Nora isn’t just the name of owner/chef Matt Pikar’s seven-month-old daughter, it’s also the name of a restaurant on Greenville Avenue serving the kind of Afghan food I could probably eat every single day for the rest of my life. Ever since Nora officially opened on July 18 after two weeks of soft opening, new guests have already become repeat customers. Apparently it only takes a couple bites to get hooked on Matt Pikar’s spices. Something – maybe the way they can magically transport you from Dallas to the Middle East – is simply addictive about them.
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What to Expect: Pikar opened Afghan Grill on Preston Road 3.5 years ago, which he still owns along with Nora. The food menu at Nora is more or less the same as Afghan Grill’s except for some pricing differences (due to changes in portion sizes) and section rearrangements. Unlike like Afghan Grill, Nora has a separate, fruit-based drink menu.What’s different on Greenville Avenue is that you can order a specialty cocktail, like the chai martini or cardamom spice martini, to pair with your dinner. “As a mother,” says Rosalind Lynam, Pikar’s wife, “I’m very happy to say that the most popular cocktail has been the Stella Nora (named after her two daughters).”
The Design: Nora keeps its color scheme simple with muted tones. Rich dark brown chairs and curtains complement the white tablecloths and walls that barely hold any decoration. There’s a patio outside where diners can soak in natural sunlight and watch the cars on Greenville Avenue go by as savor their qabili palao.
The Menu: The qabili palao (a saffron rice dish covered with sweet carrot shavings, raisins, and your choice of seasoned pieces of lamb or chicken) is the star here. Our waiter explained that qabili palao is to Afghan culture as hamburgers are to American culture. Matt Pikar told me, “In Afghanistan when you get invited to somebody’s house, if they don’t cook qabili palao, they don’t like you. If they do cook you this dish, it means they love you and treat you very well.” Pikar must love all of his customers, then, because he puts in a good number of hours to make this dish from start to finish. The rice is soaked for 24 hours; then steamed with cardamom, cumin, cinnamon, and clove; towards the very end, it’s baked to infuse all the elements together.
Any kabob you order is going to be a good choice here. We chose a combination platter of beef, lamb, and salmon, and bit into the juicy pieces wrapped in Pikar’s special spice mixes. For those of you who’re afraid to try Afghan food thinking it might be spicy, it’s actually quite mild. Pikar doesn’t add as much curry or chili pepper as you might think. He sticks to his usual suspects: coriander, cumin, black cardamom and green cardamom. Sometimes, like on top of the mantoo (meat dumplings), he’ll sprinkle dry mint to bring out the pepper and paprika he cooks into the onion, cabbage, and meat that creates the savory filling.
For dessert, cleanse your palate with firnee, a light milk custard decorated with pistachio shavings. The caramel sauce around the edges of the custard acts as an extra sweetening agent to this dessert – a hybrid offspring of jello and pudding that’s smooth and creamy at the same time.
The Crowd: Young professionals like to crowd around the full bar after work, and Middle Eastern folks who look like they’ve tasted Afghan food before add diversity to the yuppie groups.
The Prices: Small plates range from $5-$7, signature dishes go from $15-$18, and kabobs run from $12-$24. Portions are generous, so be prepared to take some of that food home and enjoy the rest for another meal.