Gregory's Restaurant is a loft-like establishment in an uppish urban two-story building of brick construction in a historic downtown—a split-level charm offensive. Large glass windows. Rooftop patio with French door portals. Cobblestone streets. Yet it's in Plano.
Fortifying the charm offensive is an earnest staff. A server waxes on proudly about the grilled pork chop special—we bit—and then he mistakenly delivers rack of lamb in wine sauce with goat cheese, basil and ratatouille. It was delicious, so there were no complaints. The gods intervened for our own good.
Another server waxed on about the raspberry "sauce" on the house salad. This, too, was good. That sauce dresses a shuffle of greens, diced tomato buried within the leafy folds, wisps of red onion, and four sections of Texas ruby red grapefruit tucked into corners, neatly composed on a square plate with concave sides—a saucy synchronization.
House salad $4.95
Pan seared sea bass $11.95
Steamed mussels $9.95
Shrimp cocktail $9.95
Petite filet $29.95
Rack of lamb $29.95
Shrimp linguini $19.95
When we ordered a bottle of 2005 Drouin La Foret Bourgogne we were told we had just ordered the sole surviving example in the inventory. But wine inventories can be cruel things. The last bottle had mysteriously disappeared; we rebuffed the suggested proxy, a Mark West pinot noir.
An unusual selection of music blares on Gregory's upper level, a dining room with lounge insinuations. There's a wood-paneled horseshoe-ish bar with a suspended plasma screen TV swiveling on a pivot near a skylight above it. The music is loud, but deliciously quirky—Diana Krall meets the Mothers of Invention, or so it sounds. No one on the staff can get a fix on its origins.
It's a swatch of the subtle Gregory's incongruity—the uppish cuisine, the genuine seasoned urban couture, all thriving on a prairie of cookie-cutter subdivisions, industrial parks and strip malls. Gregory's floats on an isle of faux urban milieu anchored by its genuine inner city pedigree. That itself adds flavor to the food.
Not that Gregory's kitchen needs many enhancements. Gazpacho is as elegant as it is invigorating: pureed spinach with onion, garlic and cayenne flirts with pulverized tomato, red faded to weak-textured pink. Each is poured from separate porcelain pitchers into a white bowl with baby carrots crisscrossed over the bottom. Spinach slurry seeps across the bottom of the bowl. The more viscous tomato huddles at the edge of the bowl like a gobbet of whipped yams.
Gregory's is the work of chef Gregory Moreau, native of Brittany, France, working stiff in Paris and London, under-the-radar kitchen whiz in Arlington (Cacherel), Dallas (III Forks) and Richardson (Silver Fox). Moreau took over this aging Plano structure last December and refurbished it simply. Deep reds with pale yellows and rows of repeating red-rich still-life paintings trim the lower dining room. The lounge above teases a gunmetal gray with white and pieces of contemporary mixed media. The roof-top patio juts out like a lip.
A server says the spot was once a jewelry store—the owner living in what is now the lounge. Since that time it has seen a tiny succession of restaurants. It was Dish before it was Massimiliano's. Both had the life span of a mayfly.
"But we're on nothing but a roller coaster up," boasts one server. "Could continue that way. Really could."
Gregory's menu is firmly New American thickened with Mediterranean. French fume tussles with whiffs of Italy and Spain skirmishing with New American foibles. Caesar salad is laced with tough mealy shrimp and a thick coagulated dressing that clings to romaine in blobs rather than dressing it with consistency—a pre-prep miscalculation perhaps. Much better is the shrimp cocktail: five plump, sweet shrimp arranged in an arc. A ribbon of hash-like cocktail sauce beads across the tops: roasted pepper, garlic, onion, diced tomato, cayenne pepper—a kind pico de gallo cocktail sauce mongrel. Shards of jicama protrude from one corner. Thick honey mustard dressing issues from the greens like tree sap.
But the pinnacle of the Gregory's kitchen experience is a small plate: pan seared sea bass—an appetizer cum salad. A slab of fish, salted, peppered, cauterized (one side) in olive oil on a skillet, is oven-baked to completion. That fish is posted on a thick beefsteak tomato slice, rivulets of balsamic dressing and basil pesto ringing the bass-on-tomato pedestal. This dish is an amnesic against decades of pesto-balsamic New American clichés.
Steamed mussels bask in a bisque-ish saffron froth borne of garlic, shallots, sun-dried tomato and white wine. Grape tomatoes bob between the open-mouthed mollusks. Strips of spinach roil in the depths. The heady fume almost makes you forget that the shellfish are the point of this. Don't succumb. They're plump and golden and sweet—the picture of steamed mussel health. Not a one possessed that pond-scum-meets-morning-mouth sensation that is now an almost universal culinary hazard.
A dozen oysters on craggy half shells are spread haphazardly across a plate. On a separate compartmentalized dish—peppered crushed ice in the foreground—comes the condiments: lemon wedges, vinegar and chopped shallots, cured cherries. Never had I eaten oysters with (cured in vinegar and sugar) cherries. Plump oyster with lemon hooks up with plush cherry tart for an explosion of flavor. Tough paunch of cherry contrasts with fleshy glint of oyster, texturally suspended somewhere between cheese curd and slime.
Cherries reappear in the roasted duck, two ways, shorthand for duck leg confit and slices of duck breast in a Bing cherry sauce composed of veal stock, duck fat, minced shallot and whole cherries. Overall, it's a disappointment. The leg confit seems tired. The breast, dry and gray, has a pronounced taste of liver on the finish.
Better is the filet, a lush silken bluff of rosy beef, capped with mushrooms and paired with whipped potatoes crowned in thyme sprigs. Grilled shrimp linguini in butter sauce, shingled with thick shavings of Parmesan, is delicious too, despite a raging pesto infection. Finish with New York cheesecake in honey and mint sauce.
Gregory's is one of the most distinctive dining spots north of LBJ—heck north of Northwest Highway when you think about it. It seems consciously nurtured to breed regulars—repeats to lunch, dinner, drink and nosh, and back again. What with its rooftop patio, its old brick charm, and its engaging use of cherries, to do otherwise would seem counterintuitive. If I could get my compass to recognize Plano polar north, I'd be a regular too.
1022 East 15th Street, Plano, 972-578-4734. Open 11 a.m.-2 p.m. and 5 p.m.-10 p.m. daily. $$-$$$
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