Sunday, April 15, 2012

Restaurant Review: Trio at the Four Seasons

Trio. Those of you who've heard of it may know that they are known for their seafood, their steak, and their wine, but I gotta tell you, after my experience, Trio seriously needs to reconsider at least one of those self-proclaimed claims to fame.

This was my final stop on my tour of the supposedly premier Austin foodie destinations, and I had high hopes. All week I'd  been looking forward to expertly prepared seafood, expecting to appreciate the tasty meat of the sea like never before. Nothing could have prepared me for the crushing disappointment I was about to endure. 

Driving up to the hotel was initially promising. It was beautiful, a place I could never imagine affording for even a night. I dragged my decrepit Volkswagen onto the driveway between a shiny new Lexus and an enviable Escalade, cringing in unavoidable embarrassment as the sound of my front bumper dragging on the ground seemed louder than ever. My discomfort grew as we realized the only parking option was through valet, my voice cracking as I apologized to the doorman for the condition of my ride. I couldn't help but hear the hatred in his voice as he tried to reassure me. "Don't worry about it, sweetie. We accept people from all walks of life." Why did I immediately feel like I was entering a recently integrated country club? This was going to be interesting. 
The inside of the hotel was a breathtaking display of modern architecture. Cat and I descended the elegantly carpeted staircase to the restaurant, where we were greeted by a gaunt and timid hostess, guarding the vast glory that lay behind her.  Glistening hardwood floors, ambient lighting falling softly on the faces of the rich, enhancing the work of their spa technicians and plastic surgeons. I so did not fit in here. But hey, I was a hungry foodie in pursuit of an exceptional meal. I deserved to be there just as much as the Botox infested mummies surrounding me. 

Our meal began as Sean, the waitress' assistant greeted us with enthusiasm. Things were looking up. He didn't know we'd arrived in a puttering pile of junk. He didn't know I could barely afford the the highly discounted meal we were about to enjoy. It felt good. I liked this undercover mini-life I'd come to live for the next couple of hours. If only the meal to come would have been as magical as I'd anticipated. 

At least my date was a total hottie. 

First stop on my baffling journey of underwhelming seafood: crab gazpacho. I love gazpacho and was as giddy as a schoolgirl at her first junior high dance to have found it on the Restaurant Week menu. 

It looked delicious enough.

Beautifully presented and garnished, I ogled at the dish like it was my eighth grade boyfriend in his adorable little bow tie at our homecoming dance. That night would end devoid of the satisfaction of the sweet first kiss I had longed for, and this first course would dishearten me no less. An establishment illuminating itself with the false promise of fresh and gratifying seafood really ought to serve crab that presents with enough flavor to outshine a simple cold tomato soup. It did not. No matter how hard I tried, I could find but a trace of the briny taste of the sea I so love and craved. Diving deep into the soup that is notoriously difficult to screw up, I wondered how it was that this Zagat-rated calamity could do just that. The soup itself tasted as though the chef had poured a sizable quantity of lime juice into some marinara, shredded some cucumbers, thrown it in a bowl with some distressed crab meat and called it a dish. I was not happy. 

Ok so my appetizer wasn't great. That's alright, Jillian, keep an open mind. Because you have a gulf steam pot headed your way: grouper, clams, shrimp, chorizo, all steamed together, sharing an experience in the pot, while maintaining the unique character of their individual flavors, right? Wrong. 

It looked well enough, I suppose.

As soon as the steam hit my nostrils though, I knew something was horribly wrong. The broth was disconcertingly sweet in a way I couldn't imagine complementing the precious ocean jewels. Nonetheless, I dug in, optimistic that the flavor would trump the fragrance. Screw my optimism. I was right. I should trust my instinct. Clams first down the hatch. Not too bad because as a meat that doesn't exactly soak up a lot of liquid, I didn't catch the full effect of the aversive broth that would destroy the rest of the plate. The chorizo, dryer than any sausage I've ever tried and sliced ultra-thin, was inedible, or certainly not worth ingesting at least. Sigh. Time to move on to the jumbo shrimp. They looked promising enough but would provide me no respite from the terrible meal I was making every effort to enjoy. It was made difficult by the insipid, rubbery shellfish, embittering my soul with every painful bite I choked down. And this wasn't even the worst of the whole ordeal. The grouper, the bottom of the pot, the fish that would soak up a grotesque amount of the repulsive fluid that surrounded it, that would be the worst of it all. One bite of the filet, and I knew my meal was over. On the plus side, I was finally able to put my finger on the unsettling flavor of the broth: it tasted as though the run off produced by rinsing the shrimp had been captured, reserved, and combined with a flavorless oil to create a slippery, troublingly sweet and altogether unpleasant broth that destroyed absolutely everything it touched. A brief wave of sympathetic embarrassment for the chef washed over me as I realized that this would be the only dish I couldn't bring myself to clear from my plate over the entirety of Restaurant Week. And it wasn't because I was too full. I was actually disgusted by a plate that had been served to me in a supposedly top-notch establishment. 

I'd have to appease my insatiable desire for good food with a few small bites of the 14 ounce ribeye Cat had ordered. The char on the outside of the meat was perfect, providing that glorious crunch expected from a good steak and leading into the succulent, juicy center. 

Served with 5 different steak sauces of course. 

The problem is that the steak was good, not great, and we only really liked one of the five sauces. It was far more enjoyable than the dish I'd abhorred, but it definitely was not enough to save my overall assessment of the place.

A couple of desserts were to follow, sadly destined to perpetuate my less than respectful view of Trio. 

Beautifully presented, devastatingly unimpressive. 

On the left are PB&J S'mores, which I'd hoped would bring some sense of the gourmet to the picture, but once again, I'd be crushed. The reddish-purple blobs are heaps of an unimpressive jam. The peanut butter cookie beneath that mound of whipped cream was burnt beyond edibility, and I had found yet another plate here not to be cleared. The dessert on the right was markedly more palatable, but that's really all I can say about it. I mean come on, in that little jar is a mediocre slab of pound cake, some vanilla flavored whipped cream, and some fresh berries. Although based on the rest of my meal, I guess it wouldn't be too surprising if they managed to somehow screw that up too. 

Really the only saving grace at Trio was Sean, who seemed genuinely concerned with my hardly ruffled entrée. Despite my pleas, he brought out the manager, chef, and waitress to speak with me. I've never been the type to make waves in a restaurant, nor have I ever expected anything complimentary when I was displeased with a meal, but I appreciated it as it came. The service really was fantastic here, and I enjoyed the freebie booze so much that I don't really remember enough about my dessert gratis to write about it objectively.

The little trio sure was adorable though.

The overall lesson here? Don't necessarily expect the locally acclaimed food to live up to your expectations. Try it for yourself with an open mind, and don't be ashamed to disapprove of the food you're served. But most importantly, if you want to open an expensive restaurant with less than desirable food, slap it onto a hotel where repeat business isn't necessary. Betray the tourists and pray that new ones will just keep on coming. 

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