Stephan Pyles triangulates on 3 continents, and the result shows great taste
As Stephan Pyles has gotten older, he has had to take his inspirations from farther away.
At first, the dean of Southwestern cuisine was satisfied with taking a left at Laredo, serving Mexican flavors touched by French techniques. Then, for his eponymous Stephan Pyles restaurant, he headed deeper south, into Latin America to flesh out his menu.
With Samar, he not only passes into other continents, he crosses oceans to do it.
The best of restaurants should be places of discovery. Among the vast sea of (good) Tex-Mex, burger, pizza, frozen yogurt and Asian food joints that litter Dallas’ culinary landscape, Samar is an oasis of otherness.
Samar (an Arabic word that translates as "conversation at night") may be Pyles’ most accessible restaurant, but also among his most exotic. There’s the outdoor hookah bar for a unique smoking experience, and the efficient, friendly staff in Nehru-like tunics scurry through the rich, velvety serving rooms. (Two private dining areas really give weight to the conversational theme with conspiratorial intimacy.)
Elements of the menu, especially those with Spanish origins, will look familiar — the tapas style "small plates," including staples like pimientos (blistered chiles — heavenly here); Mediterranean hummus and tzatziki; naan and tandoori dishes from India. The intimate, essentially casual setting (it’s on the ground floor of the office building) makes it equally friendly to foodies and officemates looking for a quick bite at lunch.
But this is Pyles, after all, an obsessive perfectionist with an enviable palate who always adds personality to his dishes. I’m a fan of the food at Bengal Coast, but its flavor profiles are Subcontinent Lite, dumbed down a bit for conservative American taste buds. Samar doesn’t really do that: This is authentic world cuisine painted in elegant brush strokes.
My Bengali dining companion could testify to the bona fides of the India fare. The haleem, he asserted, was identical in execution and comfort-food pedigree to the kind his mother makes in Dhaka during Ramadan — if that’s not an endorsement, I don’t know what it. But even a Westerner like me could revel in the well-seasoned and perfectly cooked meat and lentil dish.
Each of the papadum cones ($12) had its appeal, and the sampler as a whole was a hit of the table, from the vegetal freshness of the garbanzo chaat to the mung sprouts and tomatoes and the soft, colorful melding of the potato-and-pomegranate seed, served in a spicy wafer cup.The tiger prawns "Bombay style" ($9) — boldly served like crossed swords fighting over the okra salad and pear chutney upon which they perched — also pack a proper kick.
The Mediterranean items were just as good, especially the kofte lateen ($9), a croquette of pumpkin with peekytoe crab and caviar; and the veal tagine ($9), a bowl of couscous enlivened with the sweetness of medjool dates.
Whenever there are risks, there are apt to be misses; we found one. The tres vasos ($19) from Spain — a trio of small appetizer-y "drinks" — were hit-and-miss, at least if not consumed in the correct order. Best to start with the ruby red grapefruit with ginger gelee (a tart, refreshing amuse) before moving up to the shrimp with pumpkin flan (a seasonal, spot-on combo with a light-spicy dichotomy) before the heavy, maybe-you-should-just-skip-it foie gras brulee with Serrano ham (somehow, moussed liver doesn’t follow grapefruit well on the tongue; go figure).
But the postres are more than enough to whisk away any cobwebs: Turkish coffee to die for, and desserts (tiny, but delicious) like pistachio-rose glace, rice pudding and crema catalan, all of which delighted us.
And what’s not to be delighted by? Samar shimmers like a jewel in the dessert — and that’s no mirage. •
2100 Ross Ave. Open daily for lunch and dinner. 214-922-9922.
5 TOP TABLES
What defines a year of food? Restaurant experiences can fluctuate depending on mood, crowd, service and of course food. But meals these five restaurants, all of which opened in 2009 or late 2008, set the table for what the Dallas dining scene was like for someone who loves to dine out.
1. Five Sixty (pictured). Wolfgang Puck takes over Reunion Tower and transforms a shabby tourist trap into an inventive and spectacular fine dining experience with varied but carefully crafted dishes (courtesy of on-site executive chef Sara Johannes), from excellent sushi to a delicately dressed up lamb chop. This is one time "sit and spin" isn’t meant as an insult.
2. Samar. Stephan Pyles’ latest venture is his most accessible for economy-strapped wallets, but also among his most sublime, combining three different but complimentary cuisines into an exotic haven (on the ground floor of an office building!). See complete review above.
3. Dish. It’s difficult to separate the importance of Dish to the community (authentic fine dining on the Strip) from the deliciousness of the food, so why try? Just accept that trendy doesn’t mean superficial, and enjoy everything about this place. (Look for a full review later this month in Dallas Voice.)
4. Bailey’s Prime Plus. Pricey? Oh, yes. But the steaks at this flamboyant-but-feminine meat mecca are painstakingly prepared, and the by-the-glass wine list is reasonable and loaded with great options. For carnivores, it’s a palace of protein, and the desserts could even pique a vegetarian’s interest.
5. Grace. Although it opened in mid-to-late 2008, this Fort Worth eatery from chef Blaine Staniford really hit its stride with us in 2009, with Staniford’s signature creativity and a buzzy scene that is still intimate and not overwhelming. Along with established restaurants like Reata, Lonesome Dove and Lambert’s, Grace keeps us coming back to Cowtown to eat — and eat well.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 8, 2010.