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Apparently the pain of the economy isn't hitting the Café Trio crowd that hard, or maybe the fact that Youngers and Nguyen continue to offer bread and soup or salad as part of the dinner package (unlike many of their Plaza rivals) makes it a more alluring deal. (I don't know whether it was Bahlmann's decision to finally replace the pita bread with a basket of fresh Farm to Market baguette, but thank God he did. Now could we just have plain, unsalted butter instead of that little scoop of gratingly sweet honey butter?)
On the night Bob and I dined with Linda and her husband, Richard, Linda looked over Bahlmann's selection of starters and small plates and noted that we could order a couple of smaller dishes for the same price as one dinner.
We did both, enjoying the view of the fountain and the trees in Mill Creek Park while sharing a first-rate combo of light coconut-fried shrimp — greaseless, with a discreet hand on the coconut, I'm happy to say — and plump, juicy scallops in the same crispy breading. Bob and Richard made short work of the chubby Prince Edward Island mussels, steamed in a delicately seasoned white-wine cream sauce with robust bits of pancetta and a dash of fresh fennel.
I'm not one of those who likes eating al fresco, but my friends insisted on sitting out on the deck, and I grudgingly went along. Luckily, we had an excellent server and a whirling electric fan nearby, making the balmy August evening seem, well, balmier. After finishing up the starters and then a wonderful cracker-crust pizza topped with bubbling goat cheese, duck confit, caramelized onion and oyster mushrooms, I could have called it a perfectly satisfying supper.
"We really should taste the soup," Linda said. And so we ordered two of them: a creamy, supple tomato basil and Bahlmann's latest concoction, a thick corn chowder with chopped peppers and pieces of hot chorizo. We should have stopped there, but we adventurously moved forward. Richard passed around an oversized bowl heaped with a ridiculously rich fettucini carbonara. Linda and I shared Bahlmann's Mediterranean grilled seafood trio, which the kitchen graciously split for us so that we each had our own plate heaped with sautéed spinach, sun-dried tomato couscous, a hunk of grilled Atlantic salmon, a jumbo shrimp for Linda and a big fat grilled scallop for me. Bob kept the lump crab cakes drizzled with a kicky chipotle aïoli all for himself.
We groaned when the server asked about dessert. Who had room? Besides, I already knew that Café Trio is still importing its sweets from a commissary: I'd learned that a week earlier, when I had lunch in the pretty gold-and-ebony dining room with my friend Scott. We didn't need dessert on that visit, either.
Scott's a vegetarian but not a vegan — he includes cheese in his culinary repertoire. So after a surprisingly generous Caprese salad prepared with pillowy-soft mozzarella and beautiful sliced tomato, he dined sumptuously on Café Trio's signature mac and cheese. It's still one of the finest macaroni creations in town, served with a thick baked blanket of molten Fontina, Bel Paese and Romano. Bahlmann prepared it for Scott without the usual adornment of bacon.
I went meatless, too, so that we could share: a memorable chevre salad featuring a terrific timbale of goat cheese in a crunchy crust of fried, crushed pine nuts and, as an entrée, a gorgeous Margo pizza blanketed with basil pesto, mozzarella and grilled asparagus. It was a late-afternoon lunch, but the dining room was hopping. Clearly, at Café Trio, the honeymoon isn't over.