Restaurant Review: Marquee Grill & Bar
Top Chef Tre Wilcox takes his talents to Highland Park Village.
I couldn’t find an Austrian wine on the by-the-glass page, so I asked to see the bottle. Instead, he brought out a full glass, set it before me, and asked to take our order. I again asked to see the bottle. He returned and, without apology, showed me a bottle of Mohua Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand. I tried to ease the tension by joking that he must have confused Austria with Australia, which isn’t far from New Zealand. He turned and walked away.
He returned 10 minutes later and interrupted our conversation. “Please don’t disappoint me by not ordering the duck breast,” he said. “It is my favorite, and you must eat it for me.” We hadn’t even opened our menus yet.
Once we did, we found a nifty list of small plates on the left page and a compact selection of entrées on the right. Wilcox’s cuisine is hard to classify. The appetizers are the most appealing and include crispy spring rolls, shrimp and grits, and vegetable risotto—plus a few unusual dishes intended to impress foodies. The entrées feature four steaks, a few seafood dishes, and one preparation each of chicken, pork, and duck. The composition of each entrée changes frequently, but the protein-plus-potato presentations are safe versions of lavishly garnished 75205 banquet food.
All of the starters we tried were superb. Ceviche is an inspired combination of lobster, squid, and avocado mixed in a gazpacho sauce thickened with banana purée. A few specks of fresh jalapeño add heat to the slightly sweet liquid scented with ginger and rum. A soup of fresh corn in a warm cream broth was almost too sweet, but we finished it without remorse. Panko-crusted soft-shell crab, served with a soft shake of jalapeño powder and a slice of grilled pineapple, could have been a meal in itself.
All of the entrées were average. The much-touted duck breast arrived at our table cool. The huge portion was presliced and sat in an equally tepid porcini sauce. To the side, a mound of crispy Brussels sprout leaves rested against an apple-fennel purée. Another entrée, a massive chicken thigh, must have been trimmed from a chicken that stood 3 feet tall. The meat was juicy, but the spice allegedly rubbed into the leg must have fallen off in the cooking process. A warm sherry sauce helped. Overall, though, it was nothing special. Same goes for the strip, which, ordered medium rare, was served medium.
At this point in our meal, our chummy waiter had disappeared. We sat with unfinished food in front of us for 20 minutes. But he came back with a joke. “Okay, my pretty ladies,” he said. “Are you ready for your main course?” Hysterical! We tried to order dessert, but he was incapable of explaining the details of a chocolate coolant with milk jam. We decided to leave.
Several weeks later, we returned for lunch. To my horror, we drew the same waiter. “Where did all of you beautiful ladies come from?” he asked. His unctuousness knew no bounds. However, the table of women in tennis togs drinking white wine across from us ate up his corny compliments, as did the sorority sisters at the next table.
We ordered a burger, which was a thin strip of meat at the bottom of a pile of garnish between two shiny buns. A seared tuna salad was a rectangular plate with a nice portion of tuna, but two of the pieces were untrimmed, beyond seared, and tough. A fancy-sounding panko-crusted chicken salad with watercress was embarrassingly pedestrian. Four 3-inch strips of overfried chicken rested like dark brown cigars on each side of a pile of sliced iceberg lettuce topped with crispy red tortilla strips.
The next time I called for reservations, I requested the Chef’s Dining Room. It was like eating in a different restaurant. The service was attentive and professional, and the food arrived hotter. I tried the rabbit with chocolate panna cotta, jalapeño honey, and pumpkin powder. Later, Wilcox described it to me as a “molecular gastronomy take on Southwestern cuisine.” To me, it was like a ridiculous attempt to deconstruct a mole—a little rabbit swiped through the pumpkin, honey, and chocolate was gimmicky but good. The standout entrée was the 3-inch bone-in pork chop, grilled over hickory and oak. It takes Wilcox three days to prepare this chop for the plate. The chop is brined, cold smoked, and marinated in chopped shallots, garlic, rosemary, oregano, thyme, and parsley. The tender meat, gently sauced in a maple glaze, melts in your mouth leaving the flavors of sweet, savory, and smoke on the tongue.
On this visit, we managed dessert. The signature salute to the theater, a chocolate tart layered with caramel popcorn and served with salty butter ice cream, was fun. But the house-made ice creams, particularly the sweet basil, were the perfect antidote to a hot Dallas night. We enjoyed our experience so much that we didn’t want to leave. So we headed to the bar.
There we discovered our favorite Marquee treat: the Scarf Dancer, a dainty cocktail designed by Kosmas. He fills a champagne coupe with a deep purple drink made with Tito’s Vodka, St-Germain, lemon juice, and black currant purée. Curls of lemon peel echo the logo etched into the wine glasses. The inspiration for both comes from the art deco statue in the lobby of the theater, a nude with a long scarf draped around her waist. We raised our Scarf Dancers in a toast: “Here’s to feeling like beautiful ladies!”
For more information about Marquee Grill & Bar, visit our restaurant guide.