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An Unbalanced Evening at Trio Atelier
May 24, 2005 | 1 Comments

With all the hype around Alinea lately, Ms. EatChicago and I decided to take a look and see what's going on at Trio Atelier, the latest incarnation of the place that Grant Achatz graduated from. After Chef Achatz left to start Alinea, owner Henry Adaniya announced that the next version of his celebrity-chef machine, Trio, would be called Trio Atelier ("atelier" translating to "workshop" or "studio"). The concept is supposed to be more playful (and financially accessible) than its predecessors, with more of a "bistro" style. The menu is divided into four separate courses (three savoury and one dessert) and is designed to be experienced as a tasting. Customers are welcome to experience the menu in any way they wish (a couple from here, one from there, etc.). Based on the prices, descriptions and the somewhat clumsy explanation by our waiter, it seemed best experienced by progressing directly through the menu with one item from each course. The menu also includes a moderate selection of wines by the glass in both three- and six-ounce portions, allowing you to pair a wine with your smaller tastings.

Before we ordered, we took in the uncomfortable atmosphere of the restaurant. We tried to decide on the exact design problems for quite a while before deciding that "it just doesn't work". The piles of salt bags, wall-mounted televisions, and bare floors combined with the old-world atmosphere of the building architecture, seemed half-finished, mismatched, and somewhat artistically lazy.

Both Ms. EC and I went the standard 1-2-3 route with the menu. The food was decent but I've had much better bistro food for a lot less money. The traditional dishes were just fine, while the more nouveau attempts simply didn't work. The food peaked in the last third of our meal, the final course being the clear standout based on its richness and sheer flavor, but the service took a steady decline throughout the entire evening. I'm really not a huge stickler for great service. I generally go by the rule that "good is good enough". I don't need stellar service to make my meal work, but really bad service will quickly ruin things. Here's a recap of the night:

First Course: Ms. EC was impressed with her apricot ravioli with kasseri cheese. I tasted it and found it pleasant, a very nice start to the meal. My escargot croquettes with mushroom ragout were less impressive, with very little of the snail coming through in the taste of the hush-puppy-like croquettes. I would have much preferred just a bowl of the mushrooms with some bread.

Service Note: It was at this point that Ms. EC noticed that we had bread plates, bread knives, but no bread. I saw no other bread around the other tables and assumed that bread was not being served that evening. Minutes later, our waiter arrived with two containers of bread and butter. He served the table next to us, then surprisingly left with the second serving. We spent the next few minutes trying to flag down one of the other dozen waiters/servers/busboys for some bread. We received it just in time for our second course.

Second Course: I am lately of the opinion that there is nothing better to do with a pile of frisé than to sprinkle it with crisped pork fat and top it with a poached egg. So, I ordered the lyonnaise salad, which I enjoyed only slightly less than I thought I would. Ms. EC went with the deconstructed nicoise salad, "Nicoise Nouvelle", which looked much more interesting than it tasted. I enjoyed the olive spread smear on her plate, but I can see how its flavor didn't match the tuna tartare.

Service Note 2: At this point I noticed that the table next to us was delivered a complementary glass of champagne, due to the fact that server previously forgot an item earlier. They now had 3 glasses of champagne for the two of them, which I found odd. It was nice to see that they were getting such attentive service, since we had finished two courses and had not seen our waiter or even had anyone ask us how things were.

Third Course: I devoured a braised veal cheek with root vegetable puree. It was rich and tender and I wish I had two. Ms. EC had a very tasty lamb chop with apple curry butter, a very nice flavor combination.

Service Note 3: The lucky table next to us received a shot glass of duck consomme as an amuse bouche, which we did not receive. Our wine glasses stood empty and we had our dirty plates from our third course in front of us for way too long. We were starting to wonder why our waiter liked the people next to us and hated us. We still hadn't been approached by anyone, even with a simple, "how's everything?" during the entire meal. After a busboy came to finally take the plates, we decided not to prolong the agony. We skipped dessert and coffee.

I am not a very good complainer and I generally choose not to complain inside the dining room. The table next to us was having a very good time and they didn't need my sour feelings to cast a shadow over their evening. Ms. EC and I decided to complain to the host, outside the dining room, on our way out. We told him that we enjoyed our meal but simply felt ignored. Other tables were being lavished with gifts like bread, duck consomme shots, and free champagne while we felt invisible, never being approached about the quality of our meal, for a new glass of wine, or to clear our dishes in a timely manner. There are quite a few reasons that this could have happened, and I'd rather not speculate. I'm just not very likely to return. The host was very apologetic and seemed appreciative of the feedback. (I did not inform him that I would be writing about my experience online).

On the way home we stopped at Baskin-Robbins for a satisfying dessert (from a very attentive server). We surmised whether or not Trio's management would call me back over the weekend to apologize (the host asked for my reservation name and they had my number on the reservation). They didn't call.

Trio Atelier is located at 1625 Hinman in Evanston, 847-733-8746. Reservations recommended. Valet parking available but we parked on the street a block away.

Posted 04:48 PM
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