By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Alice Laussade
By City of Ate
By Scott Reitz
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Alice Laussade
Takes some nerve to open a restaurant in the westernmost flatlands of Frisco and call it BayGrill. It doesn't even have a bay window, this bistro, much less proximity to a body of water.
It is a pretty little place, however, sitting on the edge of oblivion at Legacy Drive and Highway 121. In two visits—a quick weekday lunch and a leisurely weekend dinner—we found lots to like about it and many reasons to return, even if it is 30 miles and five tollbooths from home.
Fish is the focus at BayGrill, which means just about everything on the menu has to rack up a bunch of flyer miles to get from its source to the plate. The freshness of the "catch of the day" is always a little suspect at a landlocked seafood spot. You can never quite be sure what day—what week—that Alaskan cod or Maryland crab or Canadian walleye was netted and began the long iced-down journey ending next to that cabbage slaw and hushpuppies.
Let's not even start to calculate the carbon fin-print of the stuff. Environment guilt, like revenge, is a dish best served cold (or under golden arches).
BayGrill falls somewhere between the upscale elegance of Oceanaire and the cheap thrills of Aw Shucks. Owner John Ingram is a veteran restaurateur who spent two decades in Dallas steakhouses, as director of operations with Kirby's and then at Morton's. The 100-seat BayGrill, open a year in March, is Ingram's first foray into the fish biz, though he hasn't abandoned beef entirely. In his kitchen are an executive chef (whom Ingram said he preferred not to identify by name because he snatched him away from one of his former employers) and two cooks who've been with Ingram for 10 years or more. (BayGrill's first head chef, Mason Phelps, left in November.)
Ingram is a friendly host who likes to work the room to make sure diners' needs are met. His standard of service sees that all the waitstaff serves all the tables all the time. It might be the owner himself refilling your coffee cup or whisking away those empty plates. A congenial family atmosphere, in the kitchen and out front, adds warmth to a restaurant decorated in the metals and etched glass of cool industrial chic.
The regular menu (about to undergo a few changes, says Ingram) offers a range of medium-priced appetizers, salads, po' boy sandwiches and entrees. There's the usual fried calamari among the starters—crisp, tasty and plentiful, but indistinguishable from its cousins at a dozen chain restaurants—but we liked the tempura green beans for their sweeter snap, even dripping with smoky hollandaise. The Manhattan-style clam chowder brims with tender clam bits, but its red broth has a metallic twang and the cubes of potato have been cooked to mush.
A blackboard advertises special entrees. This provides valuable insight into what the chef feels like cooking on a particular day, or it can be a warning about which fish he's pushing because it's about to go off. Remember Chef Anthony Bourdain's advice from Kitchen Confidential? Never order seafood at a Monday lunch, especially if it's "special." That fish probably was delivered on Thursday, in anticipation of busy Friday and Saturday night dinners. If it hasn't been eaten by Sunday night, it becomes Monday's special.
The freshness factor could explain the vastly different dining experiences we had at BayGrill. Our Saturday evening dinner was sublime. An earlier weekday lunch was not.
At dinner the Maryland crab cake appetizer was stuffed with chunks of crab meat, with just enough Cajun spice to warm up the blandness of the surrounding cornmeal. The night's "chef's special" presented a mixed grill combination of three regular menu items: a generous portion of horseradish and citrus-crusted cedar plank salmon, two chili-rubbed jumbo shrimp with barbecue hollandaise, and a pair of pan-seared sea scallops with chive beurre blanc (a rich white butter sauce). The slab of salmon arrived on a charred sliver of aromatic cedar, still smoking from the fire. It was pink perfection, as were the fiery-spiced shrimp. One of the scallops was a heavenly soft white pouf; the other was noticeably gritty, but we ate every bite anyway, using each forkful to sop up the chive-dotted sauce. Next to the entrees, the side dishes (more like platters) of cheesy lemon orzo, fresh corn and steamed broccoli seemed like intrusive distractions (we took most of those home).
Dinner was a pleasant surprise, given the disappointing lunch we'd had the week before. At that meal an order of the "molasses and honey Guinness-glazed cod" came out as three broken, badly singed pieces of tough white fish swimming in a sticky-sweet brown syrup. One gag-making taste was enough. A side of cole slaw was like an inedible heap of wet, purple yarn. Server Jessica was on the case and quick. "Is anything wrong?" she asked quietly. We pointed at the floundering blob of cod. "Does this look good to you?" we asked. She made the plate vanish without comment or judgment and took the price off the bill. "I think the chef tried cooking it too fast," she said later. "We're really sorry."
Aiming to please is so important to a restaurant's success, and it's something so few of them really do. Ingram and his crew at BayGrill appear to care sincerely. During a meal service, they are there and not there, popping up just when they're needed and stepping into the shadows again when they're not. We could find only one thing wrong with the ambience: They might be a mite too obliging to parents bringing in young children. Shrieking toddlers and squalling infants were all around at the Saturday night dinner. Their parents could tune out the din. We couldn't. Please, people, hire a baby-sitter. You might look at your little ones as adorable genetic miracles, but to the rest of us they're as welcome in a nice restaurant as a pack of wild dogs.
That's really our biggest beef about BayGrill. Speaking of which (cue the transition music), Ingram knows about meat and he might want to tip his menu a little more toward us carnivores. His fish is fine enough—except for that gunky cod—but his burger and filet mignon are standouts. Still using his meat suppliers from Kirby's and Morton's days, Ingram serves only the highest quality Sterling Silver beef. The burger, accompanied by matchstick-thin pomme frites, sings a juicy basso profundo aria of peppery seasonings and careful grilling.
While our dining companion savored his cedar plank salmon, we had the 8-ounce filet mignon. Thick yet dainty, it was dry yet buttery-rich in all the right ways. We would make that long drive—heck, we'd swim upstream—for another of these tenderloin gems. This is fancy steakhouse-quality beef at a Houston's price.
Half of our entrees went into to-go boxes at both meals because the dessert choices were too tempting. Key lime pie almost everywhere else has become corrupted by cheesecake-y thickness and oversweet fillings. BayGrill's sour-sweet Key lime pie has two layers of originality: a thick meringue topped with burnished peaks and bits of candied lime zest; and a white chocolate and macadamia nut crust that crunches like a praline. Let us pause now to thank the dessert muses for inspiring these innovations.
Nuggets of macadamia also are sprinkled into the dreamy crème brûlée. The bread pudding, new to BayGrill's dessert lineup, isn't the typical scoop of gooey beige mush drowned in white sauce. This warm, soft shimmer of sweet bread is delicately mined with cranberries instead of raisins. Nice touch. And a fitting way to end a mighty sweet meal.
1377 Legacy Drive, Suite 120, Frisco, 214-618-5540. Open 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday-Friday and 4:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. $$$