First-Take: Tre Wilcox’s Marquee Bar & Grill in Highland Park

Chef Tre Wilcox (left); Marquee's contemporary dining room (right). (Photos by Desirée Espada.)

What to expect: Let me open by saying that the first time D Magazine’s administrative coordinator Loren Means went to Marquee for lunch, she didn’t leave until well after dinner. There’s a lot of evidence to suggest that the cocktails are as much to blame as the food, but all she knows is that she was happily reunited with Wilcox’s duck three ways and Jason Kosmas’ French 75. She describes it as “one happy Sunday.”

These days, in Marquee’s two-level restaurant (and on the cooled, bird’s-eye-view, movie-marquee patio), the duck three ways may appear and disappear from the rotating menu (as if Wilcox does not want to replicate Abacus, yet can’t escape the dish’s popularity), and the French 75 is concocted by request only, but we managed to have a great meal nonetheless. Even though some of the items I mention herein will most likely have cycled off for your visit, the bulk of the menu shows evidence of Wilcox’s skill and optimism.

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Quail stuffed with wild boar sausage. (Photo by Desirée Espada.)

On the menu: We started with the quail appetizer stuffed with wild-boar sausage. Even split between two people, the quail was meaty and savory enough to satisfy both of us. The addition of wild boar might imply a gamey aftertaste; this was not the case. Instead the meat was mildly spiced and rich with fats and dense protein. As a contrast, the bright and pungent artisan salad with shaved fennel and tomato vinaigrette cleared the palate for the courses to come.

Gentlemanly waiters and contemporary environs. (Photos by Desirée Espada.)

For our main courses, we chose the seared duck breast (lovely and rare) and the thick,  juicy bone-in pork chop served over morel risotto with an additional side crock of bacon-rich, braised Brussels sprouts that stole the show. In the case of the chop, the inherent superiority of the meat was optimized by a brief cook time. The risotto, while salty, hummed with mellow mushrooms, grounding the dish from the bottom up.

Grilled pork chop with morel risotto. (Photos by Desirée Espada.)

My only point of concern came with the dessert: airy layers of chocolate layered with salted caramel popcorn and garnished with vanilla ice cream and more popcorn. No part of it failed—the chocolate was rich, yet light; the popcorn was crunchy, and the ice cream provided girl-next-door solidity, but together the dish felt like flavor overkill, too much of too many good things.

Brussels sprouts side. Nobody puts this baby in the corner. (Photos by Desirée Espada.)

Respect to Jason Kosmas for his deft and layered cocktail menu. We ordered a trial margarita, tangy with blood orange juice and a spicy kick. Since Kosmas was pouring, we asked him to surprise us on our second drink, with the only stipulations being that he use tequila or rum, give it some heat, and not make it too sweet. What arrived was exactly that—a delicious cocktail tailored to my specs. But, after trying both, I actually preferred the margarita off the menu. The moral: trust the man behind the shaker.

Chocolate layered with salted popcorn and garnished with ice cream. (Photos by Desirée Espada.)

In all, touches of Hollywood regency in the entry, clubby lounge spaces inside and movie marquee rooftop provide a see-and-be-seen vortex. One caveat: the place can feel chaotic if you sit at one of the tables near the upstairs bar. Instead, opt for a second-floor table overlooking the parking lot (trust us, the view is better than it sounds; this is Highland Park after all), or brave the frizzies and head out onto the patio.  Try it out for yourself and see if you can beat Loren’s seven-hour record.

Jason Kosmas, mixologist and cocktail consultant. (Photos by Desirée Espada.)

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