EATS & DRINKS
By Case Dighero | Photos by Meredith Mashburn
101 W. Johnson Ave., Ste. B, Springdale | (479) 334-7777 | www.bienvenuerestaurant.com
Bienvenue represents something special for Northwest Arkansas: a new French restaurant owned and operated by a New Orleans chef, serving traditional French bistro cuisine. It’s a project helmed by chef and owner Will Mauk, who moved to the area nearly a decade ago to chase the dream of owning his own restaurant, his way.
Like most chefs, Mauk has worked for a lot of different people and restaurant entities during his 20-year career: notable names in New Orleans as well as the Inn at Carnall Hall on the University of Arkansas campus and the now-closed Foster’s Pint & Plate. His thoughtful, accessible and reflective demeanor echoes in his cuisine, and although his food is dynamic and delicious, his philosophy for relationships and technique that strive to bring perfection to the table make his vision quite uncommon. He works passionately to care for client and staff alike, understanding that nurtured relationships ultimately lead to perfection in identity and execution of food.
Chef and owner Will Mauk
Mauk, along with business partner Bill Adams, best known as founder and owner of The Grove Comedy Club, opened the doors in late July 2023, carving out a strong reputation for Bienvenue as the region’s only truly traditional French bistro. The restaurant has 40 seats, a well-equipped bar, whip-smart service and a genuine reverence for food. He’s less about, “Look at what I’ve done,” and more about, “Look at what I’m about to do.” One can expect great things from Mauk’s passion and attention to detail when paired with Adams’ good-natured, tried-and-tested business acumen.
Work culture is paramount to Mauk’s philosophy at Bienvenue. Equal value is placed on every single staff member, a “one for all and all for one” mantra that runs seamlessly from the executive chef all the way to the dishwasher. This ensures that every client is guaranteed a singular, meticulously executed experience by the collective staff.
Roasted Beets with Goat Cheese
Boulevardier and French 75
Beef Short Rib Bourguignon
Much like the fare and service, the ambience of Bienvenue is equal parts accessible, welcoming and exhilarating. The quaint, well-equipped bar is perfect for either grabbing a drink or a quick nosh with friends. The stark white walls are adorned thoughtfully with framed impressionistic works, balanced with wood beams and muted lighting that makes it easy to settle into slow, important dinners for groups or couples alike. The service staff is scrupulous in its attention to detail without being intrusive.
At the bar, I highly recommend the Boulevardier ($13), a stirred rye whiskey-based negroni that is as ethereal at the last sip as it is at the first; and of course, the classic French 75 ($12), Garden Club gin quietly percolating with freshly squeezed lemon juice and fizzy champagne. At many of my favorite restaurants, I love impromptu snacking at the bar or lounge, and Bienvenue is ideal for such an exercise when ordering alone or before dinner from the Small Plates menu. Try the delectable Onion Soup ($11), perfectly charred onions swimming in a rich beef broth, topped with melted provolone cheese draped over buttery croutons; or indulge in the decadent Seared Foie Gras ($18), with toasty pear, gingerbread and Madeira gelee; and try my favorite, Escargot en Croute ($14), earthy, briny snails enveloped in a warm garlic butter, housed in delicate puffed pastry.
Onion Soup and Lamb Shank Cassoulet with Bread Service
Escargot en Croute
Seared Foie Gras
Fruits de Mer with Pasta
Creme Caramel Grand Merier Soaked Berries
Of course, whether at the bar or at a table, it would be a regrettable offense if one failed to order the Bread Service ($9) and the wonderfully delicious Roasted Beets with Goat Cheese ($7) from the Supplementaire section of the menu — both fantastic additions to the meal.
Still, the slowly crafted dinners are a thing of beauty at Bienvenue. I long for the French archetypes that Mauk has painstakingly created with his own sensibility, especially the Beef Short Rib Bourguignon ($40), braised for hours in red wine, creamy pommes puree, roasted root vegetables and meaty trumpet mushrooms. The rich, wine-infused beef unfurls at a mere glance, the epitome of true French bistro fare that simultaneously fulfills and exhilarates. Seafood lovers will swoon over the Fruits de Mer with Pasta ($42), carefully braised octopus stratified with blue crab, wobbly sea scallops, and shrimp drenched in brothy chili and garlic lemongrass flavors.
Equally impressive is the Striped Bass ($38), delicate, flaky fish ascended with lump crab, braised endive and tomatoes nestled with exotic saffron gnocchi blanketed by a crisp Chablis sauce. And I’m crazy in love with the Lamb Shank Cassoulet ($36), tender braised lamb leg with stewed white beans, Merguez sausage, pearl onions, smoked ham hocks and heirloom carrots.
Indeed, the Bienvenue experience embraces both the art and science of traditional French cuisine with a passion that could only come from a New Orleans chef living in Northwest Arkansas in this day and age, and aren’t we lucky to also be living and eating here in this day and age? Bon appétit!