Think being a restaurant owner is glamorous? When I strolled up to the CafÃ© Trio in Cottonwood last Friday, night co-owner Mikel Trapp was on his knees in jeans and a sweatshirt cleaning the outside of the restaurant’s ground-floor windows. He was unhappy with the job his regular window-cleaning company had done earlier that afternoon. It’s this type of attention to detail'not glamour'that can make or break a restaurant.
Still, based on a couple of recent visits, I can’t help but think that Trapp’s time might be better spent attending to details in the kitchen. While I wouldn’t call my meals there complete washouts, they failed to hit the high notes I’ve become accustomed to at the original Trio on 900 East.
CafÃ© Trio Cottonwood, in the space previously occupied by Rivers restaurant, opened late last spring, yet it still feels like there are kinks being worked out. The upstairs loft, for example, which used to be Rivers’ Private Reserve, is designated as a cafÃ© within a cafÃ©'a place to nosh on an appetizer, flatbread or pizza and enjoy a drink. But the space looks unfinished, especially in the daylight. Artwork is needed, and the color scheme is an appetite-crusher.
On the other hand, CafÃ© Trio downstairs holds much eye appeal. It’s a large, open space that’s smartly divided into discreet dining districts; the wise use of space and half-walls means that you never feel like you’re dining in a cafeteria. And unlike the original Trio CafÃ©, this one isn’t overly noisy. I’m told that Trapp and his partner Mark Stamler did much of the interior design and painting themselves. They can paint my place anytime! Trio’s interior, created by architect Louis Ulrich, is sleek and contemporary, with minimalist modern art on the walls, clean lines, lots of blond wood and colorful splashes of lemon, orange and red. In warm weather there’s a lush flower- and herb-infused deck complete with a cooling mist system and heat lamps for chilly evenings. The place looks great.
Maybe the Trio dÃ©cor is a little too good, because the food and service sometimes don’t stack up. First a note about the service: It’s confusing. Call me old-fashioned, but I’m a fan of having a “go-to” guy or gal handle my table. At Trio, there’s a team approach to table service, and you can never be quite certain who your server really is. One person brought my menu, another took my order and a third delivered my wine; still a fourth person served me my entrÃ©e. Then there’s the busser who keeps water glasses filled.
You’d think with a team like that, someone would have noticed that the chicken piccata ($10.50) lunch special I ordered contained no chicken. None. Not a scrap. Not chicken little, chicken-less. Carefully examining my plate of linguine (perfectly cooked, by the way) in a lemon-olive oil sauce with capers, roasted tomatoes and pieces of artichoke heart, I found no foul. The gal who brought the dish to my table and peppered it for me didn’t notice that it was chicken-free, nor did anyone in the kitchen. So I thought I must have misunderstood; I asked the guy who I thought was my server if he said the special was chicken piccata. Indeed it was. He swiftly removed the dish and returned with it moments later, this time loaded with chunks and shreds of chicken.
Ultimately, it was quite tasty but, as Trapp said when I ran into him the other night, “I can’t figure out how the chicken piccata got past five people without any chicken!” Remember what I said before about attention to detail? It makes me wonder if Trapp and Stamler might be spreading themselves a bit thin after purchasing the original Trio and Fresco restaurants, running Catered by Fresco, and opening Trio No. 2'all while Stamler is based in Oregon.
An appetizer, “trio of bruschetta” ($9.95), is six thick wedges of grilled rustic Italian bread. Two come smeared with a good garlicky white bean puree on top with arugula and Parmesan; two are topped with Cambozola cheese, spiced walnuts and sweet-tart fig “jam” to balance the potentially overpowering Cambozola. Two more bruschetta wedges come with tomato, basil pesto and fresh mozzarella'all in all, very tasty and a good value.
Less pleasing was Trio’s “Margherita” pizza ($10). Granted, I’m fussy about Margherita pizzas, and maybe the chef at Trio is taking a stab at a nontraditional pizza. Whatever the case, I wish it wasn’t called a Margherita pizza, since that actually means something. First, the pizza crust at Trio is really flatbread, but I can handle that. More difficult for me to accept was the green basil-garlic pesto that served as sauce in my Margherita pizza. The only tomatoes involved were a few unripe slices on top of the pizza. And although there was plenty of julienne basil'they got that part right'small cubes of fresh mozzarella had been strewn about my pizza after it had been cooked. It’s the first Margherita pizza I’ve ever had with cold pieces of cheese on top. I strongly suggest reworking the “Margherita” pizza at Trio. I have a good recipe I’d be happy to contribute.
Dare I mention that a delicious appetizer of grilled agro dolce shrimp ($9.95) in a sweet/sour glaze was a big pile of greens with only three medium-sized shrimp adorning the edge of the plate? C’mon, $9.95 for three shrimp and some lettuce? I fared much better with a big, perfectly cooked baseball steak ($22) and a delicious dish of linguine with Manila clams ($10.95) in a white wine, lemon, olive oil and garlic sauce. Still, I can’t help but wonder if there are one too many Trios in town.