April 2009

A Night at Aurora – Spring 2009


Avner announced he was off to Spain. I thought… “this should be good, and as it happens… I’m due back at Aurora after a bit of a spell.” Soon enough, Avner returned from Spain… with a fresh perspective, and ideas on how to share his particular penchant for excellence with an evolving clientele, in a challenging marketplace. I made a call and booked in for a recent Friday service. Neither for good nor bad, Aurora has evolved. A bit less austere, warmer, rather inviting in fact. Gone are the white tablecloths – instead handsome woods set the tone, while service remains impeccable.  I happen to be enamored of this particular incarnation. Happily, the new comfortable decor retains a favorite feature of mine… the proscenium:


The open kitchen at Aurora is gorgeous. Any armchair chef worth his fleur de sel would drool at the glinting copper and stainless symmetry. The evocative etched glass wall provides an elegant frame through which to watch Avner Samuel deliver often stunning food, fueled by his fiery passion for excellence – and his occasional, (in)famous fireworks. The following is a record of my evening close to the flame.

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Well, that’s all very dramatic – in fact, Aurora is anything but scary these days – Avner is as passionate as ever; his lovely wife Celeste – the consummate host. The food: excellent – with options for those feeling a bit more frugal than, let’s say, last year.  Lunch is a particular bargain (seriously). Don’t get me wrong… you can still ring up a tab if you so choose. It’s up to you. This evening, I documented a series of dishes offered for a special tasting menu (always my favorite subject) …you may commence with the drooling. (As I was “on the line,” many dishes are shown in progress – things move very quickly and plates are whisked away. Enjoy the show!)


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^Salt cured Merluza, Tomato Carpaccio, organic extra virgin Olive Oil and Basil Oil, Osetra Caviar, and Hibiscus Salt.

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^ Chilled Beet Parfait with Escargot Caviar.

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^ Farm Egg Custard baked in shell topped with Meyer Lemon Creme, house cured Salmon and Chives.

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^ Diver Scallops topped with Black Winter Truffles and Escargot Caviar; Clams Casino with Spanish Chorizo, Piquillo Peppers and Brioche.

Lobster_Pork_Cheeks Bouquet_of_Greens

^ Lobster, Pork Cheeks and Duck Confit with Truffle Foam and Veal Jus; Bouquet of Greens with roasted Heirloom Beets and Black Truffle Goat Cheese in Phyllo.

Dover_Sole Cocks_Comb

^ Viennoise of Dover Sole with Diver Scallop on Pomme Puree and Champignons de Paris Sauce (a favorite dish of mine); Braised Cock’s Comb on Fricassee of Wild Mushroom and Veal Jus.


Razor_Clams Grapefruit_Sorbet

^ Razor Clams with Wild Leek Flower and Sea Water; House made Grapefruit Sorbet on top of Mint Leaves and Pomegranate Seeds.

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^ A perfectly theatrical presentation: Chateaubriand for two finished off on Antique Iron.

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^ Foie Gras with White Chocolate Yellow Corn Sauce, Butternut Squash and White Truffle Foam; Grass fed Beef Tenderloin Rossini style, marble Truffle Potato.

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…not done yet…

Sea_Bass Kobe_Black_Vine

^ Sea Bass with Potato Churiso Croquette, Baby Artichocke, Baby Spinach and Pimenton Oil; Kobe Beef with Black Vine (bread dough with squid ink) Okra, English Peas, Pearl Onion, Onion Marmalade.

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^ Sea Bass with Beet infused Israeli Couscous, Swiss Chard and Brussel Sprouts.

Desserts Ruinart

^ A literal mouthful: Degustation of Aurora Desserts (Mascarpone Crème with Ice Coffee Granite and Lemon Gelee; Dark Chocolate Popping Bomb with Passion Fruit and Prickly Pear sauce orbs; Poached Pink Lady Apples in White Wine Syrup with Clove Honey Roasted Cereal and crispy Bacon Ice Cream; Baba au Rhum Monte Carlo with Pineapple Ice Crème; Brown Sugar poached Golden Pineapple).

Chassagne ChassagneCork

My date, the lovely “Jet,” maintains that she was entertained during the five hours of my hopping up every 5 minutes…. That is – with the help of some White Burgundy (I still recall the days before I became addicted… ignorance of this stuff was bliss), grazing on the occasional plate, and Celeste’s good conversation. 

Without doubt, this is seductive cuisine. I encourage the curious as well as past fans to take a look at the enticing lunch menu currently being offered, and make a point to put dinner on the schedule.

Aurora on Urbanspoon

Friends with Benefits? …Scavenging Wine with a Somm Buddy

I could stand the temptation no longer, and headed down to the 40% off sale at the closing Sigel's location at Inwood and Lemmon. But I had a fiendish plan – drag Scott Barber along to guide me through the leavings. Actually he twisted my arm – he wanted to go play. His theory was to fill up the cart – then we'd cull through that. My instinct was to grab all the white burgundy in sight (and there were still some amazing selections,) but I let Scott find me some excellent bottles without breaking my dwindling bank. Here's what we came up with:


Some highlights: Vieux Château Certan – Pomerol – Bordeaux 1996; Produttori del Barbaresco - Barbaresco Riserva Paje 2001; Merriman Estate Pinot Noir '06, 2000 Jayer-Gilles Cotes de Nuits Villages; 2005 Domaine Bertrand Ambroise – Ladoix Les Gréchons Bourgogne Blanc; 2000 Château Smith Haut Lafitte Blanc (Pessac-Léognan); Soter Brut Rose 2003; and a whole mess of other White Bordeaux, White Burgundy, and Sauvignon Blanc. It was a steal. To thank my partner in crime – we headed off to the Ginger Man for some Dogfish Head on tap. Excellent!


Taquería Jones: Tacos at Fuel City, Dallas

All about the setting, baby:


Cows Dallas

Gas station tacos on the outskirts of downtown? Cows? That's half the fun!


There's considerable debate around where the tacos rank – but you just gotta go down there once in a while.

Window Neon 

Choose from Picadillo, Barbacoa, al Pastor, or the Chicken or Beef Fajitas.

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To be honest, my favorite part of the trip is getting a "Cup -o-Elotes" while I wait for my tacos. It's a crazy-great bastardized version of the traditional street food. But instead of a corn on the cob with the usual condiments, this is all just mixed up in a cup. Corn, butter, mayo, crema, cotija cheese, lime, chili powder… damn. (Hey, you all know I'm all about Robuchon – but one must have an open palate).

Cart Elotes 

Pool …and of course, after dinner on the hood of your pick-up – you can take a swim. Greatness.

Fuel City on Urbanspoon

Underground… with Jordan Swim & Food Creates Community, Dallas

The lovely and talented "Jet" invited me to a seasonal "Underground Dinner." She had previously attended the winter addition. However, based on our normal dining shenanigans, she was concerned that I might not "get it."


I got it. Hosted by Vestals Foods, the Food Creates Community Spring Dinner was right out of a glossy spread in Food & Wine or Gourmet Magazine. Unpretentious; hosted in the backyard of a suburban Dallas home; mismatched dishes and glassware (each volunteer server brought there own)… just perfect.

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In my many years as a director/cameraman, I have rarely seen a more pitch perfect setting, less contrived art direction, or better on-camera talent – the guests were right out of central casting.


Behind the scenes: Chef Jordan Swim (below, far right) and crew pulled off service for 40 people out of a DINKY, old school kitchenette.

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Thankfully, the weather cooperated and we enjoyed a perfect spring evening – even the bugs were yet to be out in force.


^ L: laptoppetite, herself. 

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This evening was about the communal experience of sharing the joy of food, wine and good company. It was one of my favorite dining experiences in recent memory. I'll be back for more – I'll tell you about it afterwards… I want to keep my place in line.


First Look: Yutaka Yamato’s Sharaku Sake Lounge


I've been looking forward to the opening of Yutaka's sake lounge for some time, and was delighted to receive this gorgeous invite in the mail recently.

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There are some interesting design elements throughout, including a secluded cubby hole above that provides views of the space through slivered openings, veiled with reeds…

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Along with specialty sakes and "infusions," Sharaku features Kumamoto Oysters, Flounder Chips, Edamame, Pressed Sushi, and Moro Q
(bite sized cucumber cups w/ moromi miso) – excellent with sake.

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Sharaku Sake Lounge is now open and located two doors down from Yutaka Sushi Bistro at 2633 McKinney Ave.

Sneak Peek: Tei-An’s Rooftop Bar

Check it out – soon to be one of the sweetest patio views in Dallas:


Owner Teiichi Sakurai and Bar Manager Yosuke Fukuda are looking forward to having the rooftop bar up and running in about a month or so. The view is stunning. A private elevator inside Tei-An will whisk guests up to the new digs. Can’t wait.

^ I look forward to Yosuke serving me my Yamazaki 18 roof-side.

Spanish wines, clever cuisine @ the Mansion… Ole!

You know, wine dinners can really be a blast. I attend far too few, I have determined. One that I did make it to recently was the Ole wine dinner at the Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek


Patrick Mata of Ole Imports offered 7 wines – inspiring an ingredient driven menu highlighting traditional Spanish flavors prepared in the Mansion's contemporary American style. 

The Chef: Eric Brandt, Mansion Executive Sous Chef. Eric has been in the Mansion kitchen for 4 years or so, having worked with both Dean and Tesar… he has a unique perspective. And he prepared a delightful meal.

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^ Canapes in the salon: Macona Almonds and Jamón in gelatinized Quince; Baby Octopus, Garlic Aioli.


^ Tortilla Espangole "luxed up with Caviar"; and the Naveran Dama Chardonnay Cava 2005

A great part of the fun of a wine dinner is meeting others with similar passions. As unsociable as I perceive myself to be… after a "couple" – you'd never know. Off to the Chef's Room:

(I have to now disclaim that some of the following food pics are not up to the standard to which I strive – as the elegant lighting of the room and my abhorrence of flash photography conspire to frustrate.)

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^ Two views of the Warm East Coast Oysters with Spinach-White Anchovy Pesto – paired with Bodegas Berroia Chacoli. This was a stunning match.

We consumed the next course before I could get a decent snap: Pan-roasted Arctic Char, Fennel Purée and Blood
Orange – w/ Bodegas
Ladera Sagrada Godello “Papa” 2007

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Stuffed Quail, bitter
Greens, dried Cherries and Almonds: this was really delicious. The stuffing echoed the fruit of the Vinos Sin-Ley Rose
“Gordo” 2007,
while the smoke on the quail countered the sweetness.  (See what cool stuff you pick up at these things?!)

The next wines were Hornillos
“Perfil de Mibal” 2004
 Mather Teresina 2003/4
. This was a fun course:

ShortRib_01 ShortRib_02

ShortRib_03 Both wines had strong anise and leather flavors to them, so Chef Brandt served a Beef Short Rib with a sauce fragrant of fennel seeds, star anise and coriander; along with smoked paprika and bitter chocolate for depth and complexity. This was a gorgeous pairing – each wine matched perfectly, but with distinct nuance. Cool.

We followed with a cheese course of Monte Enebro, Roncal and Valdeon. Then Vinos Piñol Mistela Old Vine with dessert.

So… yeah – we had some great food and I learned about some really fine, extremely fairly priced wines. Excellent.


But, the real joy was sitting around after dinner and just talking about our shared passion to learn and experience.

Barber Brandt

^ Mansion Sommelier Scott Barber; Exec. Sous Chef Eric Brandt.

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^ Patrick Mata of Ole Imports. (The wines are available locally at Central Market.)

It was a pleasure to enjoy such a wonderful evening again in the Mansion's Chef's Room. Like-minded fans of this one-of-a-kind Dallas venue would be wise to enjoy a meal by Chef Brandt, and I believe if you'd like something a little unique, he'd be happy to hook you up. 

Why so Angry? Have a Burger.

With every season comes another chorus of "Where is the Best Burger in Dallas?" A new-on-the-scene, high profile food personality has recently renewed the debate.  Here is one of my favorites… as much for the environment as for the burger itself. The Angry Dog Burger.


As you can see in the pic above (from a recent late afternoon) – this place draws from every demo.


I find that the trick to make this burger really sing is to spring for some of the extra toppings:


Here is my "Jalapeño-Guac" version. I styled this myself… the burgers can look less than boring when they drop on the table… but stick all the stuff under the bun – and some salt (I'm ALL about the Snuffer's salty thing) … et Voilà! Good Stuff, Maynard.

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