Seasonal ingredients, an experienced chef and an interesting menu help distinguish impressive fine-dining newcomer
When Alana's Food and Wine closed earlier this year after a run of nearly two decades, it was a withering loss, especially for University District locavores. Fortunately for such fine diners, a strong successor called Trillium Kitchen & Patio has sprouted up on the same grounds as Alana's.
Trillium Kitchen & Patio is named for the Ohio state flower, the celebrated patio it retained from its predecessor and its sharp kitchen crew, which is led by talented chef and co-owner Bradley Balch, formerly of The Sycamore (which Balch still co-owns). Not mentioned in Trillium's official title: A dramatically remodeled interior that is sleek, bright, modern and awash in brown wood, which starkly plays off white paint and tile.
The crisp look extends to a prominent bar. There, sophisticated cocktails ($10) are created, such as the (currently on hiatus) wine-topped Jefe Sour, a stout-yet-refreshing two-toned twist on the whiskey sour made with Watershed bourbon. For something even stiffer, try the lemon-scented Ohio Vesper shaken with Cocchi Americano, plus Watershed vodka and Four Peel gin. A reasonably priced, solid wine selection is offered, too.
Balch's cuisine is well-described on Trillium's website, which cites global influences plus a focus on high-quality, seasonal ingredients and seafood. His menu is compact, versatile and alluring.
For a modest-sized but elegant starter, target the Wild Gulf Prawns ($15) — three big and sweet, oil-poached shrimp partnered with a lovely lemon-butter sauce, Nicoise olives, preserved lemon and a smoky-grilled baby fennel bulb. The properly made, vinegar-spiked Andalusian Gazpacho ($7) with dynamic garnishes is another attractive and delicious first course, albeit a salty one.
Although less photogenic and missing its promised shishito peppers, my good-tasting Ahi Tuna Poke appetizer ($13) with mostly crisp taro chips, funky pickled radishes and vinegary cucumber “noodles,” is better designed for sharing. Ditto for the Lump Crab Wontons ($11), a gloriously transcendent version of crab rangoon, a usually underwhelming dish.
Asia also inspires two ample meat-and-noodle-packed “summer rolls” served with a wakame salad and an addictive aioli (Duck Confit Vietnamese Spring Rolls, $11). A particularly hearty starter, the herb-kissed Pork Cheek Poutine ($9), seems to grace every table for good reasons: seductive wine-laced gravy, succulent, pot roast-like meat, excellent house fries and Laurel Valley cheese curds.
Pig meat reappears in the Ohio-raised McDowell Farms Pork Chop ($25), an entree highlight. This Southern-style showstopper stars a seared and grill-crusted, thick-cut chop characteristically teamed with multiple accompaniments such as andouille sausage coins, comforting Shagbark bacon-cheddar grits, braised greens, jalapeno-peach “jammie” and luscious redeye gravy.
Another tricked-out dish awaits fresh-fish fans: Homestead Springs Ohio Trout ($25). A generous piece of tender but salty, pan-fried local trout is supported by two crisp-pancetta-wrapped prawns, ocean-scented, squid-ink linguine, a little chili, fresh greens, preserved lemon, oyster and shiitake mushrooms, and intriguing if gratuitous “smoked beet confit.”
Vegetarians can score big, too, with the Shagbark Spelt Pasta ($19). A virtual garden of herbs, purple radishes, broccolini, spinach, corn and more are flattered by soothing, fruity, and spicy accents from charred-jalapeno butter and a black garlic and tomato chutney.
The Trillium S'mores ($7) — a campfire classic reimagined with peanut butter cups, a huge toasted and amorphous meringue “marshmallow” and milk-chocolate anglaise — is about as sweet as the kiddie original. It's amusing, but I prefer the Seasonal Fruit Crisp ($7) with warm peaches, mint, a crunchy crumble topping and Johnson's vanilla ice cream.
I experienced some niggling misfires, such as a shrug of a gumbo ($8) and the burnt-not-crisp crostini that accompanied an otherwise winning fried chicken happy hour special ($5). Although terrific once, on another occasion the Spinach and Bibb Salad ($7) was barely dressed. And uncommonly knowledgeable servers can occasionally launch into unrequested loquacious recitations.
Nonetheless, this still-new replacement for a late-and-lamented “top 10” restaurant is off to an impressive, “top-10”-type start.