Review: Soul gives soul to Indian cuisine influenced by classic French techniques

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The word soul means soul in French, a syllable pronounced with a simple meditative ohm. Nestled in the center of the Bishop Arts District, Soul, an Indian restaurant backed by classic French cuisine, sits among other chef-run restaurants offering a diverse range of dishes, some in chic settings.

Nearby, Boulevardier offers classic cocktails alongside French-inspired dishes. The new Casablanca seeks to transport guests to the Silk Road. Lucia down the street is fine dining in its finest and warmest form. These spaces operate alongside quick family restaurants, ice cream parlors, all-day cafes, and pie makers. Collectively, the Old Quarter southwest of downtown has an East Village feel, a soul in its own right.

After opening 8 Cloves at the Dallas Farmers Market five years ago, Afifa Nayeb concluded that now is the time to offer diners a new option when it comes to Indian cuisine. She listened to her family and customers and decided Dallas was ready for Soul, a formal chef-run Indian restaurant, which Nayeb owns and serves as an executive chef.

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Vintage wallpaper on Indian playing cards mixes with modern touches in the dining room.

Alison mclean

“My family loves Indian food,” says Nayeb. “There are some good Indian restaurants in New York or Washington, DC, or even Houston that are restaurants run by chefs. But my customers at 8 Cloves kept telling me I had to open a restaurant where they could come for a nice dinner.

Nayeb was born in Afghanistan and lived briefly in New Delhi before immigrating to the United States as a teenager. This time spent in India still resonates with her, to such an extent that she wanted to open a place that would allow her to mix the Indian cuisine that she loves with the French techniques that she learned during her stay at Le Cordon Bleu.

“I wanted to create a destination restaurant in a neighborhood,” Nayeb says of Soul Square at Bishop Arts, in the former Hattie’s space. “Bishop Arts was on my list, but I didn’t expect to get this place.”

Inside Soul, the hustle and bustle of the pedestrian sidewalk outside is muted. A U-shaped white marble bar welcomes guests. The dining room, with tall windows and emerald-colored walls, is a few steps 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) adds to the upscale vibe.

On our first visit, after being seated at one of the white dressed tables in the dining room, we used our phones and a QR code to view the menu. The background music spans genres and cultures, but sometimes includes hip-hop, infusing a bit of energy, but stepping into the conversation is never so strong. Our waiter appeared quickly to introduce himself and then gave us a moment to go through the drinks menu. Like so many restaurants these days, menus are only available on your phone after scanning a QR code from a small sign on the table.

Wines, by the glass or by the bottle, dominate the drink menu, which includes a modest selection of beers and cocktails. The wines represent a wide range of countries, France, Italy, Spain, Armenia, and Argentina, as well as several California wineries and a Texas vineyard.

Click to enlarge Sour Massala is made with Old Forester bourbon and topped with aquafaba mousse.  - ALISON MCLEAN

Sour Massala is made with Old Forester bourbon and topped with aquafaba mousse.

Alison mclean

The cocktail menu in particular shows Soul’s sub-continental influence. The masala sour ($ 16) starts with Old Forester bourbon, Licor 43, and lemon, which is topped with a delicate aquafaba mousse with a touch of homemade masala syrup and bitters. It is a unique version of the sour whiskey that touches the heart of any bourbon lover.

The dinner menu is peppered with ingredients that stand out from traditional North Texas Indian menus. An aloo tikki is sprinkled with pepitas. Yellow beet samosas contain nuts and serrano peppers. The biryani is topped with a Scottish egg and crispy fried onions. An eggplant cooked in masala is served with a turmeric bechamel sauce.

For entrees to share, the Classic Chaat ($ 16) is a rich mix of chickpeas, onions and yogurt layered on small potato pancakes with a nice crunch. Dip one of the crispy samosa chips into the aromatic, salty chaat for a treat.

The entrees are split between vegetable and grain dishes, meats or seafood. Tandoori fish curry ($ 32), a flaky sea bass fillet seasoned with cilantro, turmeric and garlic, is one example. the mix of Indian dishes from Nayeb supported by French cooking techniques; the delicate tenderloin is based on a silky puree of green leeks, green peas and lemongrass, which offers a 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 bechamel sauce.”

Consider adding a side of naan soufflés to your meal. Unlike the flat naan in other Indian places, these smaller, fluffy orbs look more like rolls with a black spot of sesame seeds resting on them like a button. They are ideal for boiling succulent leek puree.

Click to enlarge Herb and Pistachio Crusted Lamb Chops - ALISON MCLEAN

Lamb chops in a herb and pistachio crust

Alison mclean

Pistachio-Crusted Lamb Chops ($ 38) are more like a classic French-inspired dish. A trio of bone-in chops wear a coat of ground pistachios over semi-cooked meat. The robust aroma of spices on lamb tarnishes but doesn’t completely erase the traditional scent of lamb. Mashed potatoes with pistachio under the meat seasoned with a touch of spiciness of serrano pepper, a flavor profile that leans more Indian than French.

The plate of dishes here is refined. Lamb chops crisscross on a neat snowball-shaped pile of potatoes. The biryani is stacked high with a Scottish egg neatly perched on top and finely fried onions. Pieces of chicken tikka are purposefully stacked in the middle of shallow bowls surrounded by a vibrant orange-red cashew cream sauce.

Click to enlarge The Elephant Room - ALISON MCLEAN

The elephant room

Alison mclean

At the back of Soul’s dining room, a dark green velvet curtain hides an adjacent room called the Elephant Bar, a separate bar that can accommodate a dozen parched patrons. Nayeb says the bar contributes to its goal of making me a destination choice.

“Elephant Bar has its own identity, its own menu, its own style,” says Nayeb. “It’s like a clandestine bar with a European vibe. But also, it’s more accessible, everyone can drop by, have a drink and leave.”

In fact, Elephant Bar patrons can tour the bar through its own entrance on Bishop Avenue and never set foot in Soul. A shiny gold chandelier adorns the space like a flame-lit tiara, which is reflected in a mirrored wall doubling the chic effect. Plush emerald green chairs with open lines are a testament to the attention to every detail in this room. Heavy curtains block any idea that you are having a drink anywhere other than an elegant Parisian living room.

The Elephant Bar has a short list of dishes to share like beet samosa ($ 12) or fried calamari in masala butter ($ 16) that lean towards more Indian influences.

When you’re aiming for a high-end experience, like Nayeb is, service has to follow, and sometimes Soul doesn’t quite hit the mark. Our interactions with the hosts, waiters and bartenders were all friendly, but there were gaps that separate good service from great service. Nayeb tells us that when Soul opened, the kitchen staff consisted of a chef, a dishwasher, and Nayeb herself, and she admits that staffing is always a struggle.

On weekends, the list of reservations at Soul can fill up quickly. The popularity seems well deserved. Prior to its abrupt closure last year, Hattie’s was an institution in Bishop Arts and attracted diners from across the region looking for a more refined but still accessible dining experience. Ã…me continues this tradition by offering a similar refined atmosphere, but with a unique menu not found anywhere else in Bishop Arts. Soul presents classic Indian cuisine with modern touches and a French influence in an elegant setting.

Soul, 418 N Bishop Ave. (Bishop Arts District), open for dinner 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday, and brunch Saturday and Sunday 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.


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