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Aurora


robyn
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I’m a bit tardy in writing up these recollections of Dallas restaurants. But when we got home from Texas - we started closing out my father-in-law's estate - and that - along with our day-to-day stuff - has gotten me way way behind in things like reading/writing on eGullet. Better late than never.

We ate at Aurora our last night in Dallas. The chef/owner – Avner Samuel – has more than a little bit going on in the “restaurant history gossip department” in Dallas. But – since I don’t live in Dallas – it’s no concern of mine.

Aurora is the best restaurant we dined at in Dallas. Better than York Street. Of course – it aspires to more – and costs more – so I hold it to higher standards. And – considering those standards – there is good news – and bad news.

Bad news first. The dessert we had was mediocre (which is awful considering that it cost $14 – which is a world class price for dessert).. It was some kind of berry (I recall raspberry) tart thing. Just sitting alone on a big plate. Boring. Just blah. And the pastry wasn't delicate and flaky. Seemed like perhaps it had seen the inside of a refrigerator at some point. I am a big dessert fan - and this was a disappointing way to end the meal. So the pastry chef end of things needs work. There weren't any dessert "throw aways" - so I don't know if the pastry chef – if indeed there is one - is capable of doing better.

The best thing was the butter poached lobster. Terrific. Now I am a lobster fan - but my husband isn't. And even he agreed it was to die for. Which - at $65 a la carte - it should be :). We both agreed it was the best lobster we ever had.

My husband's main was the sole wrapped around scallop. He thought it was pretty good - but nowhere near as good as the lobster - and the sole really didn't play a prominent enough part in the dish.

The starters weren't memorable - although I recall us liking them at the time. I say not memorable because - even looking at the menu - I couldn't remember what I had. I did remember that my husband had the yellow tomato soup (I remembered the yellow) - but he couldn't pick his starter out of the menu lineup. I didn't remember what I had - although it turns out from looking at the credit card bill that I had the porcini ravioli.

I suspect both of these starters need something to "punch them up" - to make people like me remember them. To turn them from good into memorable. For example - we had a lobster bisque at David Burke & Donatella in New York. Wasn't the greatest lobster bisque in the world - but we won't forget the dish because it had a (delicious) lobster roll sticking out of it when it was presented. The presentation made it memorable. I suspect making things memorable is important at this price point.

As for alcohol - my husband doesn't drink - and I'm not a big drinker. I don't drink still wine. So I had a half bottle of Vueve - which I like. It was a little overpriced at $45 - but not enough to make me mad. I don't think it was on the wine list - but I saw it in the wine cooler - and asked for it. I recall that the server tried to interest me in something else - but I know I like Veuve - so I ordered it.

The service was fine. Somewhat but not too friendly. Relatively unobtrusive. Just right. I liked the service of the dishes with bells. It's a bit old fashioned these days - but I am old enough to recall when it was common - especially in France. I liked it then - and I still like it now.

I liked the room - and the open kitchen - although things were a little dead (we ate on a Monday).

All in all – I thought this was a very good restaurant that – with a bit of effort – could do better. At its best – it’s on a par with restaurants in much more cosmopolitan cities. At its worst – well there are no excuses for that (especially in the dessert area). Doesn’t seem fair to impose higher standards on better restaurants. But – when I see a place like this – with so much potential - I have a desire to see it operating at 100% – not 80%.

I don't like to discourage people from eating at high end restaurants in smaller cities (like Dallas) that are doing a really good job - even if their efforts wouldn't get them 3 stars in the New York Times. There are just too many kitchens out there that aren't even trying - and I refuse to 86 a place that is trying. So go to Aurora – enjoy the world class dishes like the lobster - and complain about the areas where it doesn’t shine. Because - with a bit of effort – I think this could be a really fabulous restaurant. Note that I live in a relatively small city (Jacksonville FL) - and I wish we had even one chef who was capable of trying to do what Aurora is doing (but we don't). Robyn

Edited by robyn (log)
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I had a meal there that was terrible. It was five hundred + dollars for three of us to eat mediocre food from an unimaginative menu. I went more than a year ago and haven't been back since. It is possible that things have turned around since then, but judging from your post, I don't think it has. For a place to be charging those prices I expect three things:

1. Good product- no flash frozen fish and meat, seasonal quality produce

2. Well written menu- flavor combinations are right on, not too many lazy repetitions

3. Well cooked and seasoned- self explanatory

What I got at aurora was:

little flash frozen lamb chops, grocery store quality fish, and airline/hotel vegetables (carrots, zucchini, pearl onions)

Flavor combinations were fine because it was classic hotel food-everything straight out of le guide culinaire (this would be fine if it wasn't a place that had touted itself as "cutting edge")

The menu was the most amatuerish overindulgent thing I've seen in a long time. Only two entrees didn't have truffles or truffle oil (not including the truffle tasting menu and the truffled custard amuse that everyone got). If you want to be indulgent go ahead, but don't use it as an excuse to be lazy.

I can't remember anything that was seasoned properly (it's possible i've forgotten)

Oh, the lobster was fine (as I'm sure it was in 1994 at the french laundry- "cutting edge")

I hope they turned around and started cooking good food. I'm glad you had a good meal. I am just a little cranky- I didn't really get any sleep. that's plenty of venting for tonight. I apologize if I hurt anyones feelings- you should see me when I'm tired AND hungry!

-oren

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The cranky gourmet :smile: - just like the cranky consumer in the WSJ.

We spent a lot less money than you did (somewhat more than $200 - including the champagne). Perhaps you spent a lot more money on liquor than we did. If we had spent well in excess of $300 for 2 (which is what you spent) - I would have been considerably less pleased. Robyn

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I'd like to hear more from people who have dined at Aurora and I want their honest opinion about the restaurant. Flattery, in my opinion, is the sweetest of lies and since I work at Aurora, I'm trying to see through it all and find out what needs to be done to make it better than it is.

Ron Lipsky

Aspiring Chef

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Moderator's Note: Hello, folks. I have removed several off-topic posts. I'll try to restore them to different threads if possible, but will have to sort through that later.

Let's keep this thread on Aurora. I am sure RonthePirate would appreciate any concrete, specific feedback members can give him about Aurora.

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Thanks for these great writeups, Robyn.  You really seemed to research your trip here well and hit alot of Texas highlights (though obviously this particular restaurant wasn't the case).  You should give Houston a shot next time!

I try to do some research before I spend my calories (at my age - the calories are frequently more precious than the dollars).

And I don't want anyone to get me wrong. When I am writing about a restaurant like Aurora - I'm comparing it to high end restaurants everywhere - New York - London - whatever. It may be the proverbial big fish in the little pond - but when you're a tourist like me - you tend to compare the fish you can catch in different ponds.

Applying this standard - although I thought it had its moments - there are quite a few things I think it can do better. Which is why people should do things like go there - and - especially - tell Ron the Pirate what areas you think need improvement. I wrote him a bunch of email detailing what I'd like to see - priority #1 on my part being a decent pastry chef. When I pay $14 for a dessert - I want something excellent. Your #1 priority in terms of gripes may - of course - vary.

You also have to remember that although Aurora may charge what seems like a lot of money for Dallas - it's about half the price (give or take a bit) you'd pay for similar meals in world class cities these days (perhaps $200-300 as opposed to $400-600).

I have said this before - and I'll say it again. Unless those of us who live in relatively big cities don't try to support the high end restaurants in our cities that are at least trying to do things right - all we'll be left with is Olive Gardens. And I'll include cities like New York and Los Angeles in that statement - because I've had plenty of meals in those cities that are worse than the meal I had at Aurora - in restaurants that are considerably more famous than Aurora. Robyn

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