Last night marked my first visit to Aurora-- a restaurant to which I, as a slightly jaded optimist in the Dallas dining scene, had been looking forward with actual anticipation.
Tired of rubber-stamped Asian-fusion, no matter how high end, and the let-down after yet another ultra-hyped Dallas hotspot revealed its true colors, I revelled in the thought of a glimpse of the genuine that Aurora was sure to offer - despite its strip mall location (hey, Sushi Sake pulls it off - and fabulously).
Sadly, I thought wrong.
Arriving a touch late at 8:40pm, we were seated on one of three two-tops near the kitchen (when at least two four-tops were open) situated so close to each other that I felt like we were in a party of six. Conversation was nearly uncomfortable as every word spoken could be heard loudly and clearly by the guests on either side of us.
Decor was upscale, but compared to say, the French Room, Nana, or even Abacus, absolutely not relative to the price of the food.
We were seated and offered our choice of still or sparkling quickly but accompanied by the vocal reassurance "its complimentary"-- do I look cheap?
Waiter takes his time to wander over, and inquires about our drinks selection. I ask for the wine list, wishing I had a menu to peruse. Wine list proffered, no menu. Its been 10 mins.
Wine list is surprisingly deep in a limited number of options-- this is both good and bad. Extensive Chard and Cab, Bordeaux, full page of White Burgundies. Wine prices were exorbitant. Poor vintage of Conundrum for $85? Seriously? "Other whites" virtually non-existent (which is an issue for us as we require very low tannin wines like pinot grigio for migraine prevention). One Viognier on the list, a couple Sauvignon Blancs. Settled on a dramatically overpriced white Burgundy, $125.
Not until the wine had been opened and poured did any additional service appear, like bread, or menus. Menus. We're at 15-20mins now, no menus.
Amuse bouche arrives, an egg custard cooked in the shell, infused with Meyer lemon topped with smoked salmon. Pretty yummy, but incredibly rich, and much more substantial than a typical amuse bouche. My palette wasn't so much awakened as fully overwhelmed. I had just been served dessert.
Oddly, and I've never encountered this, the silverware service was changed out no less than seven or eight times. In fact, the silverware was completely changed out three separate times between the amuse bouche and the appetizers. Just odd. Not bad, necessarily, just odd. Unconfident. Unecessary. Interrupting.
Menus appear! What a concept!
Finally, finally, the waiter takes our order. The amuse bouche has so affected us, we're not nearly as hungry as we were. We decide to order two appetizers and split an entree. Perhaps not the "done thing", but I had ordered a relatively expensive bottle of wine, and wouldn't have objected to an additional fee for splitting.
Appetizers arrived, but placed incorrectly requiring us to switch plates. Upon recommendation, I ordered the Osetra Caviar upon Langoustine Potato Chiboustle with Granny Smith Apple Sorbet. Wife ordered globe artichoke seared ravioli. My appetizer was tragically disappointing. What little flavor the caviar offered was smothered by the potato chibou... ah heck, the mashed potatoes. The sorbet, delicious on its own, was simply incongrous with the dull lifeless of the black-specked lump in front of me. Ravioli was savory, due to the rich reduction drizzled over it, but not exceptional. For the mounting pricetag, the only consistency seemed to be in the trend towards blandness and/or a purposeful combination of unusual ingredients simply for the sake of weirdness. Methinks Avner is trying too hard.
At this point, little issues become magnified. Avner hobnobs with a few tables, ignoring most others, then dashes out the front door. Reappears much later in the kitchen. ??? I shouldn't dare to presume. The waiter for the table next to us was loudly giving instructions on silverware use that would have been appropriate for a four-year old. Our waiter came close to touching our food when pointing to it to identify it, gesticulating within less than an inch of the food in front of me, dramatically drawing circles to illustrate what was obvious: a sauce had been applied gently to the dish. This was highly uncomfortable to me as the vicinity of his hand to my food just not what one is looking for, and further, all of this was taking place well within my "personal space" as a hearty and effusive "excuse my reach" should have been apologetically offered.
A palette cleansing sorbet of prickly pear and champagne with pomegranate seeds was offered. Yes, unusual ingredients. Creative combination in the hands of some chefs. In this case, there was a decided essence of soap permeating the otherwise almost sickly sweet little scoop.
Couple more silverware changes with all of this. Including items that have no apparent use, aren't therefore used, and then are removed. Again.
The entree arrives, which as you might recall we asked to split. The waiter asks if the entree should be place in front of the lady or the gentleman and sets an empty dinner plate in front of my wife. I suggest in the middle of the table-- we're obviously sharing. But I'm taken slightly aback. Would it have really been that hard to have split the entree into two smaller portions on two separate plates? Apparently, it would have been. The waiter sets the entree in the middle of the table, and seeing the awkwardness of the situation, asks if I'd like a plate too. This is clearly a less than ideal solution to our simple problem, one would think a plate... A PLATE... wouldn't have required additional thought. We did indeed go through enough Christophle Hotel
silverware to overwhelm the dishwasher.
A plate. Too much to ask? Too much to presume?
Or perhaps exercise some service and anticipate our needs? Maybe try to understand what we're doing there? Perhaps learn how to be a host, welcoming your guests, who have chosen your restaurant for the evening.
We order the signature dish, the lamb two-ways, with tomato tart and what looks like a truffle/potato napoleon. The lamb is indeed excellent, shockingly good. The truffle/potato thing not bad, truffle afficionados would enjoy. The tomato tart is absolutely inedible, tasting like a rehydrated sundried tomato from a jar.
Needless to say, dessert won't be an option. Despite waving it off and not asking for recommendations (my thought is, a sense of decorum on my part at a "nice" restaurant is in my contract as a guest. The service should complement this by not requiring me to be obvious to the point of rudeness), the waiter, again reaching across my face, decides to point to and describe every single option. Sigh. No thanks, check please.
Bill with tip was $253. Tip was a fully undeserved 17%-ish-- excepting that the waiter kept our wine glasses appropriately full with a good sense of timing.
Rising to leave, we meet with no resistance. No thanks, appreciation, good-bye, door opening etc. No service or guest interaction whatsoever.
Overall, the service was pretentious, presumptuous, and in some cases simply weird. The food was contrived, not remarkably flavorful, and certainly not priced appropriately.
Will not be returning.