THE DINING REPORT

The Trebol With Tribbles (it’s kinda noisy.)

IMG_2091This was our second dinner at Trebol, and it seems like much has changed in three years. For one thing, last time we had a dinner here, even though it was a Friday night, Trebol just wasn’t overly busy. This Friday evening, Trebol seemed liked it was really jumping, and has gained quite a bit of popularity in the interim, perhaps because this stretch of N. Albina Avenue has become much more traveled than even three years ago. Also, last time Restaurant Roulette ventured here, only four people wanted to try out the Mexican/NW/Sustainable cuisine featured here, and this time we has twelve takers, for whatever reason. It would be nice to view this surge of bodies as an indication of dining group health these days, but considering out last dinner was cancelled because I could not get a group together, and the dinner before that had a big whopping three of us, that would be completely delusional on my part. Maybe everyone just thought, ooooohhh, Mexican, that sounds good, and this is a place I haven’t been. Who can say. All I know is that it was nice to host a really popular dinner again (within the realm of big group craziness that always happens, of course.)

IMG_2092I checked my old blog entry, and it was also pre-Spring/Spring (of 2008) when our last dinner at Trebol took place, but that dinner must have been after the annual “springing ahead” of the clocks, because I remember that dinner started in the light, and this dinner took place in the dark with spitting rain .I know last time I liked the decor in Trebol, rather simple but colorful and vaguely South of the Border, with a really nice bar area. IMG_2082 This time I didn’t really see that much of Trebol, our table was taking up a great deal of the main area, but my impression was that its become one of those popular neighborhood eateries, much like the always wonderful Nuestra Cocina on Division. It appeared to me that more seating has been added, though, maybe one of those high food bars to eat at, and David (who was also at our last dinner) thought the room was different too. Well, added seating, always a good sign. One constant from last time, those ultra cheesy Spanish movies played on the TV in the bar, the bits I saw of this one  featuring someone prancing around in a scary mask and an old lady mummy. Every now and then I would hear someone at our table start laughing for no discernable reason, and I’d think, oh jeez, am I drooling again, but then I’d look around and see it was just those wacky onscreen antics creating the laughter.

IMG_2078Although our dinner turned into an evening of really excellent service, it did begin on a somewhat sour note. When I had booked the table in advance (and increased the size twice) one of the people I talked to on the phone asked if there were any social network coupons connected to our gathering. Although this has never happened before with RR, and we’ve never used any kind of coupon or discount, I knew that David had a Trebol gift certificate from Restaurants.Com, so I mentioned that, as that was one of the things on their list. They then gave me a spiel about not being able to use any other sort of discount for this dinner, which I didn’t anticipate being a problem, since we’ve never used any sort of discount in almost five years. That being said, it was rather off-putting to hear when we arrived that a couple of our earlier arrivees had ordered some drinks and such during happy hour but had been denied happy hour pricing because of their association with our group and the Restaurants.Com coupon. They had offered to sit at the bar, or whatever, but they were already stained by their association with RR and our gift certificate, so it was not allowed.IMG_2083 I’ve heard that because of the tiny profit margins associated with running a restaurant, eateries really take a beating with people always taking advantage of Groupon and such, then never returning, but couldn’t “the girls” have sat at the bar during “Happy Hour” and had a drink at budget price? It wasn’t like they had even hooked up with us yet, or like they were trying to eek some extra discounts from Trebol. They arrived during Happy Hour, before anyone else. Why couldn’t they experience Happy Hour like normal, hard-working, bill paying folks?

IMG_2099Trebol is another one of those loud places with not the best acoustics, a situation made even worse when you have 12 people seated at a big long table trying to talk to one another. Heidi and Julian, who came in last, were seated at one end of the table, and Heidi found the place so loud she said they even gave up trying to talk to people seated next to them, and basically just taled to one another. It’s true, Trebol did make communication really difficult, but if they wanted impossible they should have been at the dinner at Patanegra with the birthday party screaming and the latin band blasting, now that was really unbearable. IMG_2098There was some conversation floating around though, Glenda was “running around” (okay, in a stately way, maybe gliding around) showing several people the new tattoo on the back of her neck (no, I don’t make these things up) a dinner plate, menu, silverware, and naturally, a glass of wine. I tend to be a person who continually has food on the brain, basically from the moment I become conscious, but at least I never have food on my neck (too far from those mouth dribbles.) Our Glenda, such a character.

Gina and I, across from each other, were sort of mid-table, so we could both hear bits of conversation filtering over from both ends.IMG_2086 We could not hear much from the North end of the seating arrangement, in attorney and insurance land, but there seemed to be more lively topics afoot towards the South end, as Gina and I exchanged looks when we heard terms like “red eyes” and “masturbation.” This later term brought back fond memories for me of those halcyon days of Restaurant Roulette, sitting around the table with Marnie, Leo, Tori and Dave, the latter two discussing the “Masturabatorium” they had discovered behind a wall of their newly purchased Alameda house (or so they said.) Of course most of the dinners are still lively and fun these days, I certainly don’t mean to slight my current folks, but it seems like the conversation just never descends to the weird, wacky, and tasteless levels we used to approach when those folks were in our midsts. As for WHAT they were talking about at the far end of the table this evening, alas, Gina and I both came to the conclusion it was only a discussion of the movie “The Black Swan.”

IMG_2094As it was in a holder thingee, I didn’t get a copy of Trebol’s menu on the evening we were there, but here’s what I can piece together through their internet menu and my fumbling brain, as far as what we ordered this evening. You can probably figure out what is from the internet menu and what is from my head from the lack of Spanish description and all detail in the part I’m coming up with on my own. In fact, I’m probably even making some of this up.

STARTERS

Ensalada de Casa con Jalapeño y Limon Verde 6 -Trébol’s House Salad with a Jalapeño Lime Vinaigrette

Guacamole con Chiles y Ajo 8 – Caramelized Garlic with Serranos & Organic Avocados

Ceviche de Atun con Chile’s, Pepino’s y Fruta 10 – Smokey Albacore Tuna Ceviche with Cucumbers & Citrus Supremes

Ensalada de Espinaca con Calabacitas, Manzanas, Nueces y Vinagreta de Cidrio 9– Spinach Salad with Spiced Winter Squash, Elstar Apples, Candied Walnuts & a Spicy Cider Vinaigrette.

Anchiote Camarones ala Yucatana 11 – Sauteed Anchiote Marinated Spot Prawns with Slaw, Queso Anejo & a Carrot Habanero Salsa (Several portions were ordered, and it was probably the most popular item at the table. Flavorful!)

Gorditas with Pork (I thought these were very good, even better than Nuestra Cocina.)

Yam Fries (Yums!)

Avocado Salad ???? (I just saw this floating around the self-pleasurable end of the table. Maybe it was just a lime Jello mold.)

Steamed Clams – (Sorry, I don’t know what the preparation was, but Cora really loved them.)

ENTREES

Atun a la Parrilla con Calabacita Gratin, Vinagreta de Limon y Verduras 17 – Grilled Albacore Tuna with a Winter Squash, Potato Gratin, Spicy Lemon Vinaigrette & Braised Spinach. (Several people had this, and their seemed to be a mixed response. Julian liked it, but as it was about 1.5 inches thick, Barbara found the rareness a tad alarming, as it was barely cooked, and the menu didn’t mention the preparation as “seared.” I also heard the term “rather bland.”

Enchilada con Camote, Espinaca, Cebollas, Queso Fresco y un Huevo Frito 16 – Traditional Enchilada with Yams, Wilted Spinach, Caramelized Onions, Queso Fresco & a Fried Egg. (At the last dinner this was a big hit, but Heidi found it rather disappointing and too healthy tasting. She said she hoped that although meatless it would still be decadent, as enchiladas usually are because of lots of cheese and sauce, but this she found too heavy on al dente cooked vegtables and not a great deal else.)

Caldo de Mariscos 18 – Seafood Stew with Calamari, Spot Prawns, Mussels & Albacore Tuna. (David was hoping for spicy, but it wasn’t. That guy, always wanting spicy. He needs to just go to Pok Pok and have an entire meal of those tongue destroying condiments they put on the table.)

Puerco en Fuego Lento con Gnocchi y Higos 18 – Slow-Braised Pork Shoulder with a Celery Root Gnocchi & Black Mission Fig Compote. (At first Glenda said she liked it, then she sounded like she wasn’t so sure, then she seemed to like it again. Obviously she would be happier with food prepared in the French Quarter of Mexico.)

Chillies Colorado – A Special of the Evening. (It seemed to be loaded with Carrots and perhaps other vegetables, unlike Texas style Chille. I think Cora found it pretty good, but John so-so.)

Breaded, Fried Flank Steak with orangey-red sauce – (Too weird. Andrea and I both had this, and it reminded me of a Mexican Veal Cutlet or something. At first, although I didn’t like the sauce, it really didn’t bother me too much, but Andrea could not take the somewhat soggy texture of the breading, and although she kept trying another bite, she finally ended up sending it back (which Trebol gladly did.)IMG_2096 Originally the texture didn’t bother me that much, as it was sort of like chicken fried steak, but the more Andrea mentioned the texture, the more rubbery the hunks seemed to get, and glancing up and seeing on the TV some cheesy Mexican horror show with an old granny mummy with her face peeling off, suddenly the meal lost all its appeal. About this time I sent it down the table for all takers, and luckily I had a few then. It really wasn’t a well put together entree though, the flavor was not good enough to overcome the texture.)

Special Tortellini – Melissa had this, and I don’t even remember seeing it on the menu. Maybe it wasn’t even tortellini, maybe it was gnocchi. It seemed more like pasta then potato though, but not very Mexican. I had a bite, and I mainly remember an herby flavor. Melissa and Barbara both found it wonderful though, whatever it might have been.

DESSERTS

Flan (with fruit, I think.)

Chocolate Olive Oil Cake (good!)

Chocolate Crepes with Tequilla Caramel Whipped Cream – (This was a really pretty, unusual presentation with the chocolate crepes, the whipped creme, and fresh raspberries. IMG_2105Heidi, who almost never has dessert but found her previous food too healthy to be filling (not a good sign from a non-meat eater) had this and thought it was really nice. Sam seemed to like it too. I’ve actually never had chocolate crepes before, and while I thought it was pleasant, found the chocolate crepes a bit under-flavored, maybe only because things are so intensely chocolatey these days.)

Big Puffy Donut Things with Caramel Sauce (not the menu description!!!) (I keep thinking they were called Bollitos, but I thought Bollitos were sandwich rolls. IMG_2100Whatever the heck they were called, Andrea had these, as she remembered them fondly from her days growing up in Tucson. When they appeared, they were alarmingly gigantic! Unlike her squishy steak, Andrea was very pleased with these gigantic donut like confections, and because they were so plentiful, shared them all around the table.)

Andrea had mentioned that before coming to the dinner she had checked out the reviews on Yelp or somewhere, and she didn’t know what to think, as people’s comments on Trebol were all over the place. I actually checked out Yelp later, and saw that many people are divided when it comes to Trebol. Actually, it seems like a 3 way 33% split, people love it, people think it’s okay, or people hate it. I know this is probably true with most of the restaurants in town, people who have an axe to grind do, while other people love it so much they have to post a positive comment. IMG_2101This not coming to one affirmative judgment seemed to be shared by our group this evening, some of the dishes were great, some were basically okay, and some were too odd. As mentioned previously, however, one comment mentioned on Yelp that was not at all our experience was poor service. Several people in our group commented how excellent the service was, and the waitress was just great, especially since we kept dropping napkins and silverware under the table. She was the perfect mix of warm yet professional. Also good was the food delivery to our large party, although Andrea and I had our weird meat lagging behind, everything else came in a timely manner, from the lovely hand made tortillas to the desserts. Also good, they were willing to split the check a million ways, always so much easier with us each paying individually.

There’s really a great deal to praise about Trebol. I like the atmosphere, especially surrounding the bar area, but I’m always a sucker for brightly colored faux Mexican (yes, I love La Calaca Comelona inside, especially the bar area.) Many of the drinks are good in a “non-trendy Portland” way, and once again I enjoyed my Margarita Tamarindo. IMG_2080On my two visits there, really good, friendly service (not counting the happy hour incident this time.) And the menu, interesting. But maybe that’s the problem, too interesting. I know that owner/chef Kenny Hill came from a long stint at Higgins, and maybe sometimes he stretches his wings a bit far for what people want in a Mexican restaurant, and it leads to some inconsistencies as well. As good as it may be, does pasta belong on a Mexican menu? Let’s not have everyone becoming one of these weird fusion places. That’s probably not fair to Mr. Hill though, he should be allowed to do anything he is interested in doing at his restaurant and stretching his wings in as many ways as possible as a chef. That being said, I suppose I like my Mexican food more tried and true to tradition, heavy on tortillas, cheese, beans, spicy things, and with perhaps some grilled meats thrown in here and there. I think several people in our group shared my opinion this evening. That being said, I still like Trebol, but perhaps not as a fancy dining experience, perhaps more as a place to go after work for a couple of nice drinks and maybe some Mexican mainstays like tacos, ceviche and gorditas. Watch a couple of those wacky videos, drink in the friendly atmosphere, and maybe if it’s still light out when you leave (or even when you get there) admire their eco-roof. Do you suppose they could grow some cacti up there? Like I said, I love that faux Mexican decor.

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