Home on the range: The menu at Legacy Grill is much more sophisticated than its décor.
Home on the range: The menu at Legacy Grill is much more sophisticated than its décor.
Stephen P. Karlisch

More Bang for Your 'Burb

If you're a member of Dallas' mildly xenophobic and snooty downtown demimonde, then the last thing you ever say when fishing for something to do is, "Let's go to Frisco." We're not talking about the city by the bay, but the 33,000-strong and growing 'burb in north, north Dallas, where McKinney meets The Colony meets Plano meets Oklahoma. Sure, Frisco is making waves among the fast-and-cool, God-fearing white folks of North Texas as the new Plano: Nordstrom cosmetics counter? Check; Bang & Olufsen electronics store? Check. But aside from an up-and-coming school district and neighborhoods that differ from house to house only by choice of brick and trim color, Frisco seems a far cry from Dallas' aspiring urbanity. Really, some of us believe the suburbs begin where NorthPark Center ends. We see the region where the 972 area code takes effect as that vast wasteland you venture into when you have to hit the Galleria or hop on a plane bound for either coast. There's simply no reason to travel north unless you want to bop around Asian and Indian restaurants and grocery stores, planning your ethnically diverse dinner parties.

If you're looking for a refreshing meal characterized by an inventive, economical use of ingredients, though, you could do much, much worse than venturing out Highway 121 to the Legacy Grill. Located in the Westin Stonebriar Resort--which boasts its Tom Fazio-designed golf course everywhere it can--the Legacy Grill features an airy, relaxed dining room. To the Stonebriar's credit, it turns the often-gauche restaurant-inside-a-business-meeting-space hotel into a brisk, comfortable experience. Rather than opting for the sort of large dining area that exudes the menacing charm of an ostentatious cafeteria, the Legacy Grill consists of a series of smaller, interconnecting rooms, anchored by Ernie's Bar at one end. These smaller dining spaces create an informal but classy ambiance that's not too loud or hushed, promoting convivial dinner conversation.

The décor is a different matter altogether. Baroque and rustic are two styles that really shouldn't be combined. You sit at sturdy, dark-wood tables on plush chairs of a pale, pink champagne hue amid a color confabulation that looks ripped from one of Alexander Julian's dizzying plaids of the 1980s. And while the lush drapery and Western motif paintings admittedly have a certain charm on their own, together they look about as comfortable as Condoleezza Rice during a television interview. It's the sort of collision of money and Texana that brings to mind what James Dean's wildcatter character Jett Rink in Giant would concoct post-gusher simply because it had the appropriate price tag. Imagine what would happen if Frederic Remington were the art director for the Pottery Barn, and you'll be getting close.


Legacy Grill

1549 Legacy Drive, inside the Westin Stonebriar Resort, Frisco

(972) 668-8000. Open for breakfast and lunch 6:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Saturday; open for dinner 6 p.m.-10:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday; open for breakfast and brunch 6:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Sunday. $$-$$$

Baby spinach and watercress salad: $7
Swordfish steak: $21
Creamed spinach with potato shallot
crust: $3.95
Banana Napoleon: $5.95
Caesar salad: $7.95

The interior design could take a lesson or two from the menu, which makes a little go a long way with commendable brio. Executive Chef Thierry Debailleul was schooled in the grand, Parisian tradition, but his career has included stints in more exotic locales that have rewarded him with an eye and taste for merging regional cuisine with the delicacies of a French gourmand.

The dinner menu is based on traditional steakhouse fare, but the nuances provide an eclectic gusto. It's a sensitivity that runs throughout the offerings, be they appetizers such as crab cakes or soups such as the chilled red gazpacho and lobster bisque. Each has a slightly different take on the familiar. In the instance of the baby spinach and watercress salad, it comes in the form of its accompanying roasted garlic dressing, pumpkin seeds, walnuts and crumbled blue cheese. The combination works quite well. The peppery spark of the watercress responds nicely to the sharp, but not overpowering, garlic dressing, and the walnuts and blue cheese surprise you as tasty bits alternating crunchy and nutty, soft and creamy.

While there are a few dinner options--like an ancho honey-glazed chicken served with black-eyed peas and mustard greens--the focus of the menu is steak dishes. Prime beef, lamb, center-cut pork, veal, salmon and swordfish steaks can be prepared with your choice of porcini mushrooms or mesquite rubs before cooking. Each is accompanied by a choice of a béarnaise, red-wine shallot, wasabi honey mustard or honey mango barbecue sauce, which is served warm in a demitasse pitcher. A porcini mushroom-rubbed swordfish steak with wasabi honey mustard sauce combination sounded unusual enough to warrant a try.

Swordfish makes for a versatile steak that's relatively difficult to mangle, but it's also a meat that doesn't hide ill-treating well. Overcooking yields an oily, tough, fatty texture. And like any fish, undercook it and you half suspect it will flip off your plate when you stick a fork into it. But cooked properly and with care, it's a succulent, moist flesh that becomes a juicy vehicle for a good sauce.

This swordfish cut was exactingly prepared and presented--well-grilled and with not a trace of fat around its edges. The porcini rub didn't seem to affect its flavor much; perhaps it was so subtle it eludes these taste buds--but the wasabi honey mustard sauce added a rich touch. The sweet and tangy first kiss of the honey mustard doesn't linger on the tongue for too long before the nasal-invading slow burn of wasabi kicks in. It's a surprising, delicate balance of hot and tart that also complemented the sides well when it bumped up against them: mashed potatoes--not too creamy, not too chunky, not too salty--and a medley of sautéed vegetables. (These come with the dish, but don't pass on some of the more interesting sides listed below the steaks on the menu, especially the creamed spinach with potato shallot crust, which looks as interesting as it tastes.) If a well-timed spice following a viscous sweet does it for you, you'll wish you could be buried alive in this delectable concoction.

Though the swordfish wasn't hampered or improved by a glass of chardonnay, the wine list is a bit sparse, but it's a minor flaw. (Consider this a word of caution to all Texas fine-dining establishments: Simply because the restaurant resides in Texas doesn't mean it has to serve Texas wines.) A few more well-chosen options would do wonders for a menu that has such an idiosyncratic tastefulness that could get buried by a robust cabernet sauvignon or an overly fruity merlot.

Try to save some room for dessert, however, because Debailleul hasn't skimped on that area of the menu either. A few of the options seem a bit too exotic--an apple tart served with a balsamic vinegar ice cream--but the others are recognizable sweet-tooth fare. The banana Napoleon, a multi-tiered ensemble of pastry crisps, cream and bananas, came out looking like one of Rem Koolhaas' gravity-defying designs, and you almost felt bad about upsetting its precarious balance by digging a spoon into it. Almost, that is.

Lunch features a few variations on the dinner menu, with the added addition of some mild twists on the basics, such as the Classic Black Angus Burger (an 8-ounce patty served with lettuce, tomato, onion, smoked bacon and cheddar cheese) and the Legacy Burger (a 10-ounce patty served with American cheese and sautéed onions), as well as daily specials. The Oriental chicken salad appeared thoroughly mixed and proportioned, giving the salad the visual panache of a stir-fry rather than a bed of greens on which various Asian accoutrements are laid. The Caesar salad, however, was only acceptable. The Caesar dressing was certainly perky, and the fresh Parmesan flakes were an expected indulgence, but the croutons were a bit bland. Perhaps the Caesar--with its straight-ahead allegiance to the norm--suffered by comparison to a menu that so obviously relished playing variations on a theme.

But when a forgettable Caesar salad is about the only thing wrong with a menu that takes some playful risks with uniformly appealing results, it's hardly a reason to complain. And if the Legacy Grill can pull off this sort of delicate flamboyance in Frisco, it makes you wonder what North Texas holds in store next. Nouveau continental Cambodian cuisine à la Sottha Khun's Le Cirque in Cedar Hill? You never know.


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