Nearby Boulevardier proffers classic cocktails alongside French-inspired dishes. The new Casablanca looks to transport guests to the Silk Road. Lucia down the road is fine dining in its most beautiful, homiest form. These spaces operate next to family-owned fast-casual restaurants, ice cream shops, all-day cafés and pie pushers. Collectively, the old neighborhood sitting southwest of downtown has an East Village feel, a soul of its own.
After opening 8 Cloves in the Dallas Farmers Market five years ago, Afifa Nayeb concluded the time was right to give diners a new option when it came to Indian fare. She listened to her family and her customers and decided that Dallas was ready for Âme, a chef-driven, formal, Indian restaurant, which Nayeb owns and serves as executive chef.
Nayeb was born in Afghanistan and lived briefly in New Delhi before immigrating to the United States as a teenager. That time spent in India still resonates with her, so much so that she wanted to open a place that would allow her to blend the Indian cuisine she loves with the French techniques she learned during her time at Le Cordon Bleu.
“I wanted to make a destination restaurant in a neighborhood,” Nayeb says about Âme's spot in Bishop Arts, in the former Hattie’s space. “Bishop Arts was on my list, but I never expected to get this location.”
Inside Âme, the bustle from the pedestrian-heavy sidewalk outside is hushed. A white marble U-shaped bar greets customers. The dining room, with tall windows and emerald-hued walls, lies just a few steps away to the right. An alcove at the end of the space is adorned with vintage wallpaper of Indian playing cards and anchored by a gold banquette bench. The painted tin ceiling (a holdover from Hattie’s) reinforces the upscale vibe.
On our first visit, after being seated at one of the dining room’s white-clothed tables, we used our phones and a QR code to pull up the menu. Background music spans genres and cultures, but includes hip-hop at times, infusing a bit of energy, but it's never so loud to intrude on conversation. Our server appeared quickly to introduce herself, then gave us a moment to peruse the drink menu. Like so many restaurants these days, menus are available only on your phone after scanning a QR code from a small placard on the table.
Wines, by the glass or bottle, dominate the drink menu, which includes a modest selection of beers and cocktails. Wines represent a broad spectrum of countries, from France, Italy, Spain, Armenia and Argentina, plus several California wineries and a Texas vineyard.
The dinner menu is speckled with ingredients that stand out from traditional Indian menus across North Texas. An aloo tikki is dotted with pepitas. Yellow beet samosas have walnuts and serrano chiles. The biryani is topped with a Scotch egg and crisp, thinly fried onions. A masala baked eggplant is plated with a turmeric béchamel sauce.
For shareable starters, the classic chaat ($16) is a rich blend of chickpeas, onions and yogurt layered over small potato pancakes with a nice crunch. Dip one of the crispy samosa chips into the savory and aromatic chaat for a treat.
Entrees are split between vegetable and grain dishes, meats or seafood. The tandoori fish curry ($32), a flaky sea bass fillet seasoned with coriander, turmeric and garlic, is an example of Nayeb’s blend of Indian dishes backed by French cooking techniques; the delicate fillet sits atop a silky puree of verdant leeks, green peas and lemongrass, which provides the perfect balance to the fish.
"The spices on the fish are very traditional Indian flavors," she says. "But the sauce is based on a very traditional French béchamel sauce."
Consider adding a side of naan puffs to your meal. Unlike flat naan at other Indian spots, these smaller, fluffy orbs are more like rolls with a black patch of sesame seeds sitting atop them like a button. They’re ideal to sop up the succulent leek puree.
The plating of dishes here is refined. Lamb chops criss-cross over a tidy snowball-like pile of potatoes. The biryani is stacked high with a Scotch egg carefully perched atop and thinly fried onions. Chunks of chicken tikka are deliberately stacked in the middle of shallow bowls surrounded by vibrant reddish-orange cashew cream sauce.
"Elephant Bar has its own identity, its own menu, it's own style" Nayeb says. "It's like a speakeasy with a European vibe. But also, it's more accessible; anyone can drop in, have a drink and leave."
In fact, Elephant Bar's guests can visit the bar through its own entrance on Bishop Avenue and never set foot in Âme. A brilliant gold chandelier adorns the space like a flame-lit tiara, which reflects in a mirrored wall doubling down on the posh effect. Plush emerald green chairs with vacuum lines are evidence of the attention given to every detail in this room. Heavy curtains block out any idea that you’re enjoying a drink anywhere but an elegant Parisian parlor.
The Elephant Bar has a short list of shareable dishes like beet samosa ($12) or fried calamari with masala butter ($16) that skew toward more Indian influences.
When aiming for an upscale experience, as Nayeb is, service needs to follow along, and at times, Âme doesn’t quite hit the mark. Our interactions with hosts, servers and bartenders were all friendly, but there were lapses that separate good service from remarkable. Nayeb tells us that when Âme opened, the kitchen staff consisted of a prep chef, a dishwasher and Nayeb herself, and she admits that staffing is still something of a struggle.
On weekends, the reservation list at Âme can fill up quickly. The popularity feels well-deserved. Before it abruptly closed last year, Hattie's was an institution in Bishop Arts and drew in diners from all over the area who were seeking a more polished yet still accessible dining experience. Åme continues that tradition by offering a similar refined atmosphere, albeit with a unique menu not found anywhere else in Bishop Arts. Âme presents a classic Indian fare with modern touches and French influence in an elegant setting.
Âme, 418 N Bishop Ave. (Bishop Arts District), Open for dinner 5-10 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, 5-9 p.m. Sunday, and Brunch Saturday and Sunday 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.