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The Last Supper at Aurora was Almost My Last Supper

Avner Samuel tops his sea urchin parfait with a pinch of gold leaf. Photo by Christina Barany.

Unfortunately, Uncle Nancy wasn’t feeling well yesterday, so she sent me along with People Newspapers photographer Christina Barany to cover The Last Supper at Aurora. Chef/owner Avner Samuel said he was going to pull out all of the stops on this dinner, and he most certainly did. It was an elaborate 11-course meal that consisted of some of the most exquisite ingredients around. Think black summer truffles, prime osetra caviar, and gold-leaf garnishes. And the service was superb – the waiters were polite and attentive. It was my first time to dine at Aurora, and I’m heartbroken that I won’t be able to return like so many of Avner’s loyal customers have over the years. I can easily say it was the best meal that I have ever had. But my post-meal happiness quickly turned to panic when I received the bill. I thought this was literally going to be my last supper. I was either going to die of a heart attack right then and there, or Uncle Nancy was going to kill me with her bare hands for somehow managing to rack up a $560 ticket. I tossed and turned all night trying to figure out the best way to break the news to Nancy, none of which really sounded like great options. I thought up story after story, but I decided the truth was the way to go. Jump for Nancy’s reaction and the recap.

This is what went down when I got to the office this morning.

Nancy: How was dinner last night?

Me: Well, it turned out to be a little more expensive than I would have thought. I’m really sorry. I’ll help pay my part.

Nancy: No worries! I was expecting it to be about $300.

Me: (Now shaking and about to pass out.) Um, it was a little more than that.

I handed her the receipt. She looked at it without her glasses.

Nancy: Oh, that’s not that bad!

Me: Are you sure?!

Nancy put on her glasses and took another look.

Nancy: WHAT!!! It cost $560?! I’m going to have a heart attack.

Me: That makes two of us.

She then grabbed her letter opener and wound up as if she was about to put it right through my eye. Luckily, Tim jumped up and restrained her. Okay, that part didn’t really happen, but you get the point. After she calmed down, I explained the situation.

The meal itself accounted for about half of the check ($125 a person with the SideDish discount), which is practically a steal considering what we got. The dinner was seriously fit for a king.

But I wasn’t expecting the cost of our drinks to double our meal. Let’s just say that I’m not exactly used to attending meals of this caliber. When Christina arrived, the waiter brought her a glass of champagne that she didn’t order. I went ahead and ordered one, figuring a glass or two wouldn’t hurt.  After my second glass, I politely declined a third because I wasn’t sure of the price – there were no drink menus – and I felt that it would be awkward to ask. The waiter sounded surprised that I was going to stop after just two glasses, so I went ahead and agreed to a third. (I’m obviously a sucker to peer pressure.) After the third, it wasn’t difficult for him to twist my arm into a fourth. So, I ended up with a total of four glasses, and Christina ended up with three, which isn’t unreasonable for a four-hour dinner. I knew the two types offered were pricey – Veuve and Moet Rose – but I completely underestimated just how expensive they were. Our waiter also offered us a glass of Sauterne to go along with the foie gras, which I thought must be a part of the deal. Turns out one of the couples at our table ordered it – there was no wine pairing – so we were charged for that too. It was also more expensive than I would’ve thought.

Looking back, I should’ve just asked about the pricing. I might have looked stupid, but at least I would’ve gotten a decent night’s sleep and saved Uncle Nancy from having a heart attack. I guess I learned my lesson the hard way. Luckily, Nancy has forgiven me and it looks like I’ll live to see another supper. But had things turned out differently, last night’s dinner would have been a good one to end on. Take a look at the photos below and you’ll see why.

Fellow diners Kristina and Phil Whitcomb. Photo by Christina Barnay.
Fellow diners Kristina and Phil Whitcomb. Photo by Christina Barany.
Farm Egg Custard with House Cured Salmon in Red Beet and Honey. Photo by Christina Barany.
Prime Osetra Caviar on Chiboust of Yukon Potato with Green Apple Sorbet.
Prime Osetra Caviar on Chiboust of Yukon Potato with Green Apple Sorbet. Photo by Christina Barnay.
Sea Urchin Parfait with American Sturgeon Caviar Topped with Gold Leaf. Photo by Christina Barany.
Parmesan Potato Gnocchi with Black Summer Truffles from Umbria and White Truffle Sauce. Photo by Christina Barany.
Vervain Infused Line Bass Carpaccio with Syrup de Piment d'Espelette and Meyer Lemon. Photo by Christina Barany.
Cappuccino of Foie Gras, Maine Lobster and Girolles Mushrooms au Moscato D'Asti topped with White Foam. Photo by Christina Barany.
Eau de Tomate on Gelee and Poached Lobster Knuckles. Photo by Christina Barany.
Pave of Foie Gras with Cypress Salt Flakes and Candied Butternut Squash with Duck Fig Sauce. Photo by Christina Barany.
Ruby Red Grapefruit Sorbet. Photo by Christina Barany.
Lamb Rib on Petit Poie Rattes, White Fairy Tail Aubergine and Tomato Acidule with Chlorophyll and Black Nicoise Olive Oil. Photo by Christina Barany.
Degustation of Sweets. Photo by Christina Barany.

23 comments on “The Last Supper at Aurora was Almost My Last Supper

  1. The guy can flat out cook no question, but he will rack up the bill on you in a minute.
    I have talked to people that had Avner join them at the table and order himself a drink and chat it up but when you get the bill his drinks are on it.
    Vintage Avner…………

  2. Funny how someone can attest to the value or lack of value having never tried the product.

  3. Fois gras is a crime. Worse than the prices.
    By encouraging this stuff, you are guilty of painful deaths of many innocent animals.

  4. B, tell me you’re kidding! I’ve wondered what type of stuff this guy does to make him so polarizing…ordering a drink on your patrons sure will do it.

  5. I’m hoping that my husband reads this so that he understands that people named “Kellyn” really are more inclined to rack up large tabs that include several glasses of champagne.

  6. I’m still shocked that people don’t understand the cost of fine dining…the champagne cart alone(if the zebrawood and Silverplate alone) should scare the naysayers off.. “dining” at this level is about the luxuries that make dining an experience…we dine on Limoges and Christophle at a cost…the skill and production of ANY Chef that serve items such as Caviar, uni, foie, truffles,and anything gold leaf should scare the pants off the novice. This isn’t dinner but rather an exercise of what dinner turned ART is about. Avner is an artist utilising the most expensive ingredients available! I shudder thinking how luxe dinners are fading from the Dallas diners minds. Lola, Aurora, and Dali. I miss Luxe already.

  7. Cellarmaster, I totally agree with you. In face, $139 for an 11-course menu is absurdly low. There was some confusion over the wine pairing option, which I told Kelly about before hand.So she was under the assumption that there were two price levels–the $139 and just ordering a bottle of wine off the menu to go with dinner or ordering the wine pairing. So when Champagne was being offered she admits she should have asked the price. I spoke with another attendee, a veteran of fine dining, who was equally confused but when offered the Champagne, asked the price and declined. She and her husband were lucky enough to be attending with another couple, well-educated in wine, who ordered several bottles of appropriate wine to pair. Yes, it scares the pants off of me that fine dining in Dallas is fading. The sad fact is that people have changed the way they spend money on dining.

  8. The glasses of champagne were $24 each. So you can see how one’s bill escalated. On a normal night, the grand tasting menu is $175. So we did get quite a discount that night. My friend and I attended the dinner, Our party was 2, so they attached us to another party of 5. One of the staff welcomed the guests and jokingly asked us if there were any food allergies or restrictions. He told us to get out if there were; the chef was not going to change anything! At any rate, very luxurious and meticulously executed dinner. The gold leaf on the uni parfait was emblematic of the entire night. Over the top luxury…two courses of caviar, two course with foie gras, lobster….Do we need gold on our food? No. Do we need a place as luxurious as Aurora? No, but I think I will miss it….

  9. Cellarmaster in this economy the Luxe dining is dead, sales are off 20 to 30%. Patrons that can afford it aren’t spending it and the special event folks are trading down. With regards to Avners dinner there would be a reasonable expectation that your bill wouldn’t be $500 plus when you advertise a $129.00 multi course dinner. This is a example of what Avner is known for and why he is closing, your guests have to come away thinking there is a value not a ripp off. I hope to see Luxe return very soon……..

  10. 2 more things…

    Thank you, Sidedish for the discount. They graciously offered this to everyone, regardless of whether you mentioned it or not.

    If you’ve dined at Aurora, you probably have already succumbed to the charms of the champagne cart. The waiter comes by with the beautiful cart and offers you a glass. He asks you in such a gracious manner that you wonder if this is complementary. Of course, you can’t ask about the cost. You might look foolish and cheap. You laugh quietly to yourself when you get the bill for being so naive.

    OK, one more thing. I will miss Aurora because it was so cozy. The best food in Dallas in a quiet strip mall. No valet, no big fancy hotel, no dog and pony show, just good food and service. Is there any other place like this in Dallas?

  11. For the record, the moment you step on board a Carnival Cruise ship you’re handed a festive drink, complete with umbrella. It appears to be complimentary but it’s not. It is $7. High class, low class…nothing is free but this advice: Say no to the drink.

  12. This wasn’t just a meal; it was a masterpiece to be experienced. Our bill will gladly be paid and I can’t wait to see what he does next. I can sum it up in three words…IT WAS GRAND!!!

  13. Dog and ponyish is right. Gold leaf is emblematic in that it’s tacky showmanship that doesn’t cost the restaurant much. The problem isn’t with “luxe” dining, but with chefs and customers who think that “Umbrian” truffles, foie gras, lobster, and cheap caviar are the height of taste and refinement. Where’s the fresh produce? White truffles are eight months out of season (not that he used real truffles). Ruby Red grapefruit are out of season. Chantarelles are out of saeason. Butternut squash (a winter squash) in the dead of summer. Beets in the dead of summer. Strawberries in the dead of summer. Avner has been cooking in Dallas for thirty years and still doesn’t know or care what’s in season in July, even two years after he issued press releases announcing Aurora’s new focus on local, seasonal and organic ingredients. He’s a relic.

  14. hmmm… I’m quite certain that we were charged $139. For two before tip our bill was 426. We didn’t have wine pairing. Just one glass of champagne each and one glass of an after dinner cocktail.

    The meal was to die for… but I do hate the feeling that we were overcharged. You shouldn’t expect that because you like fine dining as some have suggested earlier.

  15. Luxe IS down. No doubt. I just today read about the two gazilionaires who competed to have the highest champagne bill in St Tropez….$2.6 MILLION!?!!! We may be watching our pocket books in good old Big D but the wealthy folk are still racking up their numbers. I watch in horror as luxe dining declines in Dallas(and cupcakes and cake balls take over) because this Has been our hold in “society”(er well at least the rest of dining America). yeah Stephan is just NOW getting into molecular(yes Ive read the MEH on this sight) and Dean is still serving well…you know…Avner, dear Avner and David U and all the other chefs who have had to succumbed to the fates of our current fiscal situation…I don’t believe the Mansion has put on an ettiquette class for children in years…I’m just sad for our culture of cuisine. I reside in Austin and find myself partaking in the best salsa and chip arguments( and who has the freshest Kale juice) and wonder where my beloved city(Dallas) is headed. Surely not gourmet trucks and trailers…(gasp). Fine dining has a place and I hate to see it fade. I suppose I’ve seen it dissapearing before my eyes here for years and have been in denial since 9-11 first shocked my wine program at Steel. My old regulars still drink their Bordeaux and blue chip wines I might add. They’re just much more discreet in there endeavours. Dear Food Gods: please let Dallas resurge and prosper in this felled economy and regain the momentum they…well, deserve. Fabian~

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