You can often tell in a single visit when a restaurant is the product of recent culinary school grads. There's a certain eager over- attentiveness to the service. There's an earnest term-project feel to the food conception and description, as in: "pan-seared sea scallops, lemon wasabi beurre blanc, sesame sea salad, garlic mashed potatoes, sugar snap peas, and pickled ginger." And when the menu proffers a mission statement—"the trio strives to provide a fresh seasonal Northwest menu using the finest ingredients"—it's a dead giveaway: You're in newbie land. Trio's
1712 N 45th, 632-7825
AE, DC, MC, V; beer and wine Which isn't necessarily a bad thing. Take Trio's, the four-month-old Wallingford home of the aforementioned mission statement. Within this charming storefront bo, one room done in the warm yellows and antiques of the Proven硬 countryside and the other an eat-in kitchen, some very nice things have come my way. A pan-roasted chicken breast, golden and lightly crisp of exterior, arrived atop a mound of creamy garlic mashed potatoes with a "gravy" of Pinot Grigio-tarragon cream sauce and cremini mushrooms, alongside a flawlessly crispy handful of buttery sugar snap peas ($14). Every element was right; the whole was meat-and-potatoes satisfying. Turns out meat-and-potatoes satisfying is Trio's stock-in-trade. Beef tenderloin came beautifully char-grilled and glazed in a rosemary-Port butter, with caramelized Walla Walla Sweet mashed potatoes and those remarkable sugary peas ($16). Grilled Ellensburg lamb chops ($19), tender and blush pink in the center, arrived in an olive-mint drizzle with the same nummy potatoes. The sea scallops described above ($14) were firm yet yielding, and crowned with a delicious sesame-infused ocean salad and a zippy lemon wasabi beurre blanc. Two hunks of pan-roasted King salmon, alongside slices of rosemary-roasted Yukon Golds and a fun little pile of capers ($15), were terrific—though doused in a surfeit of tomato-lemon oil vinaigrette. If you're getting the sense that there's a sameness to the entree menu, you're right. The titular "trio" is chefs Jim Shinbo and Dory Vandermaas, personal partners and recent graduates of Seattle Central's and the Art Institute of Seattle's culinary programs, respectively, and Vandermaas' twin, Donna Oliver. Vandermaas, who graduated with honors, must have majored in meat; nary a pasta or stir-fry or other alternative is on the menu. Even the vegetarian special is that meat masquerader, a roasted Portobello mushroom, served with roasted Yukon Golds topped with caramelized shallots and tomatoes and a gardenful of splendid grilled and roasted vegetables ($15). In short: If you've a hankering for a pasta or a sandwich or some other such neighborhood bistro fare, you will not find it at this particular neighborhood bistro. That said, perhaps Vandermaas and Shinbo are wise to accentuate their strengths. The starter menu is wider ranging and not as consistent. A Walla Walla Sweet onion tart with sun-dried tomatoes ($6) featured four quarters of lovely topping on a tough tart crust—a real pity. Alaskan smoked King salmon spread with herb crostini ($7) was all right; nothing much to write home about in the flavor department, with crostini that was too hard for the teeth at our table to comfortably negotiate. An organic green salad with apples, gorgonzola, and toasted macadamias ($6) was fine but awkward, featuring large, uncut (and as far as we could discern, untoasted) nuts. Portobello mushrooms with grilled asparagus ($5) was delicious, as Portobellos usually are, but served (unlike the rest of the dishes) without visual flair. The one must-order off the starter list is the char-grilled honey sesame prawns on avocado with basil sauce and chili oil ($7), a swoony rainbow of perfect pink shrimp, cooked to a juicy turn, over slices of rich avocado in oil so delectable you'll want to dredge your whole basket of bread in it. Let it be stated here that they give you only three prawns, a reality that could create some unfortunate tension at your four-top but seems to be emblematic of Trios' general economic philosophy. Prices are kept pretty low for meats and fish of this quality, but servings of those meat and fish are on the scant side. To compensate, the kitchen foregrounds the starch by serving potatoes of interest in relatively hefty portions, an increasingly common practice as risottos and polentas and other intriguing starches capture more diners' imaginations and satisfy more of their comfort longings. SMUGLY CERTAIN that I could predict the desserts these food academics would serve—something fancy, with towering fruit; something trendy, like the lately ubiquitous coconut cr譥 caramel; and the de rigueur chocolate choice—I could not have been more wrong. Desserts at Trio's are an afterthought: an almond cream tart ($6) topped with fruit, which tasted to me more like a grainy breakfast pastry than dessert; and a fine if underinspired lemon tart ($6). They are brought to the table by eager, overattentive servers who will likely grow more natural in their demeanor once the place crowds up a little. Trio's is sure to do this before long, owing to the general affordability of the generally good bistro food. And that is as it should be. Still, I stop short of a full-throttle endorsement because the place is missing something I can't quite put my finger on, except to say it feels like joie de vivre. Trio's feels a little studied for my taste, a little showcasey for what ought to be a comfy drop-in neighborhood spot. Even the sitting-in-the-kitchen schtick strikes me as the affectation of a show-off chef who graduated with honors—but I'll allow that it could just as readily feel like an uncommonly cozy way to go out for dinner. Once Trio's lightens up a little—if Trio's lightens up a little—that it will be.