…in all the wrong places.
Our day was to include lunch somewhere in the River Walk area of San Antonio, and as is my custom, I did some preliminary on-line investigation. And, to my dismay, I have never seen such a dismal bunch of diner reviews. At urbanspoon.com, restaurants were getting “likes” in the 30% and 40% neighborhood. “We’re just going to have to wing it,” I said to my Favorite Traveling Companion.
But then luck was with us. Chuck wanted to cross a street near La Villita to get a photograph and he came back to report that there was a restaurant across the street serving Tuscan Italian food and that the menu included something called “The Power Lunch” with interesting pasta items. Somehow Tre Trattoria Downtown hadn’t come up in my search for nearby restaurants, but we made a note to return when our touring was finished.
Tre Trattoria is part of Jason Dady’s San Antonio restaurant empire. (Don’t all of today’s important chefs have an empire?) “Chef Jason Dady's love for food and hospitality began at the side of his grandparents. One set of grandparents owned a small tavern for over 40 years where customer service is the priority, while his other grandfather was a master butcher who handed down his personal set of knives Jason still uses today.
“Among his many awards, restaurant owner and Executive Chef Dady has been named ‘Rising Star’ chef by Restaurant Hospitality, 40 under 40 ‘Rising Star’ by San Antonio Business Journal, Best Chef in San Antonio by the San Antonio Current, 2005 New Achiever Award…” (thefairmounthotel-sanantonio.com)
This was another of those menus on which almost every item sounds interesting. Under the heading of “Lunch Specials” was the intriguing Mozzarella Stuffed Wagyu Meatballs with Fresh Spaghetti and San Marzano Fresca. Under the heading of “Verdure” (the greenness of growing vegetation) were Asparagus with Salsa Rustica, Roasted Golden Beets, Tuscan Farro Salad, Cannellini White Beans with Gremolota, House-Made Ricotta Bruschetta, and Seasonal Pickles. And for $18.00 you could get a sample plate of four items. This was hard to resist, but resist I did. Instead, we both went to the “Power Lunch” section for our choices.
“San Antonio's serious chefs have always had a hard time with lunch. Tarred by the taco mentality, the dining public resists most attempts at ambition—along with prices above $10. And even that is pushing it. Yet some chefs are stubborn: they persist. Jason Dady is one of them, and his Power Lunch menu at Tre in the Fairmount pushes the envelope with a selection of cheffy-sounding pastas and a price of $12.50. The pastas, among them pan-seared gnocchi with gorgonzola sauce,…come with your choice of mixed greens or Caesar salad…” (Ron Bechtol at sacurrent.com).
Each of our lunches came with a salad. Chuck chose the mixed field greens that was a combination of romaine, butter or bib, and curly green lettuces in a low vinegar dressing that tasted of garlic and pepper. I chose the Caesar with a dressing that also tasted of garlic and the salty presence of anchovy and was covered with a good portion of nutty parmesan cheese. What knocked us both out was the garnish on my salad—a parmesan tuile—that had the most amazing toasty and nutty taste. I have seen Giada De Laurentis making these on Everyday Italian on Food Network and have always meant to try myself. They seem so simple.
Chuck’s lunch selection was the Papperdelle Bolognese. Bolognese is a classic pasta sauce and is usually referred to as a ragu containing some form of ground meat (beef, pork, veal, or a combination of one or more) and usually served with a flat and wide pasta. Tre’s version contained, in addition to tomato, some form of dairy, and the use of milk or cream is not uncommon in Bolognese. This was a perfect serving. The house-made pasta was, if not al dente (which is virtually impossible with fresh pasta), still rather firm and not mushy. The sauce was both rich and flavorful. And the serving size was just large enough to satisfy but not overwhelm.
I choose the Pan Seared Gnocchi with Creamy Gorgonzola and it was equally delicious. Potato gnocchi, if not prepared correctly, can be weighty little dumplings of heavy starch. These were anything but. In fact, our server told us that the gnocchi had been made just that morning. And, while a blue-vein cheese lover like me might have liked a stronger gorgonzola taste, the combination of the browned dumplings and creamy sauce was a perfect pairing.
We couldn’t resist finishing our meal with a shared dessert—the Nutella x 3. This included a flourless chocolate and hazelnut cake topped with chocolate and hazelnut sauce with a large spoon of chocolate and hazelnut Chantilly cream on the side. The cake was like a creamy and intense fudge and the icing/sauce was like pure melted chocolate with hazelnut flavoring. It is a good thing we shared. I am not sure one person could finish a dessert this sweet and rich.
This was a superb meal and we agreed that it was one of the dining highlights of our five years of travels and most definitely earns 5.0 Addies.
To review the role of Adler, Kitty Humbug, and the Addie rating system, read the November 14, 2011 blog.