Tuesday, November 18, 2008

QUICKVIEW: Trio- +++ / $$$

The Newport Restaurant Group continues their growth, onward to an eventual goal of an invasion of France, or something. I give them credit, for what it's worth, that they have managed to inject unique flavor and ambiance into each of their seven restaurants. This is in contrast to the Pinelli-Marra group, where all their restaurants have a sometimes vaguely, sometimes blatantly, similar taste and feel.

Trio's been open for a number of months and has garnered a pretty dedicated following. The summer crowds apparently turn the place into a zoo, and with a bar area that's attractive and well-appointed, it's no surprise that baby-boomers in search of a haunt fill the stools. And from what I've heard, it's almost nothing but baby-boomers and older. I guess all the young folk are too busy getting blasted at louder, darker locales up in Providence.

I really liked the interior; very modern, clean, and well-lit. While on the subject, I really appreciated how well-lit the dining area was. SO many restaurants, especially those that sport a lounge-like area, aim for that "romantic lighting" look, and by romantic they mean pitch-fucking-black. Since Trio purportedly caters heavily to an older crowd -the aforementioned baby-boomers- I guess this is good business sense, since their clientele can barely see.

This isn't to say that the dining area was just bright as the sun, far from it. It was inventively lit. Lots of small, warm light sources, directionals, and a soft glow of dining area-wide lighting gives the interior a very comfortable, dynamic feel. It combines well with the wood tones and the picture of the jester eating a giant fork of spaghetti that is in every Italian restaurant EVER. Something noteworthy, apparently aping cafes, the restaurant has free wi-fi. I guess for all those stock brokers and their smartphones.

The bread was wonderful. They brought out a small, fresh-baked loaf that was crispy on the outside, hot and chewy on the inside. Fresh-baked bread at the table is a treat I wish more restaurants would start offering. The dip for the bread was a smattering of Italian herbs in balsamic vinegar, with chili pepper oil mixed at the table. Carrabbas, sacrilege though it is since they're a chain, still has the only acceptable substitute for butter. The oil was overpowered by the balsamic vinegar and the herbs were completely lost. Dinner was very good. For an appetizer, my companion and I ordered the Trio panzarotti. It wasn't so much panzarotti as two, humongous ravioli that were breaded and deep fried. The hazelnut pasta wasn't what I was expecting. Instead of hazelnut flavored, it was ordinary pasta with breading and hazelnut bits. It was good, crispy, and well-cooked, but the hazelnut flavor was overwhelmed by the frying. The filling was delicious, sweet, and pumpkin-y, with surprisingly large chunks of lobster inside. The real kicker for this was the price. At only $12 for two, count 'em two, large panzarotti, it's a great deal.

For entrees, out came the Pappardelle Spezzatto and the Tortelloni + Lobster. The Pappardelle was good but simple. It tasted like pot-roast and noodles that mom would make. The mushroom and tomato sauce was pretty short on the tomato, had a strong, beefy flavor, and was overly salty. The noodles were cooked close to al dente, but for my larger pastas I prefer to have them cooked past al dente to a softer consistency. Can't really fault them for doing what they're supposed to do, I guess.

The Tortelloni + Lobster was excellent. The pasta was well-cooked, and the duxelle filling was rich, creamy, and oh-so-flavorful. The limoncello cream sauce was the real star of the dish. It was subtly sweet, tart, and creamy all at once. I'd be tempted to put this sauce on almost anything, including breakfast cereal. You get a decent serving of lobster meat piled onto the plate, which, as I suspect anything would, tastes excellent when covered in the cream sauce. The lobster was the slightest bit over-cooked, but that's a small complaint about an otherwise good entree. The dish is expensive at $28, but if you're looking for a treat, look no farther.

The wine list was surprising. It had a very good selection of affordable wines with a good two dozen at $30 or lower. Almost the entire list is below $60 and only five break the $100 barrier. And not a single bottle of Opus One in sight! How refreshing. The dessert menu was pretty boring. Chocolate cake, crème brûlée, and other default nice desserts are present, but nothing to really draw my attention. I didn't bother. We finished with a cappuccino and tea. The tea was "New England Blend" from New England Coffee Company. It was... adequate, at least in the sense that it did not kill us. Is it really so hard to have a good selection of tea? The cappuccino was a better story. Decent roast, and well-prepared, it was a suitable ending, if not memorable.

I was very happy with Trio and will, without doubt, go back soon and go back often. It's a little bit pricey, but fits in well with Basil's across the street and the Coast Guard House down by the sea wall. Along with the good selection of very affordable entrees, Trio is a keeper.

Trio: +++
Price range for two: $50-$90


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15 Kingstown Rd
Narragansett, RI 02882

Sunday through Thursday 5:00pm to 9:00pm
Friday & Saturday 5:00pm to 10:00pm
Saturday & Sunday 12:00pm to 3:00pm

Friday, November 7, 2008

How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Drink the Ways.

Every time I go to Coffee Exchange, I'm reminded why they are my favorite cafe. I get good espresso at Blue State, or Seven Stars, and even Three Sisters (Especially if my favorite barista is working), but none of them have every, single employee trained to such a degree as CofEx. They've got the milk right, they've got the skill, if only they'd top off their espresso creations with the latte art that signifies a truly great barista.

Just look at the two CofEx lattes. Compare them to the lattes I got at Brewed Awakenings, or Roba!Dolce, or, shudder, the one from Felicia's Coffee. Look at the smooth texture of the milk; the dark, reddish-brown of the espresso as it mixes with the milk foam; the swirls of white signifying a skillful free-pour. These are well made drinks. And most importantly, the two drinks are from two completely different baristi... as opposed to two only slightly different baristi? I guess they could be identical twins. Wait, what was I saying?

The flavor is just right. The fact that all the beans are pretty much straight out of the roaster shines through loud and clear. The espresso is rich and sweet, with complex flavors that wake up the tongue. The milk is velvety and well-textured. For comparison, I've put up some pictures of lattes at various other locations. I haven't reviewed a few of them, and considering they're up here as fodder, that may be a good thing. The abject disaster from Roba!Dolce was a huge let down after the good latte I received on my first trip. I don't even have to describe the flavor, you can tell it wasn't good just by looking at it.

Likewise from Java Madness, down in South County. The espresso was watery and bitter, the milk felt like it was frothed with an immersion blender, and no amount of sugar could make it palatable.

And all of this is juxtaposed to the masterpiece that was Mainstreet Coffee. Only one guy, the owner I assume, does this, and the other employees make decent drinks, but the mere chance of receiving a drink like this makes CofEx a must-stop for any and all who love espresso. It may seem weird to segue from loving CofEx to praising MainCof, but MainCof's owner shows us how it's done, and CofEx pretty much does that, and they do it more consistently than others. That's their secret, consistency. And for that, I love them.

Gayot Top 40 Hits the Interpipes.

The 2008 Gayot Top 40 list has been released!

As I said in a post from last year, the heavy emphasis on French food goes a long way towards negating the importance of the list, but it's a jolly good conversation piece.

Some pretty big movements for this year, namely a second restaurant has joined L'Espalier in Boston, O Ya.

Sona was replaced by Urawsawa in Los Angeles, and New York continues to reign supreme even after losing Bouley from its list.

In general, I liked this list more than last year. A bit more variety and more locations -twenty cities compared to 2007's seventeen- makes it much more digestible than last year's assertion that nearly 25% of all great restaurants in the ENTIRE COUNTRY are in New York.

The Gayot Top 40 Restaurants in the United States