If Trois were a first date, it would be hard to resist throwing caution to the wind, even if you'd been burned before. Early on a Monday evening, the bar is abuzz with the convivial chatter of beautiful people engaged in scintillating banter. Even if the people aren't beautiful and the conversation isn't scintillating, the sleek bar and the glorious, twinkling floors make it seem as if they are. Cozy, luxe seating and a design that creates intimacy even in the large space make this a paragon of grown-up fun. And we're only talking about the bar.
Up a large, curving staircase, the second-floor dining room's soaring ceiling sets the stage for another Concentrics Restaurants production. The room is every bit as dramatic as you would expect from the Amick/Rushing team that brought us One Midtown Kitchen and Two Urban Licks, but white, gauzy curtains soften the space. The "suspended art gallery," which displays paintings billboard-style on silver poles, gives it just the right touch of color. Glide to your seat and delight in the complimentary sparkling wine that meets you there. A taste from the kitchen arrives next -- perhaps a small plate of duck ragu, which tastes like the innards of a decadent potpie. Trois knows how to treat a girl right, and it's this early pampering that sets the tone for the affair.
In many ways, Trois is the fruition of Atlanta's self image. The city has long seen itself as sophisticated, modern, glamorous and fun, and we've had restaurants that aimed to prove the point. But many of them failed on some level -- the food was underwhelming or too silly, the space was too themed. Were we trying to be Miami or Las Vegas? We were too young to emulate New York, too real to compete with Los Angeles. Trois has all the mature glamour and style that Atlanta deserves, but it also captures the city's modern heart. If One Midtown Kitchen can be seen as Concentrics Restaurants' adorable childhood, Two Urban Licks as its cheeky adolescence, then Trois embodies the company's ascent to adulthood.
And you'll feel like a grown-up, too, as you sip your free bubbles and peruse the menu. Chef Jeremy Leib comes to Atlanta by way of some very heavy-hitting positions in Las Vegas and New York. His most recent gig was as executive chef at Le Cirque Vegas, and he served in the late 1990s as chef de partie at Restaurant Daniel under Daniel Boulud, perhaps New York's greatest chef. Leib can now be seen with his crew in Trois' gleaming, open kitchen, and his menu pays homage to France, sometimes in familiar ways and sometimes in innovative ones. It has been a very long time since I've dipped my spoon into a true French onion soup. That rich broth, those soggy strands of bread mixed with sweet onions that resist and then melt in your mouth -- I had almost forgotten. And then, a playful take on classic tuna tartar, "toad in a hole," has a perfect brown egg resting on a round of toast atop the tuna. What fun, and how refreshing to have such fun taste so good.
The entrees are divided into a small selection of classic French dishes and a wider choice of Leib's modern renditions. In both sections, class is the defining ingredient. The flounder Parisian in the classics section is beautiful in its simplicity, with tasty morsels of cauliflower and just the right touch of lemon and bite from the capers. Or in the modern section, try to resist the rich plate of braised oxtail, almost a gravy in itself, full of tender meat stuffed with flavor. Roasted scallops sit perched on the oxtail, along with a large quenelle of herbed butternut squash. Again, it's a raucous good time, but one that is tempered by assured execution.
With so much to enjoy, it's a shame that the richness of this food can sometimes be overwhelming. Many dishes would benefit from a touch of green to break through the butter, the wine, the fat. Beef skewers served with béarnaise and potatoes cooked in duck fat are a hedonist's dream, but don't try eating them before anything but the lightest of entrees. The seductive seafood in the bouillabaisse would sing a sweeter song if the broth were lighter -- I'd swear that "broth" was clarified butter with tarragon. Sweetbreads over potato puree curiously reminded me of KFC -- something about the potatoes -- and could use a heftier dose of fresh citrus personality from the advertised tangerines. A meal here can become alarmingly heavy if you're not careful.
But there's no denying the siren call of beef tenderloin topped with foie gras and a round of crispy brioche toast, surrounded by bordelaise. This is a restaurant where somewhere along the line, at some point in the evening, caution should be thrown to the wind. Go ahead -- order the entire chateaubriand for yourself. You can take home whatever portion of the meltingly tender beef you don't manage to gobble up. Trois is throwing us fistfuls of luxury, and it's folly to try and resist this potential sugar daddy.
A major glitch in all this sophistication has been the service. On one visit, the aggressively perky waitress asked if it was our first time dining at Trois, and when my guest replied that it was, Ms. Smarty-Pants barked, "What's your excuse?" Maybe that's meant to be cute, but it wasn't. Even more troubling are the lapses in communication, lost bottles of wine, and most annoying, the overzealous verbal menu explanations, obviously part of Trois' server training. Servers spend a torturously long time pointing out and reciting in detail at least two menu items from each section of the menu -- that's eight dishes. If there were eight specials, I'd pay rapt attention. But I'm literate; there's no need to read my menu aloud to me.
Hopefully this brand of overbearing service is toned down over time, because it puts an amateurish tint on what is in almost every other aspect a class act.
Desserts occasionally try too hard to live up to the gussied-up standard of luxury and miss the simplicity that graces the best dessert menus, but there are standouts here as well. The chocolate clafoutis -- warm, luxuriant and delicious -- is a comforting way to finish. But if you're feeling stuffed, don't fret; you will receive a generous square of house-made chocolate with your check.
It's these touches that make the service gaffes almost forgivable and make Trois an undeniably seductive establishment. In the past, Amick and Rushing have ridden the wave of excitement that their restaurants generate all the way to the bank, but the national acclaim they (and Atlanta) seek has fallen off when word gets out that the food is never as impressive as the electric atmosphere. Trois has a real chance to move beyond the tactile thrill that defines these restaurants. For now, like in the early stages of a love affair with an impossibly charming suitor, we can only hope that this is the start of a beautiful relationship.
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