Filler Out With The Old...

Trio Bistro and Bar Aims For The Masses.
By Rebecca Cook

SINCE OPENING FOR business a little more than a year ago, Trio Bistro and Bar has gathered kudos from both delighted restaurant reviewers and appreciative customers.

Chow Trio's daring combination of three divergent world cuisines (Latin American, Southeast Asian and Mediterranean), won the admiration and awe of many a discerning diner.

When The Weekly's annual Best Of Tucson rolled around last year, Trio Bistro and Bar was the hands-down favorite for Best New Restaurant.

I was somewhat puzzled, then, when I heard Trio had abandoned its original concept and adopted a completely new menu. Whatever happened to "If-It-Ain't-Broke, Don't-Fix-It"?

"The basic reason for the change was that, although we did receive a lot of support for the old menu, it just wasn't appealing to the masses," says Trio General Manager Blake Wolfe.

"It (the menu) definitely appealed to the foodies, but was intimidating to the average diner," says Wolfe. "When you see Latin American, Mediterranean and Southeast Asian foods combined on one menu, you really have to think about it. The bottom line was that we just were not doing the numbers we should have for a restaurant this size."

So, the staff that originally spent hours devising Tucson's most outrageous and interesting menu, put their heads together again to come up with a new plan that would appeal to the "foodies" while increasing business.

Under the direction of chef and co-owner Donna Nordin (also of Café Terra Cotta), roughly 80 percent of Trio's menu was revamped to reflect a bold new American cuisine. The coconut-lemon grass soup, my personal passion from the former menu, was a thing of the past.

While Trio's new menu doesn't take your breath away quite like the old one, it still has plenty of pleasant surprises.

An appetizer of roasted garlic and wild mushroom custard started one meal in grand style. Cooked in a red chili-tinted masa shell and served on roasted tomato sauce, the custard was gently garlicky, smooth and delicious.

One could easily make a habit out of sampling Trio's intriguing soups and starters menu, which includes a Trio "martini" of Maine lobster, shrimp and scallops splashed with vodka and served in a martini glass along with cellophane noodles. Wow.

Image A mixed baby green salad arrived at our table simply and lightly dressed in a mild balsamic vinaigrette and served with homemade crostini. Crisp, fresh and delicious, the salad was a perfect addition to our meal.

Trio offers the same menu for both lunch and dinner, so you have the option of dining light with a salad, sandwich or pasta or going all out on a serious entree.

Highly recommended is the wild west ravioli, generous pockets of fresh herb pasta filled with wild mushrooms, goat cheese and pistachios and tossed with a subtle Dijon cream sauce. Describing this dish will never to it justice, so trust me on this one--it's out of this world.

Also impressive is the pan-seared Hawaiian ahi tuna. Done to order (medium to medium-rare recommended), the tuna was tender and fresh and went well with the red pepper puree and cilantro oil.

Less successful were the side dishes served with the tuna. A wild rice cake with leeks and pecans was browned to the point of being nearly black, making it a bit dry and flavorless. The sautéed spinach was good, with a rich, smoky flavor, but skimpy at three semi-large leaves only.

Lunch selections should be made with the consideration that serving sizes at Trio can vary markedly with the dish. If you have a towering appetite at midday, be aware that one of Trio's salads will not fill you up and you'll need something else as well.

The quartered heart of romaine salad, a delectable combination of shrimp, sliced portabello mushroom and romaine tossed with a blue cheese vinaigrette, was absolutely scrumptious but, with only four medium shrimp, maybe one sliced portabello and the leaves from one-quarter of a small head of romaine, we're not talking a hearty serving here.

The orecchiette pasta, shell-shaped pasta with chopped roma tomatoes, spinach, asparagus, sweet basil, olive oil and freshly grated parmesan cheese, was good but by no means wonderful. My friend's opinion was that it could have used additional veggies and some more flavor, the faint hint of basil and oregano in the juice of the existing vegetables not being quite enough to sway her palate.

The biggest hit of the noon meal was the vegetable sandwich, an exquisite combination of chile-encrusted portabello mushroom, grilled eggplant, sliced red onion and gorgonzola cheese served between slices of a grilled herbed bread. When meatless dishes taste this good, I can almost understand the lifestyle choices of my vegetarian friends.

Dessert at Trio is heavily biased in favor of chocolate, which makes a chocoholic like me extremely happy. The undisputed winner is Donna Nordin's trio of milk, bittersweet and white chocolate mousses mounded between layers of wafer-thin lace cookies and capped with a spray of spun sugar. Although the temptation to just sit back and behold such a wonder is powerful, I urge you to plunge in and enjoy. It doesn't get much better than this.

Wedges of chocolate brownie served with vanilla ice cream and bourbon anglaise were less remarkable, but still tasty. Also available for dessert is a creme brulee, deep-dish apple pie and a flourless chocolate soufflé.

The service at Trio was generally good, although it was more efficient and better-timed during a busy dinner hour than on a slow lunch day. Go figure.

Virtually the only vestige of the former Trio is the name. The new order may not dazzle like the old, but it still generates moments of culinary brilliance. TW

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