Tre Trattoria: Tuscan menu is full of pleasures

We (the pretentious royal we) have never understood why nobody seems to eat out on Monday. Nevertheless it is the preferred down-day for both diners and chefs, so here’s a useful tip: When there’s a reputable restaurant open on Monday, by all means go. The kitchen will have more time for you — and in some cases, you alone. The situation wasn’t quite that dire at Tre Trattoria on a recent Monday night; there were just enough bodies — some seen, some only heard — to keep the place from seeming empty. But if the kitchen staff was equally abbreviated, it certainly didn’t show on the plate. Make that plates. Many plates.

The menu has been created and is often executed by local star chef Jason Dady of The Lodge at Castle Hills, Bin 555 and Two Bros. BBQ Market, but on this night chef Mark Weaver was helming the kitchen, and he and his staff turned out one of the best meals we have had in San Antonio in a long time. There was only one dish that came in for any carping at all, and that may be because regular Dining Companion and I were madly trying to find something, anything, we might have done differently. Sorry Tuscan kale, but you’re it. You may occasionally find this dark and seriously wrinkly green, sometimes called alligator kale, at fancy places such as Central Market. “You can feel the curls in your mouth,” observed D.C. You could also taste seasoning that was just a little over-the-top with hot pepper and maybe even a touch of nutmeg. Whatever the spicing, it could be toned down to allow the intense, curly greenness to come through on its own. Now we can all relax.

We began with a mixed appetizer plate, both verdure and salumi, containing some all-time favorites (the sensational roasted golden beets, some papery slices of pearly prosciutto and some remarkably fragrant and almost sweet bresaola) paired with new-to-us new potatoes with a mint aioli and a refreshing salad of fennel with grapefruit and pistachios. Each bite was better than the last, but the new potatoes sprinkled with crunchy sea salt were especially appealing paired with the minty and unusually delicate aioli, and the bresaola, much more intense than is often the case for this unpretentious air-dried beef, was a revelation.
Pastrami is the only product among the salumi the kitchen actually makes from scratch (and though it’s unorthodox, it’s well worth trying), but if Tre doesn’t mess with the bresaola, then we want to know the source. We do know that the kitchen turns out its own mozzarella, and there’s an entire section on the menu to tout it. We were tempted by the excessive burrata stuffed with mascarpone and ricotta, but were convinced by a waitress to try her favorite, the pulled-to-order cheese served only with salt, cracked pepper and a little olive oil. “It’s served still warm from the bath [the curds are heated in a water and whey bath to facilitate stretching]”, she said. And indeed the large loaf was practically palpitating when it arrived at the table with one piece of toast. The single piece of bread is perhaps our only other, admittedly petty, quibble. But as good as the cheese is (the springy texture is perfect), it does want to be eaten with something. Cheese alone with knife and fork we have never quite gotten used to.

If you haven’t had enough of a cheese fix by now, then there are other avenues to pursue. One of the best is the cast iron griddled pizza, and we can heartily recommend the prosciutto and mint model with house-made ricotta and more mozzarella. The mint announces its fragrant presence even before you take a bite, but then takes a back seat to the unctuous cheeses, the (still papery) prosciutto, a little marinated onion, lemon zest and the thin and crackling crust that may, itself, have received a dusting of parmigiano. Balance, a leitmotif of the evening, was the key here. Mint, another thread running through the meal, was also mentioned in the description of the parsnip ravioli with brown butter, apples and orange bread crumbs, but it truly did fade into the background. Parsnips can be challenging (they used to be on the most-hated list), but here, puréed and tucked into tender pasta envelopes, the root takes on a nutty sweetness that is perfectly bolstered by the brown butter and further reinforced by contrast to the tart Granny Smith apples. Just a little more apple and this dish would rise to near the top of an all-time favorites list.

A hearty dish such as the ravioli calls for an equally robust wine, and Tre’s all-Italian list won’t disappoint — in concept; it should have been reprinted with up-to-date selections by the time you read this, so all bottles will presumably be available and in the vintages as listed. Our first choice, a vino nobile de Montepulciano, wasn’t to be had, and our second choice came in a younger vintage, but, once allowed to open up, the always dependable Antinori Peppoli Chianti Classico played nicely with the ravioli. It really shone with meaty dishes such as the slow-braised short ribs with cranberry beans and fennel seed-laced Italian sausage. To be honest, we both could have stopped at the beans and sausage, so good were they as mere backup to the meaty ribs. But the bones didn’t go begging either — though many went home. Also making the styrofoam shuffle were several slices of the simply perfect Tuscan marinated rib eye. We rarely go out just for steak, but when a steak as good and as deftly prepared as this presents itself, it’s hard to resist. Juicy, primal, tender and just marbled enough, this is as good as it gets. As it’s served straight up on a platter (the smaller version is meant to be split by two, the larger by up to four), you’ll want a contorno, or vegetable side dish — hence the kale. The creamy parmigiano polenta wouldn’t be a bad choice, nor would the roasted eggplant with San Marzano tomatoes.

Believe it or not, there was some room for dessert — a light one, we thought. Enter grilled peach with mascarpone. A lot of mascarpone flavored with sugar, honey and finely grated lime zest. The cheekily charred peach and the cheese were sublime together, and together they tamed a glass of fiery chardonnay-based grappa to the point that DC admitted it did have a floral, pear character beyond the initial alcohol. We liked it from the get-go, of course. But it’s these little challenges that rev food writers’ taste buds — that and a near-perfect meal.

Author: Ron Bechtol

Photographer: Janet Rogers

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