasabi jasmine rice. Though it’s not shown on the menu, we’ve asked for and been served a sashimi plate of tuna and other fish at $15 a person. It was a meal in itself.
Bottom line: The intent of Nu when it was opened was to provide Little Rock with something that wasn’t here, with a big-city feel and an avant garde style of taking food to a different level. It succeeds and then some.
225 E. Markham St.
Chef Paul Novicky apparently has an infinite variety of ways to cook duck, all great, and duck is often a special. His soups are outstanding, too.
5 p.m. to 10 p.m. dinner service Tuesday through Saturday. 4 p.m. to last call (often midnight) for lounge.
Expensive. Credit cards accepted. Full bar. Chef’s table available for seating up to 10. Chef’s menu available with wine pairing. Complimentary valet parking available.