Like virtually every Dallas restaurant that doesn't deploy a platoon of white-coated servers who can say "excellent choice, sir" in 14 different languages including legalese, bureaucratese and NFL huddle-grunt, Maguire's M Grill & Tap is riddled with televisions. It's fortunate that we live in an age of relentless CNBC stock quotes, the WNBA, arena football and Poveromo's World of Saltwater Fishing, lest we find ourselves in bars with our eyes glued to Gong Show reruns or the comedic legacy of Jenny McCarthy.
But I've often been perplexed why some ingenious restaurateur hasn't yet cashed in on the current craze of "reality" television. Why not install closed-circuit television cameras in strategic locations around the premises for live broadcast on TVs around the bar, for example? Think of the cash-flow potential if Henderson Avenue czar Tristan Simon installed cameras in the secluded cubbyholes of his private club Sense for rebroadcast on televisions in his very public Latin club Cuba Libre. Who needs free salty snacks when free salty video is available?
M Grill & Tap has lots of televisions, so many that you may miss the one in front of your nose while looking at the one resting on the horizon, to paraphrase Buddha. Or was that Dr. Joyce Brothers? I twisted my neck into a dull ache trying to catch the Mavericks grunt out a victory over the Jazz on the TV directly behind me, only to discover a television almost directly above my head. The neck pain turned out to be the same, but at least the ball looked bigger.
M Grill is the latest conceptual splurge of Mark Maguire, the creator of the successful Maguire's Regional Cuisine on the Tollway at Trinity Mills. Only it's not so much a splurge as it is a Maguire's mini-me, borrowing many of the same dishes as well as the same chef, Charif Brahmi. M Grill has a dramatically curtailed wine list, one with brevity as well as intelligence. Instead of a chardonnay and merlot flood from the usual suspects, there are interesting wines slipped under the headings "wild whites," where you can find a Rose d'Anjou and a Sancerre, and "ravishing reds," where you'll discover a Pheasant Ridge Texas Merlot (oops), a Rioja and an Oregon pinot (Willamette Valley)--pretty good juice for a bar where you can watch SportsCenter from multiple angles. M Grill also has a selection of mini-me beers: 7-ounce bottles of Bud, Miller Light, Corona and a few others for a buck-fifty. The menu explains this choice is for those who aren't "chuggers" or who don't like that last sip of warm beer. But if you enter a place with "tap" in the name and TVs all over the place and can't finish a 12-ouncer before it warms up, you aren't worthy of Gong Show reruns.
Fortunately, the flavors here aren't mini. In fact, some seem breast-fed on steroids. The Texas wedge is an ungodly but tasty mess, like a melting chock of ice cream. The iceberg carving is completely cloaked in dripping ranch dressing transformed into a bumpy swill with shavings of jack and cheddar cheeses, tomato dices and flecks of crunchy bacon.
Texas escargot is also strange but tasty fare for a taproom with TVs. Served on a plate with divots and swallowed in a garlic butter peppered with chilies, the snail meat is a little mushy, though not flavor-impaired. Large sponge-like pads of toasted crust-free bread were provided for dipping purposes, but there wasn't enough butter sauce to be soaked via these large swabs. Another taproom anomaly is the visually compelling sesame-seared ahi tuna, thick slices of bright red tuna crusted with black and blond sesame, which provided nuttiness. Resting on a compelling bed of Asian slaw, the meat is tender, yet not as silken and rich as seared tuna in other parts of the city that display a deeper ruby hue.
One thing that Brahmi has successfully messed with at Maguire's is sweetness. Maguire's salad, a clean meshing of greens, roasted pecans, apple slices and crumbled blue cheese flushed with warm apple cider vinaigrette, is too sweet for my taste. Yet it's clean and supple nonetheless, with the juicy apple slices and blue cheese providing the essential acidic cut that keeps the tongue from falling asleep before the entrées arrive.
The same can't be said of the maple-ginger salmon on a bed of moist and separate basmati rice with wok-seared vegetables. The thin piece of fish is a flaky sheet with an attractive cross-hatching of grill marks. But it was a little shy on seasoning, and other than the sweet there wasn't a compelling flavor to work with. Sweetness has a tendency to deaden the palate when left on its own (the exception is when candy is applied to 4-year-olds) or when it isn't skillfully foiled. Perhaps a simple ginger boost would have been a successful remedy.
Or maybe some cues can be taken from the breast of chicken. It's hard to imbue a chicken-fried anything with elegance, but M Grill's chicken-fried chicken is thin, light and airy, with a thick, well-seasoned coat. It was swamped with slightly tangy mustard gravy with a sweet thread woven through the flavor profile--a successful incorporation of sweetness if there ever was one.
Mesquite-grilled pork chop is the hearty type of fare you'd expect from a taproom. It's a thick slab of gray-pink pork wrapped around a hefty bone. The meat was juicy and tasty, and the mustard-seed gravy, while mild, gave it added palate heft.
Maguire's meat loaf was perhaps too mild. This moist loaf, loosely assembled with finely ground meat, was again a haven of modestly pronounced sweetness without much countervailing spice or herb flavor.
The irony is that where sweet is the overriding objective, M miscarries. Housemade cheesecake in blueberry sauce was a sticky coarse custard leaning on a soggy crust, a structure no blueberry could rescue.
Surprisingly, Maguire's stealthily skillful service wasn't fully evident at M Grill. Though knowledgeable and friendly, the servers were perhaps a little too long-winded. We received long dissertations on virtually every dish posted on the menu instead of a couple of quick highlights with follow-up prompted by questions. It was tedious--we were thirsty for God's sake, get those chilled mini-Buds on the table--and for a dining room with a patron deficit, service was agonizingly slow.
Like Maguire's up where tolls are collected, M Grill is handsome, with contemporary edges and curves mingled with wood, brick and burnt orange. Maguire has somehow transformed this space--once Arcodoro Pomodoro--into a venue that is all at once cavernous and cozy, casual and tasty. Must be the TVs.
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