There is no doubt Marquee at the Landing, the newest eatery to open in the downtown entertainment district, is trendy. But that is not necessarily a good thing.

It had an eclectic atmosphere with a bustling – and noisy – bar, funky decorative touches like retro kitchen tables, a weird silver poodle statue and a comic book-style mural of astronauts from what appeared to be a 1960s-era sci-fi movie.

Calling its menu diverse is an understatement. There were Korean dishes, a mini menu of Canadian poutines, Mexican offerings, Japanese-inspired desserts, Chinese-influenced appetizers and classic American fare.

And although all of that seems trendy, it is really a sign of a growing trend in upscale restaurants – a little bit of everything to suit all tastes in a setting that fits any and all occasions.

The problem, however, is all that makes it hard for me to even describe what Marquee is.

“What kind of food do they serve?” Well, uh, …

“Is it fancy?” So, it’s kinda, um …

“Good for a special date night?” It, uh, …

“How are the prices?” Well, it’s sorta …

The first dish I tasted there, the Valencia Salad, did not puzzle. It was perfection with avocado, mandarin oranges, Marcona almonds, quinoa, pickled red onions and goat cheese over mixed greens with a delicious, vibrant mandarin orange and white balsamic vinaigrette. The creaminess of the avocado and punch of funk from the goat cheese combined wonderfully with that dressing and the sweet zippy onions.

I also loved the Kung Pao Calamari, which was served atop a dark spicy chili-garlic sauce so the perfectly crispy, battered squid rings maintained their crunch. Its ginger soy slaw was a winner, and I actually would have liked more of it.

Things got confusing with the other appetizers.

The San Marzano Tomatoes Goat Cheese sounded like a perfect fresh summer starter with fresh herbs, olive oil, fennel and warm artisan bread. But what arrived was basically a bowl of hot salsa. It didn’t say it was raw but also didn’t say it was baked.

Because it was baked, the goat cheese melted away into the hot crock of red sauce. And there was also quite a bit of heat coming from it, which was not expected or welcomed.

My server said the chef “likes to play around with peppers,” but that is going to be a big problem for someone with a sensitive palate. I do not have a sensitive palate, but I still hated this dish, and I still would have hated it even if I had known it was hot.

The Carne Poutine was a little better and had a lot of promise, but it really wasn’t a poutine, which is customarily made with cheese curds and gravy over fresh french fries. Calling it french fry nachos would be more accurate, because these fries were buried and not even visible under tons of lettuce, cheddar cheese, romesco sauce, steak and pico de gallo.

The steak was very nice, and I would likely try the steak frites another time, but this “poutine” was too busy and muted the quality of the meat and potatoes.

The issue with the other salad I tried, the signature Marquee Salad, was the opposite of the poutine, as it did not have enough of something. It was served without its tarragon vinaigrette, which I quickly realized after the first dry bite.

Once I got the creamy dressing and applied it, the salad was pretty good with golden beets and goat cheese at center stage.

The best entrée I tried was an off-menu feature, the Porterhouse Lamb Chops. The two thick chops were marinated in olive oil and rosemary and paired with roasted potatoes and roasted tomatoes – which added a great burst of acid to the heavy dish – and a rich demiglace. The meat was perfectly cooked, and it was quite satisfying.

The Wild Mushrooms vegetarian offering was just as impressive, with a plethora of wild mushrooms cascading over a big chunk of tofu that took on its meaty flavor or which was infused with something that gave it a lot of umami.

Romesco sauce added some fatty creaminess as well as a burst of vegetal flavor, and the pea shoots were pretty much just for show.

The Kimchi Meatloaf was flawed in its name, as it had a smear of what appeared to be a gochujang-based sauce that the menu wrongfully called “Thai ketchup” on what was pretty much a regular ol’ meatloaf but with not a speck of actual kimchi to be found.

The Colcannon Potato Fritters were spot-on – they were basically mounds of creamy mashed potatoes fried so the outside had a crispy thin shell, but I also struggled to detect the apple-yuzu jam.

The Shrimp and Grits left me wanting more – more grits. It had five good-sized shrimp and not six, which is a more customary serving size. They were arranged in a row atop a strip of grits with oyster mushroom and tasso ham gravy, and a house-made Worchester sauce.

It was very underwhelming, not because of the one missing shrimp but more because Marquee was so selfish with the grits, which should have covered the entire plate.

The Airline Chicken also disappointed and, like the San Marzano appetizer, spiciness snuck its way into this rather mundane dish and was not welcome.

The chicken breast was beautifully seared to be crisp on the skin side. The rather odd addition of rendered pieces of pork belly added a nice smoky note but also extra salt to a dish that was already too salty because the sauce poured over the chicken was hammered with it.

I also have no idea what kind of sauce it was, because there was no mention of a sauce on the menu. The chef decided to play around with peppers on this dish, too, as there were some unmentioned slivers of red chiles sprinkled on top that did not belong there at all.

There was also an unwelcome addition to the only dessert that didn’t shine at Marquee – the Carrot Cake.

It looked the part, with carrot shavings on top and thick layers of cream cheese icing on top and sandwiched in the middle. However, it was accented with a citrus-honey drizzle and dots of mint syrup that collided in an ugly way and had no business being included.

The tres leches cake had no odd additions and was a pretty decent, straightforward version of the Mexican favorite, and the crème brulee I tried was one of the better versions I have had, with fresh, ripe berries to go with the super rich custard.

But the star of all the desserts was the Yuzu Bar, a simple cheesecake-like strip of yumminess that was paired with fresh berries as well as a hard meringue that was fun to crush up and include in each bite of the somewhat lemony custard and its classic graham cracker crust.

With a cup of Marquee’s excellent coffee and the great service I had during each visit, I was very happy gobbling up that bar, and I will be going back for it again. I guess that is good news, given that the lack of focus of the restaurant and its menu had me doubting I would come back at all.

Restaurant: Marquee at the Landing

Address: 123 W. Columbia St.

Phone: 255-3717

Hours: 4 to 10 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday

Cuisine: American

Handicapped accessible: Yes

Alcohol: Full bar

Credit cards: Yes

Kid-friendly: Not really

Menu: Marquee and Valencia salads ($10), calamari ($15), poutine ($17), Airline Chicken ($25), Shrimp & Grits ($26), Wild Mushrooms ($18), crème brulee ($8), Yuzu Bar ($10), carrot cake ($10)

Rating breakdown: Food: 1 1/2 (3-star maximum); atmosphere: 1/2 (1 maximum), service: 1 (1 maximum)

Ryan DuVall is a restaurant critic for The Journal Gazette. This review is based on two unannounced visits. The Journal Gazette pays for all meals. Email him at; call at 461-8130. DuVall’s past reviews can be found at www.journalgazette. net. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram @DiningOutDuVall.

Restaurant Critic

Restaurant critic Ryan DuVall was a "foodie" long before joining The Journal Gazette in 1999. Dining Out reviews eateries of all styles and price ranges in the area. Reviews are always based on at least two visits and the newspaper pays for all meals.