Many things can be learned by butting heads with other chefs in a reality- TV cooking show. But the biggest lesson is this: If the judges ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy. And what does that translate to in real life? Substitute “clients” for “judges” and you’ve got it. Which is why Tre Wilcox must be enormously gratified when he sees the line of cars purring up to the valet stand at Marquee Grill and Bar. Ever since the likable Dallasite acquitted himself well on the third season of Top Chef, in 2007, his loyalists have been waiting for him to make his big move. It looks like the moment is here. ¶ Occupying two floors adjacent to the historic movie house in Highland Park Village, two-month-old Marquee could easily be mistaken for an interior designer’s showroom. The brick walls gleam in glossy white, setting off espresso-toned leather banquettes and a crisp blue-and-gray geometric-patterned carpet. The same sense of intelligent design extends to the menu, which has been perfectly calibrated for the well-traveled, well-coiffed, designer-clad clientele that regularly fills the restaurant’s dining rooms. It’s tempting to start with pot stickers, a reminder of Wilcox’s stint as chef de cuisine at Kent Rathbun’s Asian-influenced Abacus. But as good as the tender, caramelized beef-and-shiitake dumplings are, I preferred the more complex lamb-and-goat-cheese-filled ravioli. Even though the pasta envelopes were on the thick side, the bed of garlicky ramp pesto (a much better idea than ho-hum basil pesto) gave them a light, bright lift.
Any visit to a Wilcox restaurant demands an order of risotto, a dish he understands up, down, and sideways. The rice was so perfectly cooked—firm yet stirred to a lovely creamy texture—that even luxe additions like tender chunks of poached lobster and fresh green peas weren’t a distraction; the same couldn’t be said of the dish’s citrus brown butter, though, which was so rich that I gave up halfway through. Much more to my taste was the now famous entrée (it was featured in Food & Wine’s May issue) of spiced chicken thighs, pictured, which were permeated with the scent of star anise and coriander, then braised in a sauce of fresh tomato and dry sack; I wished only for a tad fewer herbs and spices in the accompanying jasmine rice, which ended up fighting with the chicken for center stage.
In deference to the many carnivores among his fans, Wilcox has wisely put four steaks on the menu. If the nicely charred wood-grilled flatiron—with a lush Shiner Bock and ancho demi—is any indication, the kitchen has beef cooking aced. Indeed, Marquee seems to have its act together on just about every measure, which makes me hope that its next move will be to step out of its comfort zone a mite and do a few more dishes