By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Alice Laussade
By City of Ate
By Scott Reitz
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Alice Laussade
Avanti Euro Bistro owner Jack Ekhtiar describes his new restaurant in Addison Circle in a way that is wholly at odds with its appearance. He says he wanted to create a restaurant and bar that was causally elegant, a place where people could be comfortable and enjoy quiet conversation without pushing, shoving, or ruttishness splashed all over the bar top. He wanted a place where you could exit the men's restroom and not find a double-breasted dweeb with facial hair that looks like a map of Idaho on each cheek hitting on the love of your life--or the lust of your hour.
"I don't like sports bars. I don't like meat markets," Ekhtiar says. "I want to create something that people can come in, sit and have a drink, without people coming in and saying, 'Hey baby, can I buy you a drink?' That's very hard to find in Addison, and I'd like to be a pioneer in that."
But if Avanti is the pioneering icon of gentility in the muskiest, meatiest spot in North Texas, it's sure dressed funny. Avanti Euro Bistro comes off like a minx in homicidal regalia. Curved banquettes sequestered in gauzy curtains are covered in leopard prints. Black lacquered chairs are cushioned with leopard-print padded seats, and tables are cloaked in black polyester tablecloths. The back bar focal point is a dramatic pair of narrow, triangular shelves bathed in a shade of neon orange found on those tight bicycle shorts American tourists once flaunted.
5001 Addison Circle
Addison, TX 75001-3308
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Saturday & Sunday
11 a.m.-3 p.m.
"It's Eurotrash," said my stunning blond lunch companion. "Fraudulent country glam." That's possible, I thought as my ears soaked in a bubble bath of adult-contemporary jazz, the kind of music that fills you with the urge to convert every soprano saxophone into a bong. (Avanti plies "Euro jazz" seven nights a week, stuff Ekhtiar describes as music you can enjoy without worrying that "people will get up and try and do the twist.")
But is "Eurotrash" really a pejorative? Perhaps not. While I might wish most people to believe my fantasies involve Cynthia Gregory doing Cinderella in nothing but ballet slippers, in truth I would rather have acupressure treatments with gold-tipped stilettos branching out of a leopard-print skirt of diminutive proportions. Say what you will about trash--it's still fun; it's still tasty. Yet there are provocative little details to keep the smug mind occupied. Spider mums sprawl over each table, their stems inserted into glass test tubes planted into drilled-out divots of smooth river stones. Triangular wall nooks, back-dropped in neon orange, hold pairs of sinuous, thin, elegant metallic sculptures of musicians. Bar soffits are plugged with sconces that look like translucent turtle shells. Huge wall sconces in the dining room cradle clusters of tea candles.
And then there's the menu. Ekhtiar says his ambition is to create a Middle Eastern-Mediterranean menu with French underpinnings (everyone, it seems, seeks to clip their food with French fasteners), like the bistros he finds in Paris and related locales.
It's hard to see how seviche ($6) fits into this vision. But there it is: a glass filled with tender bits of bleached shrimp and calamari with tan scraps of red snapper piled over a patch of arugula, tomato, scallions, and red onion in a puddle of vodka-cilantro-lime sauce. Though tasty, it's a slightly addled collusion of warm seafood that seemed far too distinct from the juices, as if it hadn't absorbed them. Was this seafood poached and perched in this liquid instead of being appropriately "cooked" by soaking in a citrus marinade?
Disks of red and yellow tomato stained with aged balsamic vinegar ($8) appeared compelling. But the slices, speckled with fresh basil, mint, and Roquefort crumbles, were mealy. And though the sweetness of the balsamic attempted a smooth complicity with the tang of the Roquefort, the dressing hung listlessly, never merging.
Entrées also had little stumbles. A piece of Chilean sea bass ($17) (served on a black and white leopard-patterned plate), crusted with crabmeat and perched in a citrus beurre blanc, was thin and utterly uninteresting. The fish lacked sweetness and succulence, a failing for which the crabmeat didn't compensate.
Brazilian lobster ($19) was little better, suffering the same deficiencies as the bass. The slices of flesh were chewy, perhaps a little bitter. Its bath of saffron-champagne sauce was smooth, if a little flat. The real stellar studding on this plate was a simple dollop of mashed potatoes, which were extraordinarily smooth, creamy, and tasty.
Avanti Euro Bistro is almost there. Its prices are reasonable. The food is attractively presented. The service is gracious, attentive, and professional, with servers who have more than a cursory grasp of the food. Ekhtiar himself has an extensive background in Dallas restaurateuring. Raised in England, he came to Dallas in the 1960s and entered the restaurant business under the tutelage of Polish diplomat Stanley Slawik, who founded the Old Warsaw. He severed his ties with Slawik in 1976 and opened Papillon, one of the precious few French restaurants in Dallas. He went to another French restaurant before embarking on a long stint with Federated Department Stores. It was after his period in retail that Ekhtiar opened Avanti on McKinney Avenue in 1989, spreading the tenor of that restaurant to Avanti at Fountain Place downtown a few years later.