Twenty years ago, I unexpectedly encountered the best part of my past and the greatest treasure I take with me always, the friendship of five very special individuals who attended the University of North Texas with me, and this past weekend, we had our first reunion with the meeting place being the phenomenal Marquee Grill located in Highland Park, Dallas, Texas.After the initial laughter and hugs, we immersed ourselves in the menu and prepared for a symphony of flavors conducted at the hands of Chef Tre Wilcox, alumni of Bravo's popular television series, Top Chef, Season 3. As our glasses clinked in the inaugural toast, it was like the conductor's baton rapping on the music stand, calling our senses to attention, in preparation for a myriad of texture, color, playfulness, essence, aroma and sheer flavorful pleasure.
Falling right back into our dynamic, we embarked on a shared tasting adventure, ordering a combination of several starters to initiate the meal. First up was Sliced Japanese Hamachi with Thai Basil Pesto, Tamarind Vinaigrette and Compressed Cucumber. The presentation alone was breathtaking; Chef Wilcox truly is an extraordinary culinary artist and visionary. As the cool Hamachi rendezvoused with my warm taste buds, it drifted away, literally melting – leaving a clean, heavenly refreshing memory on my palate. A fun, light start to the evening.
Among other soups and starters sampled at our table was Kobe Beef Carpaccio with Black Truffle Vinaigrette, Baby Watercress and Key Lime, a clear favorite among the group. The Kobe beef, ever so gingerly drizzled with the vinaigrette, brought earthiness and gusto front and center with a punch of citrus for balance. Crispy Duck Spring Rolls with Red Chili Dipping Sauce was another gem at the table, both inviting and infused with the most delightful savory elements of texture, depth and rich tones of Asian inspired seasonings. Presented in a bamboo steamer was Cape Cod Oysters served on the Half Shell with Sake Marinated Caviar, Ginger, Texas Grapefruit and Scallions. While beautifully displayed, of all the starters, the oysters’ naturally briny profile made a few at the table less reluctant for seconds; however, our table’s strongest oyster enthusiast happily devoured the extra. Not on the menu was a Trio of Duck, featuring Grilled Foie Gras, Pan Seared Duck Breast and a Duck Stuffed Crepe adorned with Baby Watercress and complemented with a delicate duo of savory sauces. The velvety and expertly cooked duck breast tantalized while the tender duck filled crepe danced in harmony with the succulent and buttery foie gras. It was truly the highlight of the starter dishes.
Needless to say, at this point, we felt like royalty indulging in the best Marquee Grill had to offer, and the entrees had yet to be served! What a delight it was to see our server arrive with the second part of this gastronomically profound concerto, the main courses. Thankfully, for this blog entry, our group commenced in the sharing of the plates,once again, as the thought of not allowing others to experience the joy of your entree almost seemed cruel. (Meaning, I got to taste every bite. Jealous much?)
Grilled Cervena Venison with Smoked Cheddar-Jalapeño Bread Pudding, White and Green Grilled Asparagus spears in a Ham Hock Maple Glaze was my first point of “entree”. Cervena Venison is New Zealand farm raised deer that are free roaming and graze in their natural habitat without any hormones or steroids, giving it a very noble, mild and sweet aspect. The venison was cooked to perfection and the spiciness of the bread pudding, once again, created a harmonious balance of flavors.
Another entree of mention was a favorite of the house, Bone-In Pork Chop with Sweet Potato Puree and Collard Greens, a phenomenal accomplishment of rich, creamy sweet potato textures combined with the sweet, smoky elements of the pork. The greens were cooked down just to the point where the bitterness subsided but left a counterpoint to the sublime melody of the potato. It was divine.
And, speaking of divinity, did I mention the foie gras butter? On top of prime beef filet? Surrounded by a halo of crispy potato goodness and swimming in a sea of jus? It happened. And, it was magnificent. One luscious morsel of filet blanketed by the buttery foie gras was all I experienced, and it left me wanting… and guilty for thinking to return again in the following days, alone, to enjoy it all to myself.
The real star of the show, however, was the unsuspecting pitch-perfect serenade of the Chili-Soy Glazed Big Eye Tuna with Red Quinoa, Zucchini, Broccilini, Mint, and Green Curry Sauce – just stellar. Who would have thought tuna could go toe to toe with filet of beef in Texas? Bravo, Chef Wilcox, bravo. The tuna sung with passion and flair, weaving Asian inspired flavors throughout the hearty quinoa, creating this salty, sweet, crisp yet buttery quartet of intrigue. It was the clear diva among performers, a true winner.
Finally, the evening had come to an end, and while the memories and laughter were just the beginning of our weekend as a group, we did have to make some decisions about the finale of this symphony of flavors we were experiencing. Though we did partake in some lovely, sinfully wonderful desserts such as the Chocolate and Guajillo Chile Cake with Red Tortilla Ice Cream and the Caramelized Banana Bread Pudding with Smoked White Chocolate Ice Cream, the table’s preference and ultimate expression of indulgence was what I like to call, the “Pavarotti of desserts”, the signature Marquis Chocolate Tart with Caramel Popcorn and Salted Caramel Butter. (Insert high Tenor operatic note here – picture Pavarotti) The devilish symmetry between the creamy, sweet and salty was simply perplexing and highly intoxicating all at the same time.
Many thanks to the entire staff at the Marquee Grill, especially Chef Tre Wilcox, RJ and Jay for orchestrating a true masterpiece of an evening for my friends. Without knowing this being our introductory visit, you made an impeccable first impression. We cannot wait to return individually and to also hold our next reunion at the Marquee Grill, much sooner than another twenty years though.