While on a mission to gamble my savings last spring, I made a reservation at Oaklawn’s new gastronomic establishment The Clarion so I wouldn’t be hungry after crippling losses on the craps table. The bugle is part of a $100 million expansion in Oaklawn announced shortly after voters approved a 2018 constitutional amendment allowing four casinos to operate in Arkansas. The expansion included a luxury hotel, spa and events center in addition to a food court and two restaurants, including The Bugler. The other restaurant The OAK room & bar is located in the casino.
The Clarion is located just outside the casino, accessible by stairs or an escalator from the lobby.
The restaurant announces itself with the statue of a bugle player in the hallway blowing imaginary musical notes directly into the inviting restaurant entrance with a row of tables parallel to the race track inside and on a adjacent patio. Pro tip: try to make your reservation at sunset. I didn’t, but noticed during a casino scouting report earlier that evening that I had made a mistake. Adorned with chic modern lighting and sleek restaurant booths, The Bugler feels both upscale and laid-back but doesn’t take itself too seriously. A large cartoon-style painting on the back of a jockey horse thinking about a huge Thanksgiving spread is visible from all over the restaurant.
Led by award-winning Executive Chef James Beard Ken BredesonThe Bugler seems like a natural fit for Oaklawn, a Hot Springs entity that previously wasn’t known for its culinary offerings, aside from its massive corned beef sandwiches that sell for 0.50 cents on opening day. of the race. season.
I usually try to avoid high carb finger foods so I can properly gorge myself on entrees, but I’ve lost control of myself eating complimentary hot bread served with creamy butter, buttermilk tomato and a balsamic reduction.
Such a setting called for a cocktail, so I tried The Bugler’s signature Manhattan, which uses barrel-aged house vermouth. It was delicious and gave me the fake confidence I needed because very soon I would be making bets that would strike fear into the hearts of Oaklawn mine bosses.
Changed my mind about ordering the charcuterie when the waitress told us we had to try the crab cakes (two for $21). The giant crab cakes were piping hot and had a nice crispy outer layer and were served on a tasty sweet corn relish with tarragon remoulade which I kept scooping up with my spoon after the crab cakes had disappeared.
My dining companion ordered a caprese salad ($15) to share with olive oil, aged balsamic and vine-ripened tomatoes. The tomatoes were wedged and served upright in a layer of delicious pesto with several fresh basil leaves resting on the almost hidden square of fresh mozzarella.
My girlfriend’s 6 oz steak was preceded by a presentation of a knife case in a sort of choose your own adventure. I ordered the shrimp and grits and was informed that it was not your typical shrimp and grits. It only made me want more. Surrounded by leeks and served with cubed pork belly, a fried egg and what I assume was a balsamic reduction, it was both salty and a bit sweet and somehow less rich than the prawns and grits typical.
The hot chocolate dessert in the oven was outrageously decadent: Ouachita chocolate cake at the bottom of a coffee cup is topped with piping hot marshmallow fluff that is burned and served with a cookie straw.
It’s a surreal dessert texture because the fluff springs back to its previous shape after taking a bite, making your bite disappear like nothing ever happened. I was full at that time. My partner too. But I kept saying, “Have you seen the fluff?”
“Yes, I see it,” my partner said.
“No, watch this. He’s getting back into place. Watch this,” I kept saying until the dessert was gone. I’d go back for that dessert alone.
I was so sated when I approached the craps table that I lost all confidence from the Manhattan cocktail and started making crazy bets and losing $100 in ten minutes. Went back to the room, turned off all the lights, and enjoyed the nighttime view of the runway with a $14 room service cocktail. I highly recommend it.