If you read up on chef/owner Avner Samuel before walking into Nosh Bistro & Bar in North Dallas, you may expect Southwestern cuisine with French flair à la The Mansion. And you’d be partially correct. In 1998, after cheffing at a jaw-dropping 20 restaurants around town in a career spanning nearly three decades, Samuel “put The Mansion on Turtle Creek on the culinary map,” according to this very publication. Several others dubbed him “the comeback chef.” Given all that, it’s impossible to walk into Nosh with a completely open mind.
Samuel has a long and storied history of knocking Dallas diners off their feet with exciting flash-in-the-pan experiences at his former restaurants like Avner at Preston, Yellow, Aurora and others. He also has a reputation for seriously pissing off customers, business partners and vendors in the dining room, kitchen and all over town … but that’s another story; one that’s been told again and again.
Although Samuel has been all over the map — physically and culinarily — his latest iteration has laid some roots in his home country of Israel. The cuisine served at Nosh bears Mediterranean influence, elevated by the chef’s multi-faceted background. Truffles, black lobster, escargot and wagyu beef share the menu with kibbe, mezze, hummus and za’atar spice. The juxtaposition is intriguing at first, but I’m not sure it’s working at Nosh.
The dining room is nice enough, generically contemporary in style with oversized fixtures, a long, dark wood bar and an open kitchen that allows curious guests to score a front row seat to see Samuel at work on tasting menus. But the famous (or infamous) chef is trying to please too many crowds at Nosh. Truffles and fancy-pants tasting menus are for old friends and fans; beet salad with optional shrimp satisfies the lunchtime crowd; and a Cheers-style bar with happy hour specials and live music caters to would-be neighborhood regulars. In doing all of that, Avner has stretched himself thin. Nosh 3.0 lacks the focus it needs to hit it out of the park.
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If it were up to me, I’d place that focus on Samuel’s culinary beginnings in Israel. From those flavors, a chef of his caliber, creativity and experience should be able to build one exciting dining experience after another. If Samuel is going to reach into the past for Nosh, his ancestry provides a more interesting jumping off point than his more recent tenures at restaurants like The Mansion.
Each of Samuel’s carefully prepared dishes speak loudly of his classical French training. His plating is lovely and each piece of protein, like piping hot duck confit with crispy skin, arrives perfectly cooked. A $15 special of chicken breast-topped pasta with ratatouille-style vegetables is comforting, if a bit boring. Ahi tuna, expertly seared after a roll in za’atar spice, is tasty enough ($28), but nothing special. At lunch, a thoughtfully dressed cheeseburger ($14) made from wagyu beef towered as high as my expectations, but didn’t quite deliver on flavor.
But the chef’s Mediterranean creations truly have soul. That’s where his cooking shines. A favorite appetizer featured three falafel balls ($8) with crunchy exteriors that broke to reveal smooth and creamy insides. Latkes topped with hot pink, beet-cured salmon ($13) are a gorgeous homage to Jewish culture, made even more elegant by dollops of crème fraîche and tiny black pearls of fish roe. If the Middle Eastern flavors were as present in every entrée, Nosh would be a true gem. But instead, as our server admitted during one visit, “it’s the exact same menu as the old Nosh.” The restaurant and chef have settled into the new location in a different part of town, sure, but nothing much else has changed. Still, it’s a solid place for date night or an office lunch, just as long as you order liberally from the left side of the menu — and don’t forget the falafel.
Samuel’s reputation is an unwelcome guest. It’s a distraction from what matters most: the dishes that are being served. Forget the pretense and the chef’s résumé, studded with as many successes as failures. When Samuel relaxes his grip a bit and plays like he does on the appetizer side of his menu, when he goes back to the Mediterranean cuisine of his youth, the result is as flavorful as the juicy, grilled Merguez sausage dish with velvety eggplant. That, I’d travel back in time to taste again.