WHY SAMAR: Everything is bigger in Texas. What an exhausting cliché. Alas, it’s also on the nose with Dallas diners. Our love of steakhouse culture and its monstrous portions has filtered down to every meal of the day. Remember that scene from The Flintstones where a rack of ribs—presumably from a T-Rex—is so large that it tips the family car over? Yeah. In Dallas, we’d eat that for a light breakfast.
So then what to make of Samar, celebrity chef Stephan Pyles’ new Arts District oddity? Officially, it’s not called a tapas restaurant. But portions are small and meant to be shared with tablemates. It’s not necessarily conducive to a business lunch with strangers or germaphobes. Then there’s the fare itself, a menu neatly divided into Spanish, Indian, and Eastern Mediterranean options. This is exotic cuisine with a delicate touch: pumpkin flan, Medjool dates, and zucchini blossoms. No porterhouse or creamed spinach here. Some Dallas diners might leave Samar scratching their heads. But I suspect more will be entranced. Adventure is the order of the day at Samar, and it can be quite intoxicating.
WHAT TO EAT: The small downtown restaurant is nestled in the corner of 2100 Ross. On one visit, we took a party of 12 for a business lunch. The eager staff cobbled together some tables along a banquette to no avail. We gave up on doing business and concentrated on the meal instead. And what a meal it was. From the Spanish menu, we shared peekytoe crab fritters with celery-citrus sauce, seared pork tenderloin with apples, saffron, and vanilla, and a tapas mainstay—potatoes and chorizo casserole—turned on its ear, this one featuring organic sunny-side-up eggs and Hudson Valley foie gras. It was difficult to share but incredibly indulgent as were the “Tres Vasos”: three glasses, each one layered with gourmet ingredients much like a parfait. Of the three offered, our favorite was the ruby red grapefruit and lemongrass-ginger gelée topped with feta foam. It was just the right balance of savory and sour.
Another visit found two of us sitting at Samar’s crescent shaped onyx bar—so sexy—mingling Eastern Mediterranean and Indian selections: Turkish pasta stuffed with beef and sizzling paprika butter paired well with tandoori chicken butter masala, a soothing favorite. The Persian spiced fried chicken elicited a response from my dining partner: “They look like Chicken McNuggets.” So true and, to be honest, I found them pedestrian as well.
Not so the chocolate samosa for dessert. It was familiar enough—a tiny chocolate stuffed turnover—but its candied rose petal sauce stole the show. The dish typifies Pyles’ Samar. This is a restaurant about discovery. If you prefer comfort and large portions, well … there’s always another steakhouse right around the corner.
THE FOOD: International small plates
THE COST: Average lunch cost $16 (based on suggested order of two small plates per person)
FULL BAR: Yes
THE POWER TABLE: Table 10, a four top with a great view of the room, or the Red Tent room, a semi-private room that can seat up to eight people.