Triniti

Houston
PATS PICK
Photograph by Debora Smail

APPARENTLY DELUSIONAL, I clicked on Triniti’s reservations link on a Thursday morning, somehow imagining that my friends and I could get into Houston’s newest white-hot dining destination the following Saturday night. What was I thinking? Not wanting to eat at 5:30 or 9:30, we settled for Sunday. Bliss! On that quiet day (and on a return visit Monday), we not only had the dining room 
almost to ourselves, with perfectly paced courses and unharried service, but we experienced the Eighth Wonder of the Postmodern World: a restaurant where it is possible to talk without shouting.

A lot of money has gone into Triniti, most evident in its design, by Houston’s MC2Architects. It’s gorgeous, with massive frosted-glass doors that lead into a soaring room with walls the color of whipped cream. Highly contemporary art sets an experimental tone; I was quite taken with a surrealistic painting by Georgia artist Todd Murphy of gossamer gowns hovering in an ominous glen. As you might expect from the sophisticated look, the menu is refined and, when it takes a notion, cutting-edge.

The kitchen is under the direction of co-owner and executive chef Ryan Hildebrand (formerly with Textile) and chef de cuisine Jose Hernandez (previously at Philippe), and when those two are on, they’re on. Even something as routine as a charcuterie platter (pictured) turns into a brilliant array of firm house-made fennel salami, a coarse pistachio-and-prune pork pâté, and a hedonistic chicken-liver-and-port-wine spread, accompanied by a pungent kimchi with coriander and curry.

Casting about for something unusual to do with sweetbreads, they kick the rich organ meat off its usual pedestal and chop it into a luxurious filling for tortellini; the fat pasta packets are accompanied by a parsley-root purée, delicate and robust all at once. A salad of goat cheese and roasted beets gets a nice twist in the form of a yuzu drizzle instead of vinaigrette. Similarly, a beautiful ribeye comes with an unusual sun-dried-tomato choron sauce (and, when we were there, way-past-its-prime creamed spinach—what was up with that?).

Occasionally, I have to admit, the ideas were stronger than the execution, as with an amuse of a foie gras “corndog”; the foie seemed to have gone missing in action amid the fried batter. Problems also cropped up with the pheasant and funnel cake (like chicken and waffles in party clothes): the single leg was full of annoying little bones and cartilage, and the skinny ribbons of cake stuck together in an unappealing clump (the accompanying spiced maple syrup was great, though). Dessert brought out a fun molecular-gastronomy magic trick: pretty, marble-size globes of concentrated mango purée. Unfortunately they had thick, gelatin-like skins instead of diaphanous ones, spoiling the illusion (though not the flavor).

But I’m missing my own point here. What I applaud about Triniti is the kitchen’s eagerness to take diners somewhere they haven’t been before. Hildebrand and Hernandez may still be polishing their technique, but when it comes to creativity, they pass with flying colors. Bar. 2815 S. Shepherd (713-527-9090). Lunch Mon–Fri 11–2:30. Dinner Mon–Thur 5–10, Fri & Sat 5–11, Sun 4–10. $$$–$$$$ W+

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