Trio is a high-octane Westboro favourite, tricky to find if you don’t know the neighbourhood well. It’s small, for one, and its black awning – which has ‘trio’ written in petite letters – is eclipsed at the moment by a sidewalk tree in June bloom. That tree shades a little patio of perhaps four tables, which tends to be filled on evenings when patios should be filled. So this time of year, I suppose, you could look for sidewalk action as a clue for finding this place.
My last look at Trio was in 2006, not long after it opened. It remains unique in the neighbourhood (and in a good many others) in that it stays open until 2 a.m. every day of the week, making it a perfect spot for after-the-late-shift or some post-show noshing. If you use Trio as the lounge it declares itself to be, asking only for an intimate space in which to hang with friends, listen to some listenable music played at “lounge level,” have a few drinks and some nibbles, Trio totally fits the bill. Every neighbourhood should have a Trio-like place.
(Indeed Little Italy has The Moonroom on Preston Street – Trio’s younger sister, also open daily until early morn.)
It’s taken a few years, but Trio appears now to have the formula for grazing ‘n’ sharing food produced in a tiny one-man kitchen down pat.
Gone are those wheat flour tortilla pizzas, flailing beneath a load of toppings and expensive for what they were. Gone are the Ã la minute shrimp dishes that took forever to arrive. The food now is an assembly of artisanal cheeses and cured meats, fancied-up nuts and home-made pickles, rare steak and tuna, served cold and tarted up with yummy house-made relishes and jams. There are cold pâtés and terrines and duck rillettes. There are spreads that improve when made earlier in the day – hummus, say – and items that are always best when made ahead and reheated – the meatballs, say, or a mushroom ragoût.
The way I tend to begin things at Trio is to go directly to the ‘Adventure’ section at the bottom of the menu and order the chef’s choice sharing plate. It usually includes a ripe wedge of some good gooey cheese – one from a lengthy list on the blackboard. I’ve also received a mound of what the menu calls “eggplant caviar” – essentially a smoky eggplant spread enhanced with chopped onion, olive oil and dill. Plus, a dollop of that thick, nubbly hummus sweetened with chopped apricots; slices of cool, rare steak on a mound of fantastic caramelized onion (this they call ‘floufet’ for some reason); pungent olives, some house pickles, local strawberries and two lamb and mint meatballs served with a hot and sour pineapple sauce. This comes with a basket of crostini and bread (Art-is-in, and a bit stale, sadly) and goes pretty far in filling us up for $15.
Other nights, we tuck into a Mason jar of chicken liver mousse, iced with a fig jelly – rich, lively food, served with grainy mustard, cornichons, almonds and roasted garlic. The holy-fsck (sic) cheese sandwich is gooey and tasty enough, but also punishingly rich, and the cheese doesn’t have enough edge to make it worthwhile. Spicy potato wedges taste a bit old at one visit, though they’re yummy at another, served with a curried mayonnaise. The tuna tataki is defeated with too much of that too sweet-and-sour pineapple sauce we encountered earlier on the lamb meatballs.
Mushrooms on toast is quintessential comfort food and here they’re enhanced (gently, thank you) with a bit of truffle oil, and mounded on Art-is-in grilled bread rubbed down with garlic. Pears, brie and a walnut pesto are great company piled on top of their slice of thick toast.
There’s a couple of chocolate things on offer for dessert – one night the chocolate pot is wonderful, another night it’s too thick, a bit grainy.
As for the booze on offer, the local craft beer and a solid wine list available in various pours, are good draws.
So now to the bit I wish I didn’t have to write: service at Trio can be cranky. It can say curt things like: “We always bring water” in response to a request for some. It can go out on the patio for a smoke, answer text messages, eat dinner at the bar, while we wait for service (finally asking the cook, in golf shirt in the tiny kitchen, if we could please have a bowl of spiced almonds with dates – which does little to endear us to our server). And though the new menu is filled with more manageable food, and most of it is very tasty stuff, the document is ripe with what I guess are in-jokes. Our server calls them ‘cheeky’ as she answers our questions: “what’s a floufet?”
“What’s the holy-fsck sandwich?” “The dink on a raft?” the nature of the ” … sour (insert favourite noun here) compote.” (Huh?)
I suppose if she’s willing – despite managing a room and patio on her own – to take the time to interpret the document, who am I to suggest Trio might give her (and us) a break, de-cute the language and let the food speak louder than the menu?