Hallelujah, praise to restaurateur robert Colombo, who, with the opening of Trece, hath restored to the Park Cities that which so desperately has been missed: a stylish place to see and be seen (especially on Thursday nights).
Thanks, too, for the artful arrangement of candles in the tequila bar, the Barcelona benches, the massive mirrors set at an angle so that one can monitor the entire Moulin Rouge scene.
And thanks for the waiters’ custom-made pinstripe shirts that match the interior’s melon-amber-saffron color scheme. It is sooooo nice to be able to rest your eyes on something visually pleasing whilst placing your order for a Salty Chihuahua (tequila plus lemonade), one of Trece’s mouthwatering $13 cocktails made with exotic tequilas and fresh-squeezed juices.
Thursday nights, the place to be is at the valet station on Travis, lined up six-deep—just like when it was Sipango, sob—in your Infiniti SUV, adding one last coat of lip gloss as you reassure your girls inside via cell that you are mere seconds away.
Robert Colombo himself is usually at the host stand, looking like a trim David Hasselhoff in an impeccably tailored sports jacket and crisp white shirt, aided by a couple of platinum gals and maybe another manager or two. It takes that many hands to corral the herds to and from the bar.
Once settled into the dining room, it’s impossible to ignore the phenomenally comfy chairs. Robert and wife Rozalyn, who gets name-checked at least twice on Trece’s menu (like the Roz-a-Rita, which uses sugar-free Red Bull), searched high and low for two long, jet-setting years to find the perfect chair. They found it in Miami at Ola, the similarly themed high-end Mexican concept of Doug Rodriguez. Roz, Robert—my posterior thanks you for your diligence.
Robert, along with brother Patrick, was part of the team behind Sfuzzi, the hipster Italian chain that brought arugula and VIP tables to Dallas in the ’80s. While Patrick continued to develop restaurant concepts, including Ferre and Cru, Robert dallied in hotels and opened Nick & Sam’s with Phil Romano.
Now he’s back at the VIP game, partnered with Bill Solomon and pro golfer Tommy Armour III, to launch Trece (pronounced “tray-say,” as in “13” in Spanish), a high-end Mexican place in the same vein as Rosa Mexicana in New York or Frontera Grill in Chicago.With more than 100 tequilas, a glass-enclosed patio, private dining room, stemless wine glasses, parchment stucco interior, 18th-century front door, and, of course, a VIP lounge, few bases are left uncovered.
The opulence of the décor extends to the food. Colombo and Co. netted chef Amador Mora, who’s had a lifelong career working with only the very best ingredients under Dean Fearing at the Mansion on Turtle Creek. The official story is that the menu reflects the tastes, spices, etc. of family recipes Mora learned at home in Dolores Hidalgo, Mexico. Okay, sure. But you can see Mansion vestiges throughout, from tortilla soup to lobster, lobster, everywhere.
Mora’s value lies not just in his Mexican heritage but his knowledge of classic French stocks and sauces, whose factory-like construction he supervised daily at the Mansion for all those 20-odd years: roasting pounds of bones, simmering them for hours until their liquid reduces and their flavors become intense, then enriching the stocks with the right spices and supplements.
Trece’s sauces add sharpness, cleanness, and purity of flavor. In the alambre a la Mexicana—skewers of tenderloin beef with house-made chorizo sausage, peppers, onions, and serrano peppers—the individual components are skillfully cooked until pleasing in texture. But what makes the thing sing are the tomatillo and tomato-chipotle sauces. You see it in their color—one pea green, the other brick red—as pristine as the flavor, with each taste delivering incalculably complex layers. A few beads of the sauce drizzled on the accompanying rice transform it into an irresistibly delectable mouthful.
When not skewering tenderloin, shrimp, or chicken, Trece goes for homey dishes such as budin Azteca, a casserole layering chicken, cheese, and chorizo between tortillas. It’s comfort food, good in a sloppy way, but not even snazzy sauces do much to differentiate it from plain old King Ranch casserole.
Better, and equally homey are the chiles rellenos—roasted poblanos filled with crunchy shrimp, goat cheese, and spinach. There’s also a “tomato-essence broth” (surely you didn’t think it would be plain old tomato sauce) with broiled onions and cilantro.
Appetizers figure as prominently as entrées, with inventive touches and flashy presentation. Lobster mango margarita towers above them all. It’s in mango juice, tequila, lime, and cilantro, mounded in a sturdy martini-style glass. Long, narrow corn crackers stand upright, adding a couple of head-turning inches.
Side dishes have dash, too, such as the onion rings, 2 inches thick, in a chile-laced crust, and chard braised in tequila and spiked with serrano ham. All those bright flavors offer great value. You feel full, but it’s as much an intellectual process as a physical one—the kind of full where your brain feels as satiated as your stomach.
If you are like every customer at Trece, you will order the tableside avocado, a ritual no one seems able to resist. Are we so starved for personal attention? Or do we love guacamole that dearly? It’s a showy piece of service, involving a wheeled cart, orange plastic bowls, whole avocados, finger-pointing at peppers, tomato, or garlic, and finally much klack-klack-klacking as the mixing commences. Voila! One bowl of custom guacamole, pricing dependent on how many are at your table.
Service seems to be in the eye of the beholder. A few early reports complained of oversights, but most meals seemed free of delays. Sorry, can’t speak to the situation in the VIP lounge, which is out of reach for this definite non-VIP.
Get contact information for Trece.