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DEAL A MEAL

The party of eight at the next table barely noticed their food.
"If we close"..."net profits"..."by next Tuesday"..."budget crunch"...The phrases floated over us like corporate Muzak. I watched as plate after plate was set down before the three women (all of whom were wearing red) and five men (all of whom were wearing navy or gray). Each diner would jam in a mouthful and then, barely skipping a beat to chew and swallow, stab the air with a fork to punctuate the end-all statement, usually followed by something like "mark my words." Throughout the meal, the conversation--to which our intimate table for two was privy by virtue of our rather close proximity and some very bad acoustics--never touched on what the group was eating.

Which might make you think that the food at the eleven-year-old Trinity Grille isn't worth discussing--but you'd be wrong. Because while the nearby businesspeople swam with the sharks, we were in a veritable feeding frenzy.

Since my husband and I had nothing more intense to discuss than the fact that our daffodils needed mulching, we quickly got down to business and concentrated on savoring a thoroughly good dinner. Of course, we were paying expense-account prices. Expect an evening meal at the Trinity to run around $40 per person for three courses and a glass of wine--but also expect to enjoy every bite.

We started realizing the return on our investment with our first course: smoked Rocky Mountain trout ($4.50) and the Trinity pate ($4.50). According to the menu, the fish is smoked on the premises--and with an impressively light touch at that, because the large fillet was still moist, with no hint of the dry, rough edges that so often result from clumsy curing. A wasabi mayonnaise had been piped alongside the trout; after a tiny taste with the fork tines, we hastened to smear it over everything on the plate. (The menu also notes that the kitchen prepares every sauce from scratch.) The wasabi content of the fresh emulsion was actually very low, judging from both its color and taste. The plant often referred to as Japanese horseradish has a very green root that, once grated, turns everything it touches a mint green; this sauce was still pale. Its wasabi flavor was unmistakable, though, and so welcome that we even added the mayo to the accompanying vinegar-tinged slaw of carrots, zucchini, yellow squash and red peppers--with excellent results.

The delicious pate turned out to be way too much for one person and almost too much for two. Rich--so rich it almost tasted of cholesterol--creamy-textured and spreadable, it arrived with what seemed like a whole loaf's worth of toast points, the standard garnishes of chopped red onions, diced hard-boiled eggs and capers, and an unusual side of tart pickle relish that worked well to tone down some of the fatty factor.

For more healthy relief, we sampled a dinner salad ($3.50) of crispy field greens with the Trinity's house dressing, surprisingly not a vinaigrette but a jarringly thick and heavy peppercorn preparation. If you aren't under doctor's orders to bulk up on roughage, skip this course--the entree portions are large enough to satisfy the heartiest of appetites.

In fact, I couldn't finish both of my crab cakes ($16.95). The cakes were the size of half-pound burgers and composed of Maryland backfin (the broken pieces of lump crabmeat) held together with a bit of binder. The Trinity's had a slight taste of corn, which made me think that cornmeal had been used instead of the usual breadcrumbs, and to good effect. The steamed, barely oiled spring vegetables on the side rounded out a simple but stunning meal.

More elaborate but no less dazzling, the peppered venison ($16.95) featured six supple, medium-rare medallions of black-pepper-encrusted deer tenderloin sitting in a port demi-glace. The sauce had the consistency of maple syrup and the flavor of an enormous number of roasted bones and vegetables that had been reduced for three days. Two corn pancakes, heavy on the scallions, helped soak up the semi-liquid.

Not knowing how full we'd be after the main course, we had requested a souffle ($5.95) when we ordered. I've come to expect anything with the words "Grand Marnier" attached to be a disappointment, and Trinity's Grand Marnier souffle was no exception. Grand Marnier is so expensive that most restaurants either use an inferior product like Jacquin's or simply skimp on the real thing. In this case, the orange liqueur was confined to the sauce, and there wasn't enough of that to flavor the otherwise exemplary souffle. Fortunately, a superior caffe latte ($3.50) and another glass of wine from the extensive list finished things off nicely.

The wine list is a particular source of pride for the Trinity. Created by one of the managers, Mike Stone, with assistance from owner Tom Walls (who also owns the Rocky Mountain Diner and the who-knows-when-it-will-open Rick's at Denver International Airport), the roster is divided into sections. The first lists pricey, vertical selections from seven vineyards, such as the well-respected Heitz's Cabernet Sauvignon; most of these wines are in the $50-to-$125 range. "More people out there seem to have a better appreciation for, and understanding of, wines than they did five years ago," Stone explains. "We like to let them know what's out there and what can be had, if they want to splurge. And we do sell quite a bit of [the higher end wines], or they wouldn't be there. But our philosophy is more that we'd rather have wines available for people who are going to drink them, rather than just be impressed by them." And so the Trinity also offers a well-rounded, mostly Californian inventory with markups the diner can live with--and serves many of those wines by the glass as well.

When we returned for lunch, though, wine was not the drink of choice. No, the martini is still going strong with Trinity's noon business crowd, and after the long wait to get in (the restaurant doesn't take lunch reservations), most people could use one. Instead of drinking our lunch, we opted for a meal, starting with two cups of soup--the crab-and-corn chowder ($2.50) and the soup du jour ($2.50), on this day a smoked salmon and asparagus. The chowder was thick and packed with crabmeat but too heavy on the black pepper. The tasty special arrived room temperature, but the overworked waiter reheated (note: not replaced) it without a sigh.

We had better luck with the steakburger ($5.95), one of the best hamburgers I've had in town: Thick, juicy and full of meaty flavor, the plump pattie came on a fresh roll with a side of puffy, skin-on fries. Our other entree was a special, a fillet of poached salmon ($8.95) drizzled with a creamy sauce and sprinkled with dill, a fact not mentioned in the description and a dangerous one to those of us allergic to the herb. Luckily, the sauce covered only a portion of the succulent salmon, and I was able to avoid my otherwise certain death. Surrounding the fish was one of the most eclectic groupings I've encountered: a hunk of steamed, chilled cauliflower pickled in jalapenos; a mound of mushrooms marinated in a tarragon vinegar; a chutney of diced tomatoes and onions; and half a dozen slim stalks of poached, chilled asparagus. Eating my way around the plate was like traveling through different countries--the transitions were difficult but the tastes all wonderful.

With the heavy business deals going on around me, I wonder if anyone else even noticed.

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Trinity Grille

1801 Broadway St.
Denver, CO 80202

303-293-2288

www.trinitygrille.com


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