It's gotten to the point where I'm almost unabashed in stating, for the record, that Triniti is my favorite restaurant in Houston. This is a question I normally deflect because I'm typically more interested in finding the perfect restaurant for the person who asked, not in stating my own platonic ideal—which, I must admit, Triniti more or less is.
Though I've dined there more times than I can count, I still look forward to each return visit as if it were my first: hefting open the heavy front door, stopping for one of Laurie Sheddan Harvey's inventive cocktails at the glittery Sanctuari Bar inside, then finally progressing to the cool-toned dining room where clean Scandinavian lines contrast with the colorful riot of food presented on each plate. Part of the reason I anticipate each visit isn't necessarily the comfort of this ritual, nor the knowledge that chef Ryan Hildebrand's food will be consistently excellent, but the fact that each return visit really does present itself as a new adventure each time.
Adapting and evolving is what Triniti does best. Not just to seasonal changes in produce availability, but to the changing whims of diners' sensibilities. And it's been a deft shapeshifter nearly from the beginning. A year into its existence, by Christmas 2012 Hildebrand had already made important structural changes to the menu, amping up portion sizes and streamlining the complicated menu while retaining insta-favorites such as an artful beet salad and an utterly exquisite "foie gras breakfast" with a rotating selection of pastries, pancakes and French toast tucked underneath each plump piece of foie gras, topped every time with a delicately fried quail egg.
Hildebrand wanted to address the idea that Triniti was the sort of fine dining restaurant where one could wear jeans, befitting Houston's laid back attitude towards eating out, and dispel any notions that his modern American restaurant was a fussy, tasting menu-only affair. Along the way, Hildebrand and his partner, Chong Yi, constructed a patio fronting busy Shepherd Dr., added a prix-fixe lunch menu for daytime diners and installed acoustic tiles to make the space more comfortable for those who wanted to eat without shouting to be heard (i.e., the majority of us). Even Sanctuari received a makeover of its own, with a new menu of creative cocktails to match Hildebrand's clever cuisine.
Until recently, however, the menu at Triniti was still a somewhat complex thing, despite a revamp last fall emphasizing its two tasting menu offerings over the a la carte items. Multi-course tasting menus, however, have begun to wilt in popularity across the US, while food wonks such as Pete Wells at the New York Times and Corby Kummer at Vanity Fair have famously kvetched about the "tyranny" of being "nibbled to death" during such expansive, expensive dinners. In Houston, tasting menus never quite evoked such disdain, but—again—in such a casual dining-focused city, such affairs were indulged somewhat less frequently to begin with, on the part of both restaurants and patrons.
As such, Triniti has removed its tasting dinners entirely—but only from the printed version of the menus. Tasting menus are still available upon request, but with the unveiling of a new spring menu it's clear the emphasis these days is on the composed, a la carte dishes. Clearly defined menu sections guide diners through snacks, small plates, soups and salads, vegetables, pasta, fish and meat. The latter three are heavy entree-sized portions all, while those in the mood for something lighter are advised to stick to the rest of the menu.
And while it's never been easier to have a simple progression of appetizer, soup or salad, entree and dessert at Triniti, what's still advised here is bringing a few friends and sharing—especially the splended roasted fish, with a crispy skin that crackles beguilingly as a waiter pours a buttery peanut meunière across the length of it from head to tail. My friends and I devoured it down to the cheeks, alternating with briny-sweet bites of "dirty risotto" studded with shrimp and scallops and thickened up with dark orange uni.
I also advise ordering the equally extravagant mashed potatoes whipped with rich bone marrow butter, but not before starting with a plate of "ham and eggs," a playful dish of speck and a poached duck egg interwoven with glossy stalks of asparagus and pea shoots, the entire basket seated on a bed of crumbled pumpernickel and dressed with duck fat and sherry vinegar.
It's a bright, fun creation that speaks to the one thing that hasn't changed at Triniti: Hildebrand's own sensibilities, which still defy categorization—is it modern Mutt City? progressive New American?—and promise a distinctly different experience each time.
Triniti, 2815 S. Shepherd Dr., 713-527-9090, trinitirestaurant.com