if you’re someone who likes to dine out now and then, you probably still remember the restaurant where you learned to eat like a grown-up. The place where you took your first sip of serious red wine and sampled dishes you’d never heard of. For more than a few Dallas gourmands, that place was the Green Room. A high-end restaurant with a rock ’n’ roll veneer, it was the essence of ’90s cool. And its Feed Me/Wine Me deal made gourmet dining easy. All you had to do was eat and drink what they served and look fabulous. You’re a lot wiser now, wise enough to know that you can’t go back, but what’s so wrong about revisiting the place where it began?
Those were the sentiments of Zenon Oprysk and Taylor Allday, who’d been managers of the Green Room the first time around. First they remodeled the space: bigger kitchen, better lighting, and no more lumpy banquettes. Then they hired chef Joel Harloff, a veteran of tony establishments such as the Landmark at the Warwick Melrose Hotel. His menu may not seem as radical as the old days—but isn’t that kind of a relief? It’s impossible not to love his halibut with lobster and succotash and his nouveau take on sweet and sour pork, with chard and roasted plums. And wouldn’t you know it? Deep Ellum seems poised on the brink of yet another revival. For now, finding a parking space is still a snap, and that’s definitely better than the good old days. 2715 Elm St., 214-744-7666. —T.G.
Don’t worry if you don’t get Nova at first blush. It’s an Oak Cliff thing. Hipsters in pageboy caps and mature gents in fedoras sit cheek by jowl at the bar. Neighbors greet each other at the door. Toddlers nurse sippy cups while their parents nurse a gimlet or two. It’s like a slightly sloshed neighborhood association meeting where everybody knows each other. Co-owner–chef Kelly Hightower presides over it all. A former OC resident, Hightower began his culinary journey at the Mansion before he crossed the Trinity to Bishop Arts favorite Hattie’s and later opened Kavala. That last one was a delicious Mediterranean cafe that never quite took root in Oak Cliff’s Kessler Park neighborhood.
Earlier this year, Hightower transformed Kavala into Nova, Oak Cliff’s first upscale pub. The change was an instant hit with the locals. The menu is friendly bar fare with gourmet flourishes: brick-oven-roasted pulled pork sliders, potato skins topped with house-smoked salmon and horseradish crème fraîche, three-mushroom pizza with white truffle oil. Heartier and more ambitious entrées include a Jamaican beer can chicken on coconut rice. Some of Hightower’s greatest hits from Kavala have made the journey to Nova, including the best hummus in Dallas. The chef’s secret to his silky, rich dip? “He adds a bit of yogurt,” confided our waitress. “But I didn’t tell you that.”
The menu changes regularly, but the vibe—cool and modern housed in an old Dairy Queen—is steadfast Oak Cliff. Nova might lack the buzz of its trendier culinary neighbors that lure the North Dallas “bridge and tunnel” crowd to the nearby Bishop Arts District. But that doesn’t seem to bother the folks at the bar. It just means more delicious hummus for the locals. —Todd Johnson
Casey Thompson was once a Dallas chef. She worked in the kitchen at the Mansion on Turtle Creek, was pals with Dean Fearing, the whole deal. She got hired to run the kitchen at Asian-fusion restaurant Shinsei, and there it was. Her happy ending. Then she went on Top Chef. She got famous. And then what she did next came as no surprise: she got the heck out of Dodge. She headed for Napa. Explored Thailand. Jetted to L.A. History, right? The last thing you’d expect was to see her back in Texas again.
But that’s when Fort Worth restaurateur Sam Sameni made an offer Thompson couldn’t refuse: to head up her own restaurant, Brownstone, a peach of a place in a prime spot in Fort Worth’s ultra-trendy West 7th district. He outfitted it impeccably, its retro-moderne theme executed in hues of copper, coffee, and gold. The façade is almost all glass, but the windows are softened by sheer bronze curtains, allowing discreet people-watching inside and out. The lounge beckons with bookshelves, table lamps, comfy couches, and throw pillows upholstered in burnished brocades.
The food is superb, with a menu that espouses hot culinary trends—such as regional ingredients, small plates, and herb-laden cocktails—but in a way that feels authentic, not formulaic. Thompson’s California sojourn clearly had its impact. Her food feels and tastes like something you’d get on the West Coast. She does an amazing beet hummus, a purée of chickpeas and smoked beets with a creamy texture and gorgeous deep pink tint. It comes with raw vegetables, such as baby carrots, that truly taste like they’ve just been picked. The rest of the menu is equally distinctive and creative. You’ll want to work slowly through it, item by tantalizing item. Grandmother’s biscuits, in a hot cast-iron pan, are dense-but-fluffy specimens served with venison sausage patties and not-too-sweet housemade preserves.
Crispy chicken livers have a crust that is as crunchy as corn flakes, with a fiery hot pepper-vinegar sauce on the side that will make you forget you’re eating liver. Pork and peppers combine baby bells, roasted until soft, with housemade cheese curds and pork belly made spicy-hot with a chili rub. Entrées such as roast chicken with grits or salmon with warm potato salad are big enough for two. But there are so many intriguing small plates that it’s tempting to skip the entrée and graze. Either that or just make a meal out of salads and vegetable sides, such as succotash with corn, lima bean, and tomato, or potato dumplings, sautéed until their edges are lightly brown. Miniature chicken pot pies, their crust a perfect golden brown, are a must. They come in a basket, nice and hot, and make us glad Thompson came back. 840 Currie St., Fort Worth, 817-332-1555. —T.G.
The days of paying $40 for an a la carte entrée in Dallas are over—at least as far as chef Avner Samuel is concerned. In July, he and wife Celeste closed Aurora, their opulent Oak Lawn eatery, after seven hard-fought years. When asked what he had planned, Samuel said, “I will create something that will appeal to all of Dallas. It has to be something that will make me happy.”
For the last several months, the Samuels’ newest creation, Nosh, has pleased plenty of palates. Located in Aurora’s old space, Nosh took over the shop next door and doubled the original seating capacity to 80. The once supper-club-chic interior is now relaxed and warm. A huge handmade wooden bar with stools anchors one wall. Yes, there is a big-screen TV over the bar, but for the most part, it’s closed circuit. From almost any seat in the house, you can view the action in the kitchen. Aurora’s shiny stainless steel in the stunning industrial kitchen has been replaced by floor-to-ceiling tile. They’ve added a row of chairs along the front of the kitchen. These highly prized ringside seats have been rated “L” and “V” for language and violence. “I have to warn guests who want to sit so close to the action,” Celeste says. “It gets crazy.”
Avner’s food has always been a great show. He will be remembered for his dedication to the fine art of elegant European cuisine. Some may call him stubborn—at Aurora he refused to serve chicken and insisted people try rabbit instead—but his perseverance is legendary. At Nosh, he’s not carrying the whole load; he smartly hired chef Jon Stevens, who once worked at Aurora. Stevens comes back to Avner’s kitchen from Neighborhood Services and NHS Bar & Grill.
The Nosh menu is Neighborhood Services meets Tel Aviv. You won’t find live scallops or caviar, but you’ll have a hard time deciding what to order, especially since the price point has been slashed in half. Only two entrées eclipse $20. Nosh does feature a few of Avner’s greatest hits, such as his spiced beef cigars with a refreshing spicy cucumber yogurt dip; a plate of three golf-ball-size falafel; and My Mother’s Salad, a shallow bowl of chopped tomato, cucumber, and green pepper dressed in olive oil and sprinkled with fresh parsley. Nosh also serves a stellar version of duck confit. Gently crisped skin gives way to flavorful tender meat complemented by a mound of cauliflower and leeks mash. As for new dishes, Stevens turns out a brilliant espresso-braised short rib served with thick cheddar-stone grits and an Alaskan halibut spiced with Spanish chorizo, peppers, and olives. And voila! You can finally feast on a perfect pan-roasted Fran’s Farm chicken.
Have the Samuels compromised with Nosh? “I will not serve mussels,” Avner says. “Everybody sells mussels. I am going to serve nothing but little neck clams.” Ah, there’s the Avner we know. 4216 Oak Lawn Ave., 214-528-9400. —N.N.