You can hear it, if you listen closely enough. Not the din of chitchat hanging in the high ceiling caverns like a thick blanket of smog, not the staccato of clashing flatware, but the jingle of coins muffled in plastic cups and the near-melodious throb of slot-machine bells.
"No, it's not that tacky," says a dining companion. "It's more tasteful, like Disney World." And everyone knows "taste" and Disney World go together like the pathology coprolalia (uncontrollable cussing) and church bingo.
But it is tasteful like Vegas. This can be proven. Grand Lux Café was spawned when heavyweights from The Venetian Resort, Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas asked David Overton, founder of The Cheesecake Factory, to create an upscale casual restaurant, the dining equivalent of not tucking your $1,000 designer silk shirt into your pre-ripped jeans. Grand Lux roots are deeply bored into the dry sands of Las Vegas Boulevard and sprout "opulent Venetian" themes pilfered from trips to Europe where Italian trattorias, French bistros and the grand cafes and pastry shops of Vienna were scrutinized. The grandeur and luxury of European cafes were fused with the "sensibilities and spirit of an all-American restaurant," which means Grand Lux Café has a menu as voluminous as the federal tax code, except in place of exemptions and deductions, the Grand Lux inserts chicken.
The Grand Lux Café has fried chicken, crispy caramel chicken, chicken Parmesan, Madeira chicken, lemon chicken piccata, chicken Venetian, chicken schnitzel and Indochine shrimp and chicken, plus five out of eight entrée salads featuring chicken--six if you count turkey (hell, it tastes like chicken). Yet in fairness, there are a couple of steaks, a pot roast, burgers, Wiener schnitzel and fish.
We decided to sample the fish because it's the furthest from chicken we could get without going vegan.
"Halibut Mediterranean," we said.
The halibut is crusted in crumbs and crowded with oven-roasted tomato, artichoke petals, capers and basil. It's pooled in olive oil and balsamic vinegar. It's all bedded down over a mashed-potato hump.
We waited. Service is not brisk at the Grand Lux Café, although they do seek to counteract the deficiency somewhat. After entrée ordering concludes, servers spurt a short selection of time-consuming desserts and urge you to launch them with the entrées if you don't want to be sleeping off the chicken entrées while they're baking.
"We don't have any halibut," said the server. He returned 10 minutes after order submission. What were the alternatives? Ono, mahi mahi and ahi tuna.
"Ono." This time five minutes lapsed.
"We don't have any ono." The logic of chicken hit us like some divine mathematical insight. If the range of birds was broad--duck, quail, squab, turkey, free-range urban pigeon--such outages would no doubt infect the flock. But stick to chicken, and you not only can beef up your menu with astonishing variety, you greatly contribute to economies of scale.
The piping hot plate holding the Cajun rib eye arrived just after we converted our ono to mahi mahi. The meat was a curious shade of amber offset by blackened edges. Juices pooled. First cut: The meat is rosy and warm; good grill work. The flavor is rich, and the Cajun spice treatment frames it aggressively--though not obnoxiously--giving some teeth to a bite that would otherwise come off like a gum nibble. Yet the texture frayed this provocative sensuality. The meat was loose, punctuated by great fat baubles and gristle knots.
The Mediterranean fish arrives: a confusing, overwrought collage. The fish wasn't bad, yet it was hampered by a swamp: Hordes of tomatoes, kalamatas, artichoke and capers buried the flesh, while olive oil and balsamic melded into a greasy pool with well-defined slicks. The mashed potatoes seemed beside the point.
Other sea matters didn't suffer as much, busy though they were. Notice this load on the spicy ahi sanpans: raw tuna with green onion and sesame seeds served in wonton boats with chili aioli and wasabi cream sauce. There is a fluff of bean sprouts and shavings of pickled ginger, plus a puff of cold hard rice. Cucumber and carrot top the boats. Oils are beaded over the plate.
In this cluttered dress, the chopped tuna, a bit too warm for this raw guise, disappears, much like the halibut-cum-ono-cum-mahi mahi Mediterranean.
Crispy Thai shrimp and chicken rolls were more restrained. Tight rolls, fried crisp and angle cut at one end, are neatly stacked at the side of the plate. At the other end is a bowl with an enormous heap of bright green lettuce and mint topped with strings of carrot. It's a take on the lettuce wrap, the P.F. Chang's China Bistro specialty that has been burrowing into menus with potent profligacy.
Clutch the greaseless roll, place it in a cupped lettuce leaf, tear up a few mint leaves and flurry the tatters over it, drop in a few carrot strings, close it up, dip it into the ramekin of chili sauce and you get...a mess. The wrap doesn't hold together too well, but it is delicious, the crisp fry working in tandem with foliage crunch.
Grand Lux looks odd in its Tollway-gazing Galleria notch; like a neo-Roman castle planted in an industrial park. There are lots of loud yellows, gas lanterns, heavy metal and a klatch of angels mounted on the building's face. It's the Bass Performance Hall as interpreted by Donald Trump bonging to a Looney Tunes marathon.
Of course, there is adult supervision. The oversized banquettes, art-deco sconces fitted with cobalt blue balls rising intermittently from the backs, are comfortable, and the marble tabletops are handsome. Marble planks the floors, and gold flakes the ceilings. The room glows with amber, and the room's pillars are armored with dark metallic planks pebbled with studs. Staffers, dressed in black, sweep through the dining room murmuring into walkie-talkies, seemingly hunting for open tables before they radio in hostess strikes. Grand Lux has a command console near the massive front doors, with an expansive view of the bar as well as the bakery case where you can load up on cheesecakes and pies while digesting your chicken. There the console commander monitors computer screens with interactive maps of the dining room.
Say what you will about Grand Lux, it is a marvelous casino-like monument to efficiency, one that will no doubt rake in gobs of creamy profits, just like its Cheesecake Factory stud. This is why they serve breakfast, no doubt.
Eggs Benedict are billed as "The Best." Maybe it's because they contain not Canadian bacon, but ham. And they're artfully done: thick, fluffy English muffins with expansive but very thin slices of fray-edged pig flesh, folded to prevent too much overhang. The eggs are poached into near-alarming softness, and the hollandaise is warm (not hot), lacking a firm lemony bite--good, but not the best by some margin. Better were the fluffy Tuscan farmhouse eggs, pummeled with grape tomatoes, basil and shaved Parmesan. This lightly hearty dish looks insurmountable, and it is if you include the optional hash browns (the other choice, tomatoes, was mealy).
Desserts are exceptional. The rustic apple pie has a flaky crust with puffy golden edges and apples that are firm, tart and not overly gooed with brown sugar. Another great thing about Grand Lux desserts: Not a single one contains chicken.
13420 Dallas North Parkway, 972-385-3114. Open 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-12:30 a.m. Friday & Saturday. $$-$$$
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