[inline_image id=”1″ align=”r” crop=””]WHY NOSH: Avner Samuel knows how to play to a packed house. “Everything good?” Samuel asks as he gently pats shoulders and glad-hands a rapturous audience of well-heeled Park Cities bon vivants at his new Nosh. The peripatetic chef—who it seems has opened as many restaurants in Dallas as Elizabeth Taylor has divorces—definitely has his loyal and hungry followers. From The Mansion to Avner’s to Yellow to Bistro A to Aurora, Samuel is a Dallas culinary icon who refuses to sacrifice quality. That may be why the haute cuisine of seven-year-old Aurora— where truffles and champagne were as common as table salt and entree prices hovered around $50—recently transformed into the more affordable bistro fare of Nosh. A tight economy means tighter belts even in Highland Park. But true to form, Samuel doesn’t skimp at his handsome new European bistro. He just brings it down a notch with a menu that’s both familiar (duck confit, short ribs) yet still daring (escargot fritters, anyone?). In other words, very Avner.
WHAT TO EAT: This time, the talented chef doesn’t go it alone, recruiting chef Jon Stevens from Neighborhood Services. This infuses a welcome comfy quality to Nosh’s fare. Take for instance those aforementioned escargot fritters. Classic chef Samuel would serve the plump snails in a savory persillade sauce of parsley, garlic, and oil. Very traditional and still present on Nosh’s menu. In contrast, the nouveau fritters are whimsical. Light as air, dusted in parmesan, and served with a mandarin tartar dipping sauce, they’re pop-in-your-mouth fun.
Nosh also transforms the ubiquitous fried calamari appetizer into something special, tossing it with serrano and green mango marmalade. Crispy Pacific oysters with tarragon cream and Samuel’s delicate falafels dazzle as well.
Embracing its bistro evolution, Nosh’s entrées are a comforting lot. It’s the type of food you could eat daily: crispy duck confit with cauliflower leek mash, espresso braised short ribs with cheddar stone grits, and seared scallops with creamy pearl cous cous. The lowly pork shoulder was revelatory, a slow roasted wonder that fell apart at the slightest prick of the fork. Baby heirloom tomatoes and a grain mustard jus completed the cozy winter dish. Thankfully, Samuel and Stevens avoid dessert cliches. A daily pot de creme—on one visit lavender honey, another butterscotch—with homemade shortbread cookies replaces the tired creme brulee. Hazelnuts substitute for almonds in Nosh’s financier, a traditional French tea cake. It was a small, sweet gem.
My lone criticism of Nosh is its noise level. There’s little in the restaurant to dampen the volume of voices. An open kitchen doesn’t help. Or perhaps all that noise is simply applause for chef Samuel and yet another successful culinary transformation. Oh well. Just pop another fritter and enjoy the show. It’s a delicious one.
NOSH EURO BISTRO
THE FOOD: Casual European/Mediterranean
THE COST: Average lunch entrée price $14
FULL BAR: Yes
WHO’S THERE: Park Cities captains of industry
THE POWER TABLE: If there’s only two of you, grab a perch at the bar in front of the open kitchen. It’s a great show overlooking the