I was so getting used to paying $30 for main courses and $60 for bottles of wine at new restaurants that those prices seemed like the new normal.
However, Trestle, the recently opened restaurant from the team at Stones Throw and Fat Angel, counters that trend.
The interior is stylish, the service is refined, and the food is excellent. A three-course dinner is $35, the price of a main course at most places of this caliber.
So how do they do it? I’m not sure, but one thing I do know is that dinner at Trestle is a joyous occasion. You can live large for what seems like pennies on the dollar, and even the wine list offers good selections in the $30 range.
I can’t find any area where corners have been cut, except maybe in the length of the nightly changing menu: Only two options are available in each of the three courses. If diners want to add a pasta course, they can for $10. So you have to trust the chef, but at these prices and with the quality of food produced by Jason Halverson and Ryan Cerizo, I’m in.
Trestle took over the space of Great Hunan, which had been in business at the corner of Jackson and Columbus for more than 60 years.
The new owners gutted the interior, leaving the raw brick walls blackened with tar that was probably used for insulation when the building was built. Black became the predominant color scheme, with the addition of a dark wide-plank wood floor, beautifully grained fawn-colored wooden tables and light wooden trestles across the ceiling, which is also set with sound panels to keep the noise in check.
The walls are given life with large bold black-and-gold paintings that look as if they were done by Franz Kline. Two large flower arrangements in bumpy blackened cylinders soften the edges and give a luxurious look to the 49-seat space.
Ryan Cole, who was at Michael Mina before venturing out on his own, orchestrates the service, and it’s among the best I’ve found — relaxed yet thoroughly professional.
When the food started to arrive, I again wondered how they do it. The chefs have a modern approach to combinations and plating, yet the flavors are approachable. The style will please a wide swath of diners, but it displays enough innovation to make the dishes contemporary.
On my first visit, the choice of starters included pea soup that came in a pitcher. The waiter poured the vivid green, salty broth over a mat of potatoes, flakes of smoked salmon, melted leeks and mint.
On another visit, the soup was roasted tomato with dollops of burrata, cubes of focaccia and accents of basil.
Falafel salad was another choice for starter on that first visit. Crisp balls of herb-scented chickpeas were arranged on a chunky bed of tzatziki with crisp shards of lavash standing straight up between rolled slices and lightly marinated chunks of cucumber.
On another occasion, the appetizer consisted of layers of olive tapenade, harissa aioli, smoked potatoes and rings of fried calamari. The textures — creamy and then crunchy — diverted attention from the powerful, yet pleasant, dose of Calabrian chiles that took control.
The chefs are adept at reimagining familiar flavors and giving them a twist, as they did with the additional pasta course: ravioli plumped with short ribs and arranged on a frothy bed of horseradish emulsion that bubbled up on the pasta like waves hitting a rock. Each night two pastas are offered, and the staff is happy to split them.
The main course at one meal included a seared fillet of branzino draped over a mound of charred leeks and cauliflower, with greens and browned onion bulbs. The ingredients blended seamlessly.
The other option was sausage-stuffed roast chicken, which seemed as if it had been cooked in a circulator just long enough to become nearly spreadable; the texture just missed, although the chicken looked great with its browned skin. The accompanying “dirty” wild rice, sauteed greens and parsley salad illustrated the care taken in the kitchen.
The cooking mistake wasn’t repeated on other visits. One time, we had pan-roasted salmon with creamed corn and a summer bean salad, and braised short ribs with potato confit.
On the third visit, Halverson and Cerizo reimagined pork schnitzel. They fried it to a proper crispness, then cut it into pieces and arranged them over melted cabbage, pickled mustard seeds and cipollini onions, and scattered shavings of raw fennel over the top. The other main course was pan-roasted scallops with chickpea panisse, roasted garlic hummus and piquillo peppers.
Dessert one night was a choice between a homey brownie basking in a salted caramel sauce, or two hand pies filled with blackberries, coated with a milky glaze of lime, and served with black pepper cream that brought out the sweetness in the fruit.
Other visits revealed similarly great ways to finish, including hunks of brown butter financier with lemon curd and blackberries, and chocolate pot de creme with bourbon whipped cream and orange almond streusel.
It adds up to the type of evening the owners are striving for, as they detailed on the menu under the heading Welcome Home: “We’ll provide a dining experience served in courses, with the satisfaction and warmth found at a family gathering, creating the foundation to a proper meal.”
Trestle does feel like a “proper” way to dine, and with the warm, comfortable interior, excellent service and food that telegraphs a distinct point of view, the restaurant deserves proper applause. Maybe even a standing ovation.