Cafe Trio Cottonwood
6405 S. 3000 East, Cottonwood Heights ; 801-944-8746
Sleek, Euro-minimalist design with a modern Italian trattoria menu that reads better than it tastes.
Cuisine: Italian, Mediterranean
Hours: M-Th, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; F-S, 11 a.m.-10:30 p.m.; Su, 10 a.m.-9 p.m.
Liquor: Full Service
Recommended Dishes: Rosemary flatbread with goat cheese and red bell pepper, bittersweet chocolate pudding.
March 22, 2006
Cafe Trio Cottonwood lacks sibling's vibrancy
By Mary Brown Malouf
All three of us had the same thought a few bites into our meal at Cafe Trio Cottonwood.
Where was all the flavor?
We had enjoyed meals at the downtown sibling of this chic Italian trattoria, so we were hungrily anticipating eating at the new Cafe Trio. We remembered how the flavors danced in our mouths and stimulated our palates. The food there was vibrant and alive. Or was it?
I'll have to go back and check, but we had been eating for several minutes before one of us spoke the truth our tongues had been telling us: This food had no flavor. It was a hard-to-swallow fact as embarrassing as a naked emperor.
The cup of creamy tomato soup ($5), deep coral, flecked with darker tomato bits, had two notes: acid and fat. The tomato sweetness that could have been intensified by heat, amplified by cream and accented by herbs, salt and pepper, was all missing.
We had intended for the soup to offset a cheese panino ($7.95) in a sophisticated take on the classic kids' comfort meal of soup and grilled cheese. We were sorely disappointed. The fontina, melted into the ostensibly basil aioli, was gooey. I mean that in a good way, but there was no discernible basil aroma and no sweet tang from the out-of-season tomato slice.
The new Cafe Trio looks like it tastes. The space is very hip, very cosmopolitan, yet something about it feels unfinished. Designed with an Italian sensibility, floors are scored concrete, and curved booths and tables are polished plywood. Exposed ceiling ducts and pipes are painted matte black. Color comes in bold splashes of contemporary art, and tables are set with black napkins laid horizontally. The imaginative use of inexpensive, sleek materials and the clean, minimalist lines help calm the effect of the complicated floor plan. The large space is divided up into many small dining areas -- one right across from the servers' station makes it feel like you're eating in a hallway. The dining areas flow into the bar area and there's a separate eatery upstairs called the Loft, that serves finger food and small plates such as roasted mussels ($10.95), white bean dip ($7.95) and smoked salmon pizza ($13).
Cafe Trio is not a huge restaurant but it's easy to get lost in. And for your server to get lost in. We misplaced ours several times on one visit and had to hail him from the bar area. When he was serving us, however, he was casual but solicitous. Sometimes too solicitous -- servers of the world, please never touch your patrons.
Except for a dinner section called "More," which features four full-fledged plates of food -- roast chicken with polenta ($16); cedar-plank salmon with basil mashed potatoes ($21); steak with mashed potatoes ($22); and pork loin with squash ($18) -- lunch and dinner menu selections, and prices, are the same. There are starters, pizza, pasta, panini, salads and a couple of panoli, which are upper-crust calzone. A lemon chicken panolo ($8.95) -- containing pale chunks of chicken breast, milky ricotta with chopped spinach and some scarce semi-dried tomatoes -- was flavorless. A little parmesan, some minced fresh herbs, sun-dried tomatoes, roasted garlic purée, a sprinkle of olives would have done wonders to the flat tube of pizza crust.
The kitchen does, however, do some good things with flatbread, delivered in a hot iron pan as an appetizer with your choice of toppings. We tried the rosemary version ($7.95) -- crisped chewy triangles of rosemary-accented bread to top with goat cheese, roasted red bell pepper, tomato chunks and caramelized onions -- and found the flavors we'd been looking for: goat cheese tartness, bell pepper bite, sweet onion and yeasty fresh bread. A couple of flatbread triangles garnished a salad of red and golden beet slices arrayed around a disc of gummy goat cheese on a nest of arugula and shaved fennel ($7.95). This was another good combination of flavors, especially with the bacon-tinged dressing, but it was not quite sufficient as a main meal and it was too large as a side salad. Perhaps it would be best shared as a small plate.
The dessert list was tempting -- crème brûlée, Toll House pie and a wonderful-sounding mascarpone cheesecake with a gingersnap crust, poached pears and candied cranberries. But the sweet we tried was super: a coffee cup filled with gloriously bittersweet chocolate pudding topped with unsweetened whipped cream. All desserts are $5.95 -- a simple marketing ploy to get diners to indulge, but it works.
The same pricing trick works for wine, too. This Cafe Trio follows the innovative wine-pricing practice of its predecessor -- bottles are grouped by a single reasonable price as are glasses, encouraging diners to be more adventurous in wine selection.
Brunch is a big deal at Cafe Trio and they do a good job. The sweets were good -- small squares of sour cream coffeecake, blueberry-mascarpone muffins and pine nut pound cake are complimentary for the first basket. (An additional basket is $3.50.)
But eggs alla Italiano ($8.95), two slightly overpoached eggs on polenta cakes with sweet Italian sausage and hollandaise sauce, again lacked contrast. The soft textures all ran together until what should have been interplay became mush. Three thick slices of french toast ($7.95) were devoid of any egg flavor, though the heated maple syrup was good. The side of applewood-smoked bacon was not a good investment ($3); the strips arrived translucently undercooked. I objected and they were returned to me direly overcooked.
Cafe Trio Cottonwood is the third effort of the Trio restaurant group, which owns Fresco Italian Cafe and the two Cafe Trios. This latest version is clearly conceived with an eye to opening more like it. Besides using accessible materials to create a high-design minimalist interior, Cafe Trio's formula depends on fairly basic ingredients shuffled and re-shuffled into simple but sophisticated dishes. To me, this Cafe Trio is a few key ingredients short of a master recipe.
Tribune's rating system
1 star Good
2 stars Very good
3 stars Excellent
4 stars Extraordinary
$ Entree under $10
$$$$ Above $25
1 bell Quiet (under 65 decibles)
2 bells Can talk easily (65-70)
3 bells Talking somewhat difficult (70-75)
4 bells Raised voices (75-80)
A bomb Too noisy for normal conversation (80+)
The Tribune covers the cost of all meals at reviewed restaurants. Star ratings are based on a minimum of two visits. Ratings are updated continually based on at least one revisit. There is no connection between reviews and advertising.