New Fayetteville restaurant
offers promising menu, service
Posted: September 2, 2012 at 6 a.m.
AquaFire Restaurant and Bistro blends class and comfort
BY AMBER KRUTH/NWA MEDIA
Considering that water and fire are the two most essential elements used in cooking, it is surprising that AquaFire has not been trademarked in the culinary field until recently.
Owner and chef Gerald “Randy” McGuffin and partner Sherri Simpkins came across the name by chance and it instantly struck them as the label for their future endeavor.
Picking a restaurant name time-consuming, emotional and critical thought process, not unlike choosing a child's name, Simpkins said, except the name must be unique to avoid copyright issues.
AquaFire Restaurant and Bistro recently held a private menu tasting, but it was more than just a sampling. Six courses were prepared for the 60 or so guests.
The first course, a popular stable in many restaurants, was a Caesar salad. McGuffin’s creative twist substitutes oven-dried croutons with toasted, yet moist, cubes of spiced-mango bread. Next came three appetizers of ample flavor — alligator quesadilla with chipotle lime creme; fresh, local trout crab cakes with shrimp tartar; and fried oysters with a fire-roasted green chile sauce.
The evening culminated with coconut-encrusted chicken served with a sweet potato hash, followed by Bananas Foster or white chocolate creme brulee.
Throughout the evening, the service staff remained attentive and professional while also exchanging casual banter with the attendees. McGuffin piloted the kitchen through the trial run, while Simpkins managed the dining room.
The tasting was a quick insight into the creative thought process of McGuffin. The AquaFire menu incorporates Cajun, Italian, Asian, French, American, Southern and global-conscious cuisine. Many restaurants would lose their identity with such a hodgepodge of selections, but with McGuffin’s experience, each element is mise en place. He concentrates on using local ingredients and offering fair-priced and well-portioned dishes that are diverse enough to please many palettes.
Guests are introduced to McGuffin’s culinary insight with the complimentary bread basket served with house-infused strawberry butter. The subtly of the sweetness is akin to the offering of an orange with ice water.
The new tenants are breathing fresh life into the restaurant on the corner of West Dickson Street in Fayetteville where the 36 Club operated for nearly 20 years before owner and chef Peter Steinhart elected to sheath his culinary drive and embark on a journey of retirement with his wife, Nancy.
The transformation from one storefront to the next occurred in an astounding nine days. The new tenants maintained the structure of the façade but invested considerable effort and money to scrape the slate clean and move in with conviction.
New flooring and furniture have revived the main-level dining room into a contemporary bistro setting. The retro-tile bar remains, but new Razorback-red stools offer comfortable seating for diners and drinkers alike. The second half of the restaurant will be renovated and reopened by the end of September, if all goes as planned, Simpkins said.