Restaurant Reviews

Good Planning

I like Las Colinas. Some may think it sterile and static, but these are the shallow ones. How could you not love a 12,000-acre master-planned community that among other things is home to the world's largest equestrian sculpture: a herd of bronze mustangs galloping across a granite stream? Las Colinas also has a $45 million people-mover rail system. It operates only during lunch hours, which means that Las Colinas is so advanced, it has actually solved all urban transit problems, at least during the lunch crush.

Las Colinas also has a murky canal that's been transformed into a Venice-like tourist attraction. And fountains, lots of fountains. And a skyline, one that's been altered by a really big corporate merger, just like they are in real cities.

And not only that, Las Colinas has a touching insemination story that goes a little like this (according to the Irving Web site): "Twenty-five years ago, two men walked a mesquite-laden ranch in North Texas, discussing the possibilities for the land...But although they all endured the same blazing Texas sun, as dust from the dry land whirled around their boots, these two men were discussing new dreams for ranch land. Instead of longhorn steers, they discussed skyscrapers and freeways. In their vision, horses were luxury cars, barren land was replaced by well-designed landscaping, and barns were transformed into parking garages."

That's the kind of deeply rooted civic spirit that makes tear ducts flow: where mustangs morph into Cadillacs, and bull becomes a gallant corporate headquarters. Yet with all of that, Las Colinas still has more. It also has four 18-hole championship golf courses, an equestrian center, a motion picture facility and 50-plus restaurants, which range from the factory-sized meat market known as Cool River Café (with a fake stream crossed by galloping valets), to the Indian-themed Teneya, to various little places that ply everything from delicious pizza to delicious Thai food.

But none of these restaurants can match the development itself in terms of the sheer number of little pretenses used as trimmings. OK, maybe Teneya comes close, but other than that...

That's why Trevi's is such a surprise; Trevi's has "old world architecture and design with a warm atmosphere" and decent food. Plus Trevi's is true to Las Colinas' steer-to-skyscraper spirit: It's parked in a really tall hotel along that North Texas Venetian drainage ditch.

Trevi's evolved out of a restaurant space in the Omni Mandalay Hotel that was called the Café d'Or. After an application of $800,000, the room is a touch staid, with plush curving banquettes positioned below walls outfitted with padded fabric and lots of red and amber lighting. But there are a few memorable surprises in this venue, too. A key design element seems to be a series of concrete (I think) balls that are just slightly bigger than the kind with three finger holes drilled into them. You see them near the entrance and at various points throughout the dining room, including four in a little windowed alcove with plants and an empty birdcage. Above this little restaurant landscape scene is a mural depicting a half-naked Roman something or other standing on a Roman column. It all looked more Greek than Roman.

Which wouldn't be out of line, because the menu isn't strictly Italian either. It has dolmas, hummus, tabbouleh and ceviche. Trevi's also has a clean collection of Italian regional specimens crafted by executive chef Paolo Verzeni, who has a knack for creating understated contrasts.

For example, the oven-baked sardines are presented in a white clamshell-shaped bowl with a raucous red sauce dotted with white smears of cucumber-honey-mint dressing. The silvery anchovy torsos were planted on a moist vegetable capanota, a Sicilian dish composed of eggplant and other vegetables. The skin on the anchovies was crisp, playing off the tenderness of the fish and the plushness of the caponata, which had some aromatic herbal notes. The sauce itself, made from roma tomatoes and a little soy sauce among other things, was rich and tangy, relentlessly contrasting the cool sweetness of the dressing. The whole dish was fresh and clean.

Which unfortunately couldn't be said of the tomato caprese. Served on a flat sea-blue plate, the salad was a series of alternating slices of red and gold tomatoes and mozzarella cheese dressed with pesto and studded with pine nuts. Stiff, oily fried basil leaves made an appearance here and there. The tomatoes were under-ripe with vivid green near the center ring of the slice and the concomitant mealy firmness and thwarted flavors that come with immaturity.

Beef carpaccio also fell shy of the mark. The thinly sliced beef was arranged in a salami-like display, with meat tiled around the edge of the dish. Tarragon aioli was dribbled on top. The meat was coarse, more like corned beef than lacy tenderloin.

Yet most everything else at Trevi's was extremely good, and a few things showed a fascinating spark of imagination. For example, while the wine list is perhaps the typical Italian restaurant hybrid of lots of Italian wines perforated with a few California offerings, this abridged list includes four three-wine flights. Two are white, and two are red, and both mingle common varietals such as chardonnay and merlot (Californian and Italian) with Italian wines such as Gavi and Chianti.

The wines are served in a metal "flight" rack that looks something like a candelabrum. This may seem a pointless gimmick to the seasoned wine aficionado, but it can be a big help to the casual diner because it helps keep the wines straight. Plus you can share each flight with dining companions as a whole unit rather than as a series of shuffled glasses back and forth, which can get things mixed up.

This isn't the only apparatus that risks coming off as a Las Colinas contrivance. The lamb kebob was served on an appliance that looked like a gallows, or maybe a portable personal torture kit. A metal base held a post that rose 12 inches, and from the uppermost point an arm with two notches extended over the base. One held a thick skewer while from the other notch dangled a shriveled scallion scorched into limpidity. The base was carpeted with yellow spicy rice that served as a bed for another skewer holding bits of squash and zucchini.

The lamb was not a crowd of carved chunks shoved into each other on a skewer, as you might expect of a kebob. Instead, a trio of lamb chops dangled from the imposing ramrod. The flesh was delicious, if a bit undercooked: a gleaming ruby red. The rice was supple, separate and delicious, plus the medieval torture kebob service system pairs well with the wine flight rack--an unexpected table bonus.

But culinary pleasure was not simply limited to Trevi's dishes that included weaponry. The saffron risotto was clean, creamy and separate and doused with an inky wine sauce that added silkiness to the richness. Planted in the crest of the risotto mound were four firm paprika-dusted scallops. Each scallop had a crisp crust and a sweet flavor offset by the pungency of the singed seasonings. Thin asparagus stalks were scattered around the base of the mound, adding another dimension of crisp pungency.

Chicken in terracotta slipped down a few notches. Assembled in a dish with a mushroom sauce partially submerging roasted peppers and onions, the pieces of chicken were well-seasoned but extremely dry and tough. But underneath those pieces of chicken was a deliciously smooth and supple polenta void of those annoying clumps.

Trevi's sea bass is slow-cooked in a bag with kalamata olives, wedges of tomato and oregano in a mussel broth with angel hair pasta. The bag facilitated the fish's absorption of the disparate flavor elements. Yet the sea bass still maintained its firm, flaky composure without slipping into overcooked mush. This is a spectacular presentation.

Sweet stuff was good, too. Zabaglione was arranged in a pastry tulip shell into which was scattered strawberries and raspberries slathered with a warm marsala sabayon. The berries were a little sparse, and the flavors could have been a little more assertive, yet it was an amusing dessert nonetheless.

Trevi's has a lot going for it: decent food, comfortable atmosphere and a few odd implements that have a nice flair to them without being hokey or overdone. OK, maybe the kebob apparatus is a little hokey. But think of this: It didn't cost $45 million and doesn't work only during lunch.

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Mark Stuertz
Contact: Mark Stuertz

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