Sometimes a comeback and a retirement arrive fast on each other’s heels, like weddings and funerals in Hamlet. Within less than six months of opening his 21st restaurant, Avner Samuel is out. Not just out of Nosh Bistro, his posh outpost in North Dallas that opened last fall, but out of restauranting altogether.
A press release issued today states that Samuel’s retirement, effective immediately, will allow him to “spend more time with his family.” It also assured, “He intends to remain a key influencer in the North Texas dining scene as a culinary consultant and as chef for private events,” with Ryan Carbery continuing in the kitchen at Nosh. “Key culinary direction will remain[,] but food will be refined to appeal to a broader audience,” the release goes on to note. “Details will be announced in the coming weeks.”
This comes as little surprise. When I reviewed Nosh in the January issue of this magazine, I wrote, quite critically, that it felt out of touch, stuck in a time warp of ahi tuna towers and big menus heavy with the weight of Dover sole, Chateaubriand for two, and Osetra caviar (so much caviar).
Samuel had just returned from Israel, and his Mediterranean mezze were wonderful, his gem-green falafel some of the best in town. (These, I hope, will not leave the menu.)
Pizzazz, the kind of thing that impressed before, however, ruled in a way out of sync with a dining public more interested in things other than primo ingredients thrown around like blingy confetti. This mode of Continental fine dining, whose modus operandi, I wrote, is full of empty bravado.
“Here comes Avner Samuel,” I wrote, “back after two and a half years in Israel, returning to a Dallas dining scene he treats as though it has never changed—and never will. Nosh Bistro is the latest restaurant from the prolific chef, his 21st, this one in Preston Hollow, with shiny cars in the valet lot off Northwest Highway. It’s a new beginning but not exactly a fresh start. And like all his ventures, it’s an extension of himself.”
It’s important to acknowledge Samuel’s contributions to the dining scene—he was one of Southwest cuisine’s “Gang of Five”—and a contributor to the rise of Continental fine dining at a time when luxury meant white tablecloths and Champagne carts. It’s equally important to move on. (It’s interesting to note that this retirement follows even more hotly on the heels of the declaration of Stephan Pyles’ exit from the Dallas dining scene he also helped to create.)
One thing I will recall: On the last visit, I sat at the tasting counter, and the chef, who would leave a bit before closing, threading his way through the dining room with his leather jacket, made the most ethereal pile of perfect soft-scrambled eggs, coaxed into gentleness with goat butter and showered in white Alba truffles, of course. The most intimate, personal-feeling dish.
That I will miss. I hope—I imagine—he is making it for his wife and children. I suspect he is.