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Savor the Flavor with Jim White, “The Wining and Dining Guy” July 22, 2010

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Fond farewell to Aurora with a toast from Alsace

We’ve told you Chef Avner Samuel is closing Aurora at the end of July.  It’s the usual drill:  “the economy, stupid.”  Truth be told, after dining there this week with the delightful heir to the Alsatian wine estate Helfrich Winery, Aurora is too damned expensive.  No wonder it could not sustain in a down economy.  With most appetizers around $20 to $25, and entrées closing in on $60, who but Mark Cuban could afford to eat there regularly?  And, it’s not Mark’s style anyway.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  Avner Samuel is a GIFTED chef.  His cuisine is certainly worth any price he wants to put on it.  Lord knows, the ingredients he uses are top notch,  and therefore, very costly.  But in the spirit of Evita, don’t cry for Avner DFW! He’s had a great run with Aurora and we salute him for the culinary innovation, and for creating a masterpiece.  Now, having said all that, his wife Celeste gave us some very good news as we were coming into the restaurant for what will be our farewell dinner at Aurora (more on that in a second):  She and Avner will take a bit of time off when the Aurora doors close, and start work on a NEW concept.  They have something casual in mind (simpler fare, lower prices).  And, more good news?  If you know where Aurora is, you won’t have to hunt for them.  They plan to keep the same space on Oak Lawn and EXPAND.  They will take over the space next to them.  More tables and a lower price point should be a boon to their business.  Let’s hope so.  We don’t want a chef as talented as Avner doing catering jobs.  They promised to let us know so we can alert you when the concept is finalized and they are ready to open.  Stay tuned.

The “last supper”,  as a few of us characterized our meal at Aurora this week, was to “taste and see” (keeping with the theme and borrowing from Psalms) great Alsatian wines from Helfrich and meet lovely winery principal Anne-Laure Helfrich.  The 23 year old gives wine drinking millennials a good name.  She is smart as a whip and knows her product.  It doesn’t hurt that she reminds me of Audrey Hepburn in “Daddy Longlegs”.  Her family’s claim to fame is Riesling, Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer, of course.  You’ll find the wines very approachable and affordable.  Their everyday wines are priced around $15, and the divine grand crus retail for around $25.  Alas, since you couldn’t join us for dinner at Aurora, here are some photo highlights.  a votre santé and bon appétit!

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Savor the Flavor with Jim White, “The Wining and Dining Guy” July 6, 2010

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Follow the bouncing ball (or musical chef chairs)

Whew!  Whadda weekend!  There were fireworks galore–both inside and outside. Especially in Dallas restaurant kitchens.   While you were off having a grand Fourth of July celebration (I certainly hope so), here’s what was happening with the fates and fortunes of some of our favorite culinary types (chefs).

In the interest of time, let’s see if I can condense all this for you:  Dali is gone.  Aurora soon will be.  Paul and Avner are tired.  Dallas Chop House is sans executive chef.  Kenny is tired of John.  New chefs for The Green Room and Villa-O; Joel and Kenny have new gigs (yea!).  Whoa! This is too condensed. Even for the attention-span challenged (and you know who you are).  Here’s what we know today:

There is good news, in the wake of the sad news over the weekend that Paul Pinnell is closing Dali in One Arts Plaza.  Dali executive chef Joel Harloff is going to The Green Room as executive chef!  This is doubly good news, because the CIA trained chef, who has worked in some of the top kitchens in Dallas (Melrose Landmark, Nana, Mi Piaci), will help speed up the renaissance of the cool Deep Ellum restaurant.   The restaurant is located at 2715 Elm Street, Dallas, Texas 75226. For more information, please call 214.744.ROOM.

Now, as for Dali proprietor Paul Pinnell.  The press release sent out to announce the closing of Dali was a very positive spin, but short on specifics.  He noted that after taking a break he would return “to work in Dallas’ vibrant restaurant scene with plans of future innovation.”  According to Nancy Nichols on her D Magazine blog, she spoke with David McMillan (from Screen Door across the Plaza) who says Dali is closing “temporarily”.  We’ll keep you posted on this one.

As we continue making lemonade and chicken salad out of the restaurant news.  Word came just before the holiday that Dallas Chop House chef Kenny Mills had left the restaurant.  It turns out there was friction in the kitchen with John Tesar (culinary director for Dallas Restaurant Group).  See details below.  Kenny is bouncing to Villa-O as of today to start his new job as Executive Chef!  His and John’s comments on the situation (again courtesy of Nancy):

“I put in my notice two weeks ago,” says Mills. “They [DRG] fired my sous chef and put in one of Tesar’s guys. I came in on June 1 and there was a whole new crew in my kitchen.”

“Tesar wouldn’t let me run my kitchen. He told me I was an over-the-hill no talent cook. Life is just too short to work with people I don’t like.”

John Tesar commented, “This is just as big a shock to me as it is to you. I had no idea.”

We’ll be getting more news on future concepts from DRG and hearing about Kenny’s plans at Villa-O, but don’t expect too many more details on the breakup.  Sometimes best to just move on.

We reported last week that Avner Samuel has decided to close Aurora at the end of July.  The stress of the economy and the rigors of running a small, upscale restaurant have caused him to rethink his priorities.  Avner says he is emotionally and physically drained and needs time off to recharge.  Look for the lion of the kitchen to come roaring back with another concept after his respite. Again, we wish God speed to Chef Samuel and his wife Celeste who have poured their heart and soul into the fine dining concept.

We also have good news that Chef Jeff Moschetti (formerly with the Warwick Melrose Landmark, Stephan Pyles, and Beau Nash at the Crescent Court) is the executive chef of a new restaurant opening in Frisco called One2One.  It’s at Legacy and Highway 121, so geographic inspiration is at work here for the name.  Check out their website for more information.  1339 Legacy Drive, Frisco; 214-618-2221.

Stay tuned!

Savor the Flavor with Jim White, “The Wining and Dining Guy” June 29, 2010

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Goodbye to Aurora

The email came today from Celeste and Avner Samuel.  “After 7 wonderful years and the impending renewal of our lease… we’ve decided that AURORA had a fabulous run but it’s time for a change.  July 31st will be our last hurrah!”  Sad news for what has been described as Dallas’ only Michelin 3-Star worthy restaurant (If Michelin rated Dallas restaurants).  Through the years Avner has remained one of our most accomplished chefs.  The classically trained chef from Israel burst onto the scene as executive chef of the Mansion on Turtle Creek in the 80’s.  His collaborations with Stephan Pyles, Dean Fearing, Robert Del Grande and Anne McCann (Anne Lindsay Greer in those days), were the “shot heard ’round the world” that created the Southwestern Cuisine movement and paved the way for many a young chef who followed in their footsteps to flourish in an upscale Texas dining environment with a mission:  showing the unique flavors of Texas cuisine and the unmistakable influences on them of fine Mexican cuisine.  Samuel is a force of nature in the kitchen.  A true artisan.  A perfectionist who does not suffer fools lightly (inside the kitchen or out).  We’re on notice to sample the ambiance and elegance of Aurora one last time (or maybe a couple) before the end of July.  The email provides some welcome Dickens-like foreshadowing by mentioning that “info on future plans” will follow. Merci, chef!

Aurora

4216 Oak Lawn Avenue,

Dallas, Texas 75219

214-528-9400

Fireworks and food.  Is this a great country or what?

The best place in town to have a cool, comfortable, 5-star meal and watch Fourth of July fireworks is at Nana in the Hilton Anatole Hotel in Dallas.  Voted by Zagat as “Best Restaurant with a View,” Nana opens for dinner on Sunday, July 4th , and Monday, July 5th , from 6:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. to celebrate Independence Day. In addition to its regular menu, the restaurant will offer the popular “Chef Tony’s Summer Savings Menu”, a delectable three-course prix-fixe dinner for $45. Sip on a chilled summer cocktail like a Mango Martini or signature Nana’s Perfect Rita, relax in air conditioning, and enjoy the cuisine and view from the 27th floor of the award-winning Nana. The Hilton Anatole is offering special room rates for Nana guests from July 1st thru July 5th based on availability. Please contact the restaurant at 214-761-7470 for more information and reservations.

If you’re more into the fireworks than the food, the best place in town to see the pyrotechnics is Addison’s “Kaboom Town”. The 25th anniversary of the Star Spangled Banner festivities takes place on SATURDAY July 3rd from 5 p.m. until midnight.  Activities leading up to the fireworks climax include live music and food.  The Dallas Wind Symphony (and others) provides the music.  The Cavanaugh Flight Museum presents an “Historic Warbird Flyover” from 7:15 til 8:15.  The big bang, that is “Kaboom!” starts at 9:35.  For information on hotel and food specials, plus additional information, visit this link to Town of Addison

Have a safe and happy Independence Day!

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