It’s not easy being famous. Really, it’s not. Once you’ve been on Top Chef, like Tre Wilcox was, you can’t ever shake it. He came into people’s living rooms each Wednesday night for nine weeks in 2007, back when he was chef de cuisine at Abacus, in Dallas. Viewers watched his successes and failures, and they got to know him as one of the most normal and likable contestants on that ego-infested show. So when passersby recognize him on the street (which still happens from time to time), the first thing they want to know is “Hey, Tre, when are you going to open your own restaurant?”
Well, it’s about to happen. After two years of private chefing, Wilcox is back in the game. He has surfaced as the head man at two-year-old Loft 610, where he and 610’s primary owner, Brian Twomey, are testing the waters prior to making a bigger splash with a restaurant in the Highland Park area before the end of 2010 (they’re not revealing the name or exact location yet).
So what’s on Tre’s plate these days? Seafood—fully half the starters and entrées—and a menu of global crowd-pleasers that touches down in the Mediterranean, Asia, the Deep South, and Texas. The night my friends and I visited, we started with plump Japanese-inspired pot stickers filled with shredded beef and shiitake mushrooms; they got a nice boost from a drizzle of apricot glaze, though I wish it had been a touch more spicy (and less sweet). Also influenced by Japan was our favorite app: precisely cut squares of seared Hawaiian tuna seasoned with coarsely ground coriander and fennel and accessorized by watermelon radish, jícama, and a dab of smoked-tomato emulsion (a.k.a. “foam”—chefs gotta show off their molecular gastronomy chops).
If you want to taste what fish is like when it’s perfectly prepared, order it here. The buttery crust on my snapper in lemon beurre blanc was so crisp it all but crunched, while the interior remained miraculously moist. Mediterranean ideas showed up again in an earthier dish, the smoked pork chop with mushroom-and-scallion risotto, a combination boasting seductive flavors and excellent technique (beautifully brined meat; just-right al dente rice). The only hitch was a surfeit of salt.
Loft 610 has a pastry chef, Kara Blair, whose creations range from homey (a pear spice cake with a crumble topping) to sophisticated (layers of chocolate cake and milk-chocolate mousse garnished with a très trendy bacon-and-hazelnut brittle). But you owe it to yourself to try Tre’s new signature dessert, a bracing lemon-tarragon panna cotta (pictured). Although it was a tad firmer than I like, I found myself scooping up “one last bite” until every dab was gone.
As inviting as Loft 610 is—with warm brick walls and exposed ceiling struts in a soaring room that is twenty feet tall if it’s an inch—it is obviously Tre’s test kitchen. Of course he’s giving it his all, but you know he has to be saving some surprises for later this year. Hey, Tre, your public has another burning question: What will you be cooking when you’re truly back in the spotlight? Bar (till 2 a.m. Fri & Sat). Granite Park shopping area, 5760 Texas Hwy 121 (972-377-2500). Lunch Tue–Fri 11–2. Dinner Tue–Sat 5–11. Closed Sun & Mon. $$$ W+