"It's a name that I've been kicking around ever since I wanted to do my own place: sweet, savory and spirits, having all three elements," said Ryan Hildebrand over the phone yesterday afternoon, shortly after announcing his plans to open a restaurant of his own -- Triniti -- next summer.
"I worked for the great Jose Hernandez, and he was my introduction to a really great pastry chef. I've always worked with really great sommeliers, and I wanted to have all of those aspects, the holy trinity."
Hildebrand sounded exhausted but excited about the venture, which is as ambitious as they come. A 5,400-square-foot restaurant, a full garden, a wine and cocktail program that he hopes to turn over to an equally excited -- and yet-to-be-hired -- front-of-house person and a location at 2815 Shepherd that's previously stymied restaurants like Cafe Serranos and Fox New South as well as nightclubs such as Chrome and Pravada.
Hildebrand, however, sees it differently.
"My partner called me one day and said, 'What do you think of the old Chrome spot?' It was a unique deal, and we managed to get it done. I think it's in a great location. It's relatively close to Midtown, downtown, West Avenue, River Oaks, the Museum District, the Medical Center. Demographically, I think it's awesome."
Getting those Upper Kirby and River Oaks crowds in the doors will be important for Hildebrand and the restaurant's success, as his equally ambitious menu strongly echoes the chef-driven tasting menus that were offered at his previous restaurant, Textile, where he was chef de cuisine to Scott Tycer.
"The menu is progressive, seasonal American," Hildebrand said. "We're gonna do a core menu that is seasonal, and then we'll do a weekly menu that we'll pull from more local places, constantly evolving. Very eclectic." And to supplement that local, seasonal produce, Hildebrand hopes to grow his own. "We're working in a pretty substantial garden. I'm trying to create an urban oasis."
"Every place I've ever designed - even if it didn't get built - there was always a garden involved," he explained. "In my short time at Textile, we pulled from our garden there. I've been doing it for a while; if there was space, we did it. We had a great garden [when I was] at Patronella's."
Pulling from the planned garden at Triniti is one way that Hildebrand plans on keeping the menu at least a little less expensive than Textile's famously high-priced tasting menus and a la carte items. "One of the things we really want to do is high-end food at an approachable price. It can be done," he emphasized.
"It's all about sourcing ingredients and keeping an eye on your food costs. We're gonna be doing Textile-style food. The core menu, I want to keep very reasonable. Lunch will be extremely competitive; lighter fare, more inexpensive. I don't want to be a special occasion destination. I want people to come and hang out."
For those coming to hang out, Hildebrand plans a low-key bar that looks into the kitchen with eight to ten stools, especially great for solo diners. And in the kitchen itself, he wants to mimic the intimate chef's table at Textile, where the chefs served the food directly and interacted with the patrons as much as possible.
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Also keeping it low-key will be two patios: "A dining patio and one that's attached to the bar, more of a casual area," Hildebrand said.
As to the bar, he's less sure of what that area will look like, both in terms of design and drinks offered. "I don't have a front-of-house person right now, so I really want to give someone an opportunity to be creative in that area with cocktails and wine," he said. "I want to keep the creativity flowing in all aspects of the restaurant. When I find that person, they're going to have a lot of opportunities and creative freedom. I don't really have an ego problem. I want to give that bar to somebody and have it be their baby."
In the meantime, demo work will begin after Thanksgiving with a planned opening date in summer 2011 if all goes to plan. If not, Hildebrand isn't too worried. "If we can do everything really fast and really well, we should be able to open early summer -- like May. If it gets into August, I'll just open with a fall menu." It's this casual attitude that I hope fully extends into the restaurant and its menu.
As Hildebrand says, "I just want to have fun with it."