I fell asleep two nights ago thinking about Triniti’s snapshot dinner, which took place at the hot new El Gran Malo bar on Monday night. There I was, teetering on the edge of consciousness while 3-D images of the meal kept on running through my mind. I finally drifted off into slumber on a crest of fully satiated culinary delirium, aided in part by the 10+ tequila cocktail pairings created by the very talented El Gran Malo team.
I guess thats what happens when someone who loves food gets to eat food that they love — you fall asleep with the food on your mind and wake up wishing you could relive those moments.
It started with the canapes, of which we had three. First there were the foie gras and ahi poke with soy gel and smoked seaweed on sesame toast. Shaped like little round eyeballs, the savory little one-bite wonders made their way around the room in little plastic baskets, and tasted so good it was hard to stop at just one.
A Chincoteague oyster, shucked by Greg Lowry and topped with cucumber, strawberry and tequila mignonette, was perfectly conceived from the flavor profile to the little round serving dishes that allowed you to down the slippery contents in one slurp. Just beautiful.
Likewise, when you popped the sliver of pig ear terrine served on cracker with a bit of mustard, sweet pickle shitake and cherry, the pieces of the whole all combined to make a perfect-tasting little bite. And these were just the canapes.
The ten ensuing courses, each delightfully paired with infused tequila cocktails by newcomer El Gran Malo, were nothing short of a master class in the culinary arts.
It had a lot to do with the Triniti team. If there was a dream team assembled for a restaurant in Houston, I think team Triniti would have to be it. There’s a harmony among the players — Executive Chef/Owner Ryan Hildebrand, Chef de Cuisine Jose Hernandez, and Sous Chefs Greg Lowry and Matthew Lovelace — that shows through in the way they work. Communicating often with a gesture or a look, the chefs worked side by side in total unison, the harmony translating into artful execution at every step.
A vibrant red tomato salad came alive with the addition of a sweet and savory saba foam mousse and icy green basil granita. Paired with a bloody maria, El Gran Malo’s take on the traditional bloody mary using infused celery leaf and jalapeno infused tequila, the dinner kicked off with a bang.
Next up, a smooth and creamy cantaloupe soup with dungeness crab and crisped pancetta elicited moans of delight from around the table, and with each successive spoon, the moans became louder: “Oh, this is so good!” I exclaimed in a falsetto baritone. It was truly a gorgeous dish in taste and flavor — smooth, suave, sweet, salty — just beautiful and my favorite dish of the night. The strawberry shot pairing, made out of a hollow fresh strawberry filled with spicy roast jalapeno tequila, added a zing of spice to finish off the smooth soup. If diners weren’t awake at that point, it was definitely a pick-me-upper.
The vegetable course, made up of squashes, beets and pear in a water oak farm goat’s milk yogurt bath, was delightfully well composed visually and on the palate, the texture of squash firm yet smooth, while the goat milk yogurt had a soothing quality. Paired with a red-beet infused tequila mixed with ginger beer, fresh squeezed lime juice and candied ginger, the sangria look-alike tasted earthy and fruity at the same time.
The menu was written in such a way that there was something for everyone to look forward to in each course. “I can’t wait for the sweet corn risotto with pork belly,” said Greg Morago, the Houston Chronicle’s Food Editor, “I just love corn.” Sure enough, the corn risotto was perfection, and the combination with pork belly reminded of Vietnamese food done in haute cuisine fashion.
My table companion on my right proclaimed the moist and delicate butter-poached halibut with tarragon, nopales, and potato his favorite of the night, while the tequila fizz distinguido, a fizzy sweet, foamy-topped pink drink made of fresh grapefruit juice, club soda, mint and agave nectar won hands down for me in the cocktail pairings department.
For the poultry course, chicken had been rolled, sous vide, then pan seared to for a crisp outer skin, then topped with shimeji mushrooms and a sunny-side up quail egg.
After taking the lemonade and fresh strawberry tequila shot that came with it, my food and drink buzz hit an all time high. And yet, there was more.
A tequila lime sorbet, with salted caramel meringue drops served as a quick intermezzo for the final savory course of the night, a pan-seared beef strip loin, cooked to perfection and topped with a strip of torched tripe, while drops of creamy cauliflower bone marrow mousse brought the entire dish together. I was very full at this point but could not help lapping up every last bit of cauliflower bone marrow mousse, so smooth and decadent.
For our sweet happy endings (this is what the desserts were called on the menu), we were regaled with two: first, a whole roast warm peach with honey comb ice cream and vanilla biscuit; and second, a caramelito mousse cake, with caramel brittle and caramel ice cream. Both were beautiful creations, a fine end to an extraordinary introductory meal to what I project will quickly become one of the best restaurants in Houston for 2012.
Triniti is still under construction at this point, with a projected opening date sometime this coming November 2011. “Triniti’s preview has foodies eager for more” Greg Morago opined in his writeup of this same dinner for the Houston Chronicle blog, 29-95. I could not agree more. In fact, I have to say that I am so eager, I can hardly wait. Here is a restaurant worth getting excited about.
Triniti Restaurant, 2815 S. Shepherd Dr, Houston, TX 77098. opening date TBA. For up to date information, follow them on Facebook and Twitter.
Mai Pham covers Restaurants and Fine Dining for knotmove.com. Click on the subscribe link above to stay up to date with news and events about food in Houston. You can read previous stories here. Pham is also featured on Fox 26 news every other Friday evening at 9pm, where she dishes about food and restaurants in the Houston scene.