Samuel’s replacement for Aurora re-invents the euro bistro with style
ARNOLD WAYNE JONES | email@example.com
Nosh, with its well-stocked bar and dark woods, does resemble a Hyde Park tavern. But don’t pigeonhole the OakLawn restaurant, which bills itself as a “Euro Bistro,” in the gastropub genre. It has the look of it, but the feel of something more French. Think New York’s Pastis and Balthazar, or even Dallas’ own Café Toulouse with more polish. Or just think of it for what it really is: Arguably the best new restaurant in Dallas this year.
Such kudos are not new to Avner Samuel, Nosh’s chef-owner. Avner’s and Bistro A had great followings, as did his last restaurant, Aurora, which occupied the same space as Nosh for more than six years. An avatar of fine-dining,
Aurora had a rep (unjustified in my opinion) for being overpriced. It was expensive, but the execution, food quality, service and atmosphere were all exquisite. You got what you paid for.
But it was, admittedly, a tad fussy. It was a quiet restaurant, with padded, camel-colored suede walls and few tables.
You wore a coat and tie, even it they didn’t require it. Aurora was event dining, meant to impress.
Nosh is Aurora’s spoiled, rocker li’l brother. The dining room is bigger (they took over the space next door) and there are more tables. The wine list — a well-thought-out cross of reds and whites, bottles and judicious by-the-glass entries — is reasonably priced, as is the entire menu. The most expensive items (halibut and beef tenderloin) top out at $25 — and they are the only things over $19 aside from specials. The hum of diners fuels the experience without drowning out yours — it has buzz, from lunch to dinner.
The menu doesn’t change from lunch to dinner, either in selection of prices. I kinda like that; it means you can enjoy a croque-monsieur sandwich ($10) as a warm slice of Euro-comfort food during the day or as a casual dinner meal. (Either way, try it: crisp bread houses gooey gruyere cheese oozing over Bayonne ham with a béchamel sauce.)
Probably the best appetizer on the regular menu are miso Berkshire pork ribs (and at $6, a bargain). Two bones, crossed like lush little swords, hold the meat in place only until it touches your lips and falls into your mouth, the sweet-salty glaze of miso cutting the delicious fattiness of the pork.
The spiced beef “cigars” ($5) are more panatela than Churchill: thin tapered wands, like flauta straws, served with a pear-saffron marmalade — perfect for noshing on, which is exactly the point. Nosh’s Egyptian falafel ($6) presents a surprise when you cut into it: A breathtakingly vivid splash of parsley-green. That keeps the inside exceptionally moist, even as the crust of chickpeas is browned and crunch. Tahini sauce on top offsets the peppernata relish beneath.
A good chicken dish is foundational to a skilled chef, and aside from a excess of watercress obscuring its beautiful finish, the pan roasted “native” chicken ($17) could be the best evidence of Nosh’s bona fides are something more than an agreeable lunch spot. The bird could not have been more precisely cooked, with bacon jus and buttermilk potatoes turning a home cookin’ staple into a highlight of the menu.
Samuel bragged that his version of duck confit ($15) is the best in Dallas. If it’s not, it’s damned close: Pitch black cherries dot the bowl, their ripe sweetness working with the saltiness of the duck and a soothing a mash of cauliflower and leek. The roasted beet salad ($9) is delicious, as are the diver scallops ($19), served on large pearl couscous and intensely sweet oven-dried tomatoes and the espresso braised beef ribs ($17), with a pungent delight from coarse stone cheddar grits.
Samuel and his business partner, chef Jon Stevens, rotate specials every few days; I’ve been in three times when the Kobe meatballs were on the chalkboard, and should work their way onto the regular menu.
You can get some unannounced specials sitting at the chef’s table overlooking the kitchen. They float some unique dishes and works-in-progress to willing diners, such as chef Stevens’ version of a terrine, strata of foie gras and chicken in aspic — a rich but refreshing and not overly heavy protein bomb. One night, Samuel even experimented with unusual Japanese fish given to him by Tei An chef Teichii Sakurai. It was a discovery for both of us, with the crazy-fresh hobo fish’s soft flesh a wonder of flavor.
Desserts soar. My dining companion declared the apple tarte Tatin ($7) the best he’s ever had; it’s difficult to argue with that, as it arrived, bronzed and shiny, aloft on a disk of flaky pastry and topped with vanilla ice cream. The soufflé cake ($7) is atypical of the familiar molten lava concoction that has become as overused as crème brulee: It’s velvety, evaporating on the tongue. The financier ($7) gets points for a distinctly salty caramel amid the brittle crunch of hazelnut.
Service isn’t white-glove like Aurora, but it’s friendly and efficient. There’s a new energy in the space: Same chef, same address, new life. I can’t get eNosh.
5 TOP TABLES
From a food standpoint, 2010 was the year of simple elegance.
When I do this “best of” list, I always steer clear of calling it “top new restaurants.” After all, restaurants change, experiences differ and eateries are hard to compare anyway. How do you rotate The French Room alongside an excellent taco stand? Is a sushi chef’s skill at cutting fish better or worse than a steakhouse’s selection and ageing of the right cuts of meat? Great service can’t make bad food good, but can bad service ruin an otherwise terrific meal?
Still, it’s unusual that the highest level of fine dining options did not stick out to me so much in 2010 as did genres that turned their styles into exquisite meals. I remember them all. (Some restaurants that opened after October are not considered for this list and will be eligible next year.)
So here are my 5 Top Tables of 2010:
1. Nosh. Handily the favorite. See review.
2. Saint Ann. This converted schoolhouse has personality to spare, with reasonably priced dishes, agreeable service and a slick, relaxed atmosphere. (Read the full review next month in the Voice.)
3. Urban Taco. The expanded menu at the new location on McKinney improves upon the original in every way, with spicy salsas, fast service and well-rounded entrees, all at good prices.
4. Maximo. This elegant updating of authentic Mexico City cuisine from the chef responsible for Trece improves up from that restaurant with exceptional dishes anda great wine list.
5. Seasons 52. Anyone who has experienced this Florida mainstay knows the specialty is tasty fare at controlled calories, and the first Texas opening continues the philosophy. Never miss the mini-indulgences, pictured — having three or more (which is easy to do) may bust the diet, but they are so worth it.
Nosh Euro Bistro
4216 Oak Lawn Ave.
Open for lunch and dinner Monday–Friday at 10 a.m., dinner only Saturday, 5 –10:30 p.m. 214-528-9400. NoshEuroBistro.com
Buzzy, fun, elegant and surprisingly buoyant, this take on the European cafe is just what Dallas’ dining scene needed.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 31, 2010.