Sunday, March 22, 2009


If I were to open up my own restaurant, I imagine it would be something like Café Trio. Trio is a neighborhood restaurant perched in the 9th and 9th area. The place itself is very modern and elegant without being too cold, uninviting, or pretentious. The fare at Trio is Italian ranging in style from items like spaghetti and meatball (yes, here they serve spaghetti with only one meatball – albeit it’s huge) and wood-fired pizzas to modern interpretations of classics like pork tenderloin picatta. Both food and wine are moderately priced and you’d feel comfortable coming into Trio either for a big celebration or just for a casual night out after work. I wouldn’t call Trio super fancy – the food is composed of basic ingredients, the preparation of which is rarely unusual – but the food is done right and is put together perfectly, the service is consistently good, and the atmosphere is vibrant and lively. This is my kind of place.

We met some friends at Trio for dinner before some theatre. We began with an order of flatbread as an appetizer and some cocktails to start. Our herb and cheese flatbread came with a standard basil pesto, a white bean puree, and an olive tapenade. I must say that this flatbread trio has become somewhat of a standard for me, as I’ve noticed it’s almost always ordered every time I go (whether by me or someone else). The bread is crisp but slightly tender and pairs well with the various dips. The white bean dip is very creamy and velvety with a very subtle taste, as opposed to the robust tang of the chunky, red olive dip. The green pesto is very earthy with lots of texture from the strong mix of garlic, herbs, pine nuts, and cheese. The trio of dips is very colorful: red, white, and green – an obvious play on the Italian flag. Usually this salute to Italian patriotism is evident in items like Margherita pizza (mozzarella cheese, red sauce, and basil – again, white, red, and green) but I quite like their own unique interpretation. Rounded out with a couple of cocktails - we had a great start to the evening.

Among the four of us, we sampled two pasta plates, a wood-fired pizza, and one of their more fancy dishes. How were the pasta dishes? Well, let’s just put it this way - how can you go wrong with layers of cooked noodle, sauce, and cheese? Talk about ooey and gooey - and oh so delicious. The special pasta of the night was a mushroom and spinach lasagna. This dish was quite lovely. I must say the mushroom flavor was a bit lost amongst the goo and overall the flavor profile was a bit of a one-noter, but it tasted great and was very satisfying. The same can be said of their baked penne, which we also had that night. Their classic carbonara (which we didn’t have this night but is another favorite that I’d recommend) is cooked to a perfect al dente made creamy from the eggs and crunchy from the bacon; peas add a nice green fleck among the yellow sauce and brown bacon. The wood-fired pizza tonight was also very delicious. The crispy, thin-crusted pizza was topped with spicy Italian sausage, roasted red peppers, and pepperoni. Again, tasty and simple, and really good – slight sweetness from the peppers and a hit me over the head savory-ness with the pepperoni and Italian sausage.

We also had the chance to sample one of the house specialties: a composed plate of seared salmon. The presentation was modern, the base of the dish was Israeli couscous tossed in a simple vinaigrette, atop which was a bed of sautéed vegetables including peppers and tomatoes. The salmon sat on the very top giving the dish some height and a creamy citrus béchamel was drizzled over the salmon. The couscous provided a nice starchy quality and the veg provided some crunch. The salmon was cooked to a perfect medium. The dish was good – some simple ingredients used very simply. Nothing pretentious about it. It was even farmed salmon. A major faux pas? Maybe in a fine dining, hoity-toity establishment…but I find Trio serving this salmon perfectly fine, fitting in with their non-pretentious vibe.

We ended our meal with a few desserts - an apple cobbler with ice cream, a tollhouse pie with ice cream, and chocolate pudding. Oh my heck, can you say comfort to the max? Anything a la mode is a great dessert in my book. Both the cobbler and the tollhouse pie were your classic sweet desserts providing some nice crunchy textures, countered well with the smooth, rich ice cream. Neither were exactly the prettiest thing to look at, and they leaned on the super sweet side, but boy were they good. You couldn’t help but keep plowing through more of it until it was all gone. But I think the definite star of desserts that evening was the chocolate pudding, demonstrating a sophisticated and elegant finish to the meal. First of all the presentation was clever: the pudding was placed in a coffee cup and topped off with whipped cream and a biscotti – mimicking the look of an after dinner cappuccino. There’s something really inviting about a dessert that’s served in a vessel that you can dig deep into. The pudding was smooth in consistency with the right balance between sweet and bitter. And unlike the a la mode desserts above, you didn’t feel assaulted with sweetness or richness. It was a nice little ditty to finish the evening off with.

Delivering consistently delicious food with basic ingredients, Trio continues to pack the people in day in and day out. It’s a vibrant place welcoming of all walks of life. Sometimes I think it would be fun to open up my own restaurant – something much like Trio. I’d want a place where people would feel like it would be affordable and casual enough to come to dinner a couple times a week but would equally feel right coming in for a special occasion in suit and tie to celebrate a major event. Trio is a like a home away from home, serving basic food that satisfies anyone. So does this inspire me to plan, save, and move forward with starting a restaurant in the future? Mmm…I think sometimes it does. Then I remember the statistic that something like 80-90% of new restaurants fail after their first year or so and the horror stories of people investing and losing tens of thousands of dollars. That’s a little bit too daunting for me. I’ll continue to think about it. In the meantime, I’ll head to Trio for dinner as much as I can.

Café Trio ~ Salt Lake City, Utah

9th and 9th (original location) or Cottonwood Heights
Executive Chef Shannon Roarke
Executive Pastry Chef Lisa Spencer


Cafe Trio on Urbanspoon