Triniti absolutely glitters at night. Although you can't see the way the sun hits the perforated metal that wraps in a crimped pattern around the exterior of the restaurant — gleaming gold or rust or green, depending on where you look — the rest of the space simply sparkles. It's in the copper globes hanging above the polished bar that greet you upon entry. It's in the licks of flame sent up from pans in the open kitchen that anchors the opposite end of the big, open restaurant. It's in the pretty girls in spangled dresses who fold their long legs into the light Nordic wood of the sculptural chairs and in the Riedel glasses and Laguiole knives that gleam from their places in charmingly unfussy table settings.
Because while Triniti is nothing if not glamorous, it's also surprisingly accessible. The food that chef Ryan Hildebrand dishes up every night — with the help of his team of cooks, pastry chefs, managers, bartenders and servers assembled from the best, most pedigreed restaurants across the city — could easily be found in New York or Chicago's finest restaurants. You know the kind; the ones that require reservations weeks ahead of time and perhaps a check of your finances, L.A. Story-style.
Cheeky, inventive dishes like a "foie gras breakfast" that sees an outsize lobe of foie gras melting like butter across a blueberry-buckwheat pancake accompanied by a few strips of bacon and a single fried quail egg to complete the tableau. Or a rugged, well-salted pork collar with just the right amount of tongue-pleasing fat rippling through it, balanced upon a fluffy pile of pearl-like oats seasoned with the earthy flavors of porcini mushrooms and butternut squash.
"But we want this to be the kind of place where you can feel comfortable coming in blue jeans," Hildebrand said when I caught him after lunch one Monday afternoon, perched at the end of his bar while he worked on spreadsheets, the restaurant itself seeming completely different by day. In place of the glitz and glam of the previous Friday night was a restaurant that seemed calm, cool and almost zen. "It's almost like a New York loft space," joked Hildebrand.
Indeed, on that Friday night, I had felt a little overdressed in my gray wrap dress and black pumps despite the glamour all around me. It was nice to hear that my internal wish to have worn my dark jeans and a blousy top affirmed by the chef — who was himself wearing blue jeans and a Houston Rockets T-shirt that Monday afternoon.
Throughout the entire multicourse meal on Friday night, my dining companion and I kept remarking on how casual the whole affair seemed in spite of the dazzling plates that were set before us. "Is that Passion Pit on the stereo?" he asked at one point. My reply: "Yeah, and they were playing M83 and Cold War Kids before that." We all but inhaled a few glasses of wine from the expansive by-the-glass list, where nothing is more than $15 and most glasses are closer to $9.
"Do you notice how you can't even make eye contact with the waiters without them coming over to check on you?" I asked him at another point. "That's amazing." And yet the service never comes across as obsequious, stuffy or patronizing — another triumph in and of itself. You always feel welcome here, regardless of whether you're wearing shorts — as the table on one side of us was — or the entire contents of the Versace store at the Galleria — as the table on the other side of us was.
And that's the real magic of Triniti: delivering a supremely high-end meal and giving you a fun, comfortable yet memorable experience all at the same time.
This is why I suspect that Triniti has done so well for itself in the first year it's been open. It's not that Houston diners aren't interested in the ultramodern platings or esoteric ingredients that were found in now-closed yet equally ambitious restaurants such as Textile (where Hildebrand was the sous chef to Scott Tycer) or Voice (which was helmed by current sous chef Greg Lowry). It's that Houstonians as a people are generally more easygoing — and want their restaurants to be as well. We don't necessarily seek out the levels of glitz seen in places like Los Angeles or Dallas. Triniti succeeds by pairing modern, progressive New American cuisine with a laid-back Houston attitude.
That's not to say there weren't some hiccups at first, though. It took me awhile to understand what Triniti was doing, despite liking my initial meal there in January. I found the food terrific: an updated yet simple egg-in-a-hole dish with a fat, golden yard egg atop a bed of tart kale, the balance of salt and acidity and brilliant yolk pulling together in harmony. A perfectly medium-rare piece of salmon on an equally perfect line of white asparagus. A prismatic field of beet cubes, goat cheese spheres and pear wedges that looked, on its white plate, like edible modern art. And yet there was something missing for me.