Thursday, August 18, 2011

There Is Substance

Tre Trattoria
4003 Broadway
(in the Boardwalk, between the Witte Museum and Hildebrand)

Every now and then one likes to splurge. Personally, I prefer to splurge now (and it's always "now"), but my innate cheapness and a lack of limitless resources, plus a vague awareness of things like body shape, cholesterol count and the middle-age medicinal trifecta keep me from a life of unbridled culinary libertinage. Still, every now and then I will at least make a show of splurging. 

Today, in furtherance of those impulses, my friend Rick took me to lunch at Tre Trattoria, one of local-celeb-chef Jason Dady's places (the others being Bin 555; The Lodge in Castle Hills; and another location of Tre Trattoria, downtown in the Fairmount Hotel). (Oh, and there's a barbecue place, too....) I had only been to one of his places before, though certainly I know his name; but as a curmudgeon, I won't let myself be too impressed by celebrity, until I'm personally certain there's some substance to it. My two visits to Bin 555 had not assured me that such was the case. The first visit, at lunch time many years ago, is all but lost in the mists of time, except for a feeling of not being greatly impressed; the second visit, for dinner about three years ago, I remember mainly for the company of a charming and amusing couple, new friends who might have become best friends, had they not gotten a divorce a few months later. Chè sarà sarà.

So. I had never so much as seen Tre Trattoria. It's tucked away in the back of the Boardwalk, an eclectic jumble of shops and offices and restaurants that seem to cater to the Gucci-B crowd. I suspect, in fact, that Chef Dady calls his outpost "Tre Trattoria Alamo Heights," even though it's in San Antonio, in order to encourage those folks in the belief that, yes, it is okay to cross Hildebrand Avenue, but only long enough to have lunch; stay any longer and they're likely to be infected with bourgeois leanings, and want to park on the street overnight, or vote Democratic.

Tre Trattoria has a large, well-accoutered south-facing outdoor dining area. No surprise that it had about it an air of desuetude: San Antonio in August is never a place to have lunch al fresco, this year more than most. Still, I thought longingly how nice a place it would be, if we could just knock thirty degrees off the temperature. Maybe in September.... 

Inside the expensively decorated dining room (which, sadly, already strikes me as dated rather than trendy), the youthful staff did their best to make us feel comfortable and welcome, but you could just about tell that they, with their designer jeans and ubiquitous tattoos, weren't accustomed to being better-dressed than their clientele. Rick was in his National Sarcasm Society T-shirt, and I was sporting a Liverpool team shirt. I don't think that was what discomfited them; maybe it was the shorts and tennis shoes. Still, they were tactful, graceful, accepting and patient. When a couple of overdressed blue-haired '09-ers came in and took the adjoining booth (the rattle of jewelry attracted our attention), well, weren't we put in our place. 

The menu is the sort of thing you've come to expect at poncy places, but it's nowhere near as pretentious as most other fine restaurants. There were no designer names on the various ingredients, nor gushing descriptions of sensations attributable to eating them. There were a few translations of Italian words, though others were left un-translated. (Myself, I don't know what "Gremolota" is, but neither do I care). The wine list is moderately extensive, but neither of us was interested. 

Many of the entrées on the menu are available in larger and smaller portions. What presumably is a full he-man serving comes at one price ($15 for the pasta dishes, which was where my attention dwelt); a smaller serving is available for less ($10). And for lunch, the restaurant offers what they call a "Chef's Quick Bite," consisting of a serving — the smaller serving — of the main dish, preceded by soup or salad. These replace the Pranzo listed on the older on-line version of the menu. They have no price listed, but our waiter told us they were $12. We both chose from those options.

Last city inspection: March 2010
14 demerits
Both of us opted for the soup, a creamy white-bean concoction seasoned with celery and brown butter. How was it? Well, imitation is truly the sincerest form of flattery, and after lunch, I stopped off at the Gucci-B for a can of cannellini, and went home to try and duplicate what I'd had. (Came pretty close, considering that I'm not about to spend the time needed to clarify and brown butter; and I used nonfat yogurt instead of cream, and the white wine I used is of the cheapest variety available. I should have puréed the beans longer, and I should have let it reduce longer, but the aroma and taste are not entirely unlike what Tre Trattoria offers. All things considered, though, I'll spend the money for theirs.)

My entrée was pappardelle with rustic pork ragu, fennel and lemon. Rick chose the pan-seared gnocchi with creamy gorgonzola. Both were delicious, and there was some debate as to which was better. Like the legislative and executive branches of government, we both claim victory in that debate, but only I really won.

Pappardelle is a wide ribbon of pasta, like lasagna noodles after a long interview with the Inquisition. It is difficult to store and transport, as it is very delicate in its dry state, and so isn't often seen at grocery stores. It is an excellent pasta, though, where there is a thick sauce to put on it. (If I had a pasta maker at home, it would only be so I could make pappardelle myself. I'd use it for other stuff too, and probably enjoy routinely having fresh, home-made pasta, but I would only buy a pasta machine for that one purpose. Which is why I don't have one.) The Neapolitan-style ragu had a pleasing intensity, and the pork was served in plentiful, large and insanely tender chunks. The tastes of fennel and lemon were both subdued, as I would have requested had I been asked. If I had to complain** ... well, I can't really think of anything. Maybe too much salt. 

Rick's gnocchi was clearly of the home-made variety, deeply redolent of fresh potato flavour and lightly overlaid with a very thick sauce of Gorgonzola cheese in cream. I thought the searing of the gnocchi had been carried just a bit farther than was necessary, as some of it was nearer black than brown, but the taste was not diminished. If anything, it could have done with another quarter-cup of the luxurious sauce. And his dish did have too much salt.

The table service at Tre Trattoria was excellent, but ... well, I have to wonder why they call these lunch specials "Chef's Quick Bites" if they're going to take so very long to come out of the kitchen? After ordering, we finished our soup, went through two plates of really quite outstanding bread — a light, crusty baguette — and had time to contemplate the chandelier (derivative), the furnishings (interesting), and the artwork (uninteresting, except for a photo of some tomatoes) and the other customers (enough said) before commenting on how loooooong it was taking. We are both retired and had nowhere to be, so we weren't really in any hurry; but you just know that the idea of a "Quick Bite" was to get working people in and out quickly, without their feeling rushed. We felt abandoned, or would have had not the waiter made occasional passes to reassure us. The long delay is the reason the "service" rating is not much higher.
Tre Trattoria Alamo Heights on Urbanspoon
* Proof? You want proof? History is written by the winners.
** And I do.

1 comment:

  1. While browsing for recipes on the Splendid Table web site this afternoon, I came across this, a recipe for Gremolata. This recipe produces what my grandmother called, if ancient memory serves, persilata.


    5 large garlic cloves, crushed
    1/3 cup water
    Shredded zest of 2 large lemons
    1 tight-packed cup Italian parsley leaves
    Salt and pepper to taste
    1-1/2 cups coarsely-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

    Put the garlic and 1/3 cup water in a coffee mug and microwave 1 minute, or simmer in a small saucepan to 1 to 2 minutes (this mellows the garlic just a little). Then, in a food processor,
    mince together the garlic (with its liquid), lemon zest, and parsley. Salt and pepper the mixture to taste.

    So, confused by the nomenclature, I looked up gremolata on Wikipedia (, and found that it's a very vague condiment mixture. Apparently, anything that has lemon zest in it is a gremolata.


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