What a difference a recession makes. When Aurora opened, in 2003, it was the hot ticket in Dallas. In its tiny, sumptuous dining room, renowned local chef Avner Samuel presided over a staggeringly expensive French-based menu. But the deteriorating national economy took a fearful toll, and toward the end, poor Aurora was so empty that vultures were sitting on the chair backs. On July 31 Samuel pulled the plug, ripped out the velvet drapes, and, on September 13, reopened the slightly enlarged space as Nosh Euro Bistro. Good move: In less than two weeks, Nosh had more customers than its predecessor had seen in months. With Aurora and Neighborhood Services alum Jon Stevens installed as chef-partner, the new enterprise is a handsome, relaxed venue with polished woodwork, dark-chocolate banquettes, and an appealingly priced menu that’s a cross between an American chophouse and a French bistro.
To get a reservation at all, our party had to dine at 6:30. Rushing to order before the kitchen got slammed, we started with the escargot fritters, a mound of airy mouthfuls of chopped escargots bound by cream-puff batter; along-side was a mandarin orange-flavored tartar sauce for dipping. Even better were crunchy disks of parsley-and-cilantro falafel, a signature Samuel dish.
Fried to a deep brown on the outside but an astonishing grass-green on the inside, they completely reset my expectation meter for these Middle Eastern hush puppies (Samuel is of Israeli descent). The only appetizer that didn’t grab us was the rice paper-clad “spiced beef cigars,” which were undercooked, with a too-processed filling.
When we got to the main courses, the notion of a chophouse/bistro really took off. On the French side we found a fine crispy duck confit, its flavors concentrated from long cooking (a rootsy accompaniment of mashed cauliflower and leeks went with the meat beautifully, but the garnish, sweet Luxardo cherries, clashed). On the American side, we gravitated toward the eight-ounce cheeseburger, made from house-ground wagyu beef gilded with both Tillamook and aged Vermont cheddars. Personally, I wished for a milder mayonnaise (this one was mixed with sriracha and Heinz 57). And after trying to wrestle the monster into submission, I also wished for a bigger mouth. On the in-between side of the Franco-American menu, we loved the perfectly roasted Alaskan halibut, with its Mediterranean treatment of black olives, thin-sliced Spanish chorizo, and spicy peppers.
Given that our food bill was running an average of only $25 a person, we decided to go for dessert. The winey, cinnamon-rich apple tarte tatin was perfectly all right, but it took a backseat to an out-of-the-ordinary hazelnut financier. Boosted with extra eggs, butter, and sugar, the usual cakey confection had turned into something wonderfully gooey yet crisp on top (like, dare I say it, feather-light pecan pie filling?).
By the time we finished, the