Marquee Grill & Bar: Tre Wilcox's Starring Role

Former Top Chef contender aims to please both Bubbas and foodies.

I see blond people.

I am sitting in a leathery banquette at the new Marquee Grill & Bar in Highland Park Village, flanked on one side by what looks like a 20-year reunion of Kappa Kappa Gamma, and beset on the other by an attractive blond with matching baby. In fact, I'm feeling a little bit blond myself—in an Anita Ekberg/La Dolce Vita kind of way—basking in the cinematic glow of a dining room that's blinged up with nods to '50s Italian deco: beveled mirrors, bubble-glass chandeliers and lots of black and white and lattice design. I'm also bathing in the reflected aura of one of Dallas' few celebrity chefs, Tre Wilcox, recently of Loft 610, and former contestant on Bravo's Top Chef.

I have seen every episode of Top Chef, some of them multiple times. I am not a reality show junkie but rather was hired as the writer of two Top Chef cookbooks, so I was responsible for parsing each episode for bon mots and exciting moments—from Dale T's locker-smacking tantrums to Fabio and Stefan's Euro bromance—that could be repackaged in text form for fans.

Bubba food gets fancied up with chef Tre Wilcox's shrimp and grits.
Sara Kerens
Bubba food gets fancied up with chef Tre Wilcox's shrimp and grits.

Location Info

Map

Village Marquee - Texas Grill & Bar

33 Highland Park Village
Dallas, TX 75205

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Park Cities

Details

Marquee Grill & Bar Spring vegetable risotto $11 Marinated jumbo Texas shrimp & grits $12 ($14 at dinner) Beeman Ranch steak frites $24 ($33 at dinner) Spicy pulled pork sub $19 Maple Leaf Farms duck three ways $24 Lamb ravioli $15 Asian field green salad $12 Grilled Bay of Fundy salmon $27 Spice-rubbed chicken thighs $18 Dark chocolate coulant $9 Banana trifle $8 (at lunch)

Here's what I learned by watching Wilcox during his tenure on Season 3 and more recently on Top Chef All-Stars: In terms of popularity and likability, it doesn't always matter if you win or lose, but how you play the game, and Tre played it calm and cool. Despite the grueling competition, he was always civil and professional, turning out impressive-looking dishes and gaining the respect of the judges. With that magic cocktail of cooking talent and affability, no wonder Dallas has a communal crush on him.

When asked about his approach to the menu, Wilcox is candid. "There are some dishes you put out there for the foodies, things that really show off your technique and get the wow," he says. "And some dishes you just shoot straight down the fairway. You need to serve something for the Bubbas too, and we want to please everyone." Referring to one of the Marquee's owners, he genially explains, "Brian Twomey is a Bubba. And if he likes something on the menu, I know it's gonna work."

When the place first opened, Wilcox says, he played it a little safe, serving popular dishes (tuna tartare, Kobe beef carpaccio) that are also easy to execute, with the dishes serving as culinary training wheels until the kitchen found its groove. Now they are ramping up the menu, creating more ambitious starters that showcase Wilcox's skills, from molecular experimentation picked up from friends on Top Chef to Thai touches he brought over from Abacus, where he was once chef de cuisine.

The two-story Marquee Grill, which encompasses what was part of the historic movie theater next door and part of the Escada shop on the other side, feels appropriately both fashionable and theatrical. I almost felt the need to spritz on a little Chanel perfume before entering, but the phalanx of greeters didn't look at me askance for my shortage of designer tags. Instead they enthusiastically offered to show me around the restaurant, including the glamorous dining room downstairs facing a wide-open kitchen, a more casual deco-style bar with outdoor patio upstairs (the place to sip your Pimm's Cup, right above the theater's eponymous marquee) and a somewhat more generic second dining room upstairs.

The restaurant makes a big deal of its bar and master mixologist, beverage director Jason Kosmas, but surprisingly no cocktails were offered to us at the table. Instead a nice wine list aims to please, going heavy on California and France. It included some choice bottles like Opus 1 for diners in a really festive mood, but also enough offerings below $50 to keep diners on a budget from feeling like scroungers.

Starters are a mix of the sublime and the tried-and-true. Duck three ways shows off the kitchen's virtuosity with a combination of perfectly cooked foie gras, sliced seared duck breast and a little crepe filled with succulent duck confit, plated with a huckleberry maple syrup. Somewhat less successful was a lamb-filled ravioli with ramp pesto. The spiced, shredded lamb filling was immaculate and the ramp pesto added a fresh, springy touch, but the pasta wrappers were clearly too thick and gummy. (Later, however, when talking with Wilcox, he told me that a diner had made them aware of the pasta problem and they had already fixed it.)

Perhaps the ultimate Bubba dish is the Marquee's signature shrimp and grits. True to Dallas and the South, and yet entirely sophisticated and flavorful, the grits are spiked with chipotle chiles and Jack cheese and topped with grilled jumbo shrimp. On Top Chef All-Stars, Wilcox was sent home for what the judges thought was an insufficiently creamy risotto, so it's with a bit of pugnaciousness that risotto is prominently featured on the menu. The spring risotto with fresh peas, ramps and mushrooms is still al dente, so you can taste each grain of carnaroli rice, but finished with cream and butter and spiced with black pepper for a memorable and fresh lunch dish. The pulled pork sandwich was sweet and tangy, but came with dull provolone cheese. It called for something like pickled vegetables or a slaw as a contrast.

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1 comments
Rachael
Rachael

Not all Kappas are blond. This post is clearly a reflection of discriminatory stereotyping at its finest. My chapter is 90% brunettes and all of my sisters are so incredibly different. How do people get away with generalizing like this in today's world?

 
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