Marquee Grill's Seasonal Affective Disorder

Tomatoes in winter dull the spotlight in Highland Park.

Everything that's holding the Marquee Grill back from being one of Dallas' best restaurants can be explained through a single dish, described with detail on the menu as vine-ripe tomatoes and marinated mozzarella, cornbread croutons, basil gel and balsamic foam.

Like an extension of the dining room, the plate arrives like a work of art. The yellow cornbread croutons were light, sweet and heated with a bite of chili. The basil gel was intensely herbal, dotting the plate with forest green. The mozzarella was rich, and the balsamic foam complemented the plate like all good foams should — draping the dish with an airy suspension like a vinegary summer breeze.

It's not summer, though, it's December — a fact that becomes instantly apparent as I sunk my teeth into bland, soft tomatoes that tasted of wet cotton. The disappointment is aggravating: What's a caprese salad doing on a menu this time of year, anyway?

Request a seat near the kitchen to watch (Top Chef All-Star) Tre Wilcox work.
Sara Kerens
Request a seat near the kitchen to watch (Top Chef All-Star) Tre Wilcox work.

It's not just tomatoes. The same error recurs throughout, as peas, asparagus and yellow squash — vegetables and legumes that peak in spring and summer — share menu space with fall and winter staples like pumpkin seeds, butternut squash and sweet potato purées. What's worse is that the in-season ingredients get manhandled in sweet preparations that don't work as well as they could. A pumpkin soup is heavy, a meal, not a first course, and butternut squash grits taste of a winter spice blend not that far from a Starbucks latte.

Fine, yes, locavorism is a difficult tenant to embrace in Texas, where expense and availability are driven by a difficult climate and landscape. But seasonal cooking? That requires a mere conscious choice to follow the simple mantra that governs all great cooking: Source high-quality ingredients at the peak of their season, and treat them with respect and a quiet hand. The results will follow.

The counter argument suggests that the Dallas palate wants what it wants; a caprese salad lover craves tomatoes and mozz no matter what the current orientation is between the sun and the earth. But to acquiesce to this demand robs diners of a heightened appreciation that can only be experienced when we lust for something we miss.

Anyone who's ripped a vine-ripened tomato right from the plant in August knows what a tomato should taste like. It's an experience that's relished summer after summer, and always followed by three long seasons of desire. That's not an experience you can package up and save for Christmas — no matter how brightly Highland Park's holiday lights shine.

« Previous Page
 |
 
1
 
2
 
All
 
My Voice Nation Help
6 comments
David Silver
David Silver

This is a chef not paying attention, nor does he want to hear any feedback. He recently posted an extravagant "Boulud-style" burger on Facebook as a coming menu item. Thick with the foie-gras/truffle/gold gaudiness, I mentioned that this dish just does not make sense in our economic times. My comment was erased and I was "de-friended"on Facebook. That is not the work of an intelligent chef looking for feedback for a dish not yet on the menu. This could either be some marketing lackey not wanting anything on the column that could be considered "negative," or a chef who will never be great.

CheeryBitch
CheeryBitch

I quit reading after the fourth paragraph. Anyone got the Cliff Notes version?

virginia
virginia

You are overly arrogant and pompous - not to mention wordy and inaccurate. Although I have never eaten at this restaurant, after reading your review I would like to experience it. If you disliked it, it can't be all bad. Also, check your facts. National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation had an RV, but it certainly did not belong to their son, Rusty. It belonged to Cousin Eddie. That alone shows your reliability as a journalist.

guest
guest

Are you kidding? It's either good or it isn't... But, I guess that wouldn't make your editor happy to use so few words.

 
Loading...