Rich and I have been going to Trio off and on since we moved to Westboro nearly two years ago. However, their recent menu/operations change made me want to post a little something here about them.
First, a little background: Rich went to university at McGill, so he got used to Montréal-style cafes, clubs, and bistros. Bistros there are particularly interesting; they tend to be funky and at least a bit trendy, with some effort put into decorating and interior design. They also tend towards a club feel with the music and/or DJ, but still serve a decent menu of various small meals and snacks. Sadly, there are not very many places of that sort in Ottawa, as there seems to be more interest in pubs and bars. So when we moved to Westboro and found out about Trio, we knew we wanted to try it out.
The first thing you’ll probably notice about Trio is how small it is. While I’ve never actually counted, there must be no more than 12 small tables in the place, plus a few chairs around the bar. From spring to fall, they also have 3 or 4 tables in an outdoor, street-side patio. All this means that on a Friday or Saturday night, you need to come early if you’re going to have anywhere to sit.
The second thing you’ll probably notice is just how friendly the staff are. While yes, one would expect decent service at any eatery they intend to frequent, the folks here seem genuinely happy to work there. They are prompt in bringing you your food and drink, check up on you a reasonable amount, and don’t rush you out the door, allowing you plenty of time to linger over your drinks.
You’ll probably also notice the music. Generally they play nothing but music you might hear in a dance/nightclub, with a DJ taking over song selection on Friday and/or Saturday nights. Of course, this leaves a lot of room for variety, where anything from trance and ambient to disco might be heard. I’m also pleased to say that I’ve never heard them play anything by whoever is the ‘blond popstar of the moment’, or anything from the latest boy-band. They seem to realize their regular clientelle (mostly late-20s to 40s) wouldn’t much be interested in that kind of music. However, I do have one minor complaint: the sound system doesn’t seem to be the best quality and the best layout, which means if you choose a seat too close to a speaker, you’ll get a bit of crackling in your ear, and you’ll have to yell so whoever you’re hanging out with can hear you.
Other things of note before I get to the food: the walls are covered in art by local artists, that is available for purchase should one desire. There is also a small area by the bar that has jewelry by local artists on display. These things just add to the ambience without making you feel you’ve stepped into someone’s personal art collection.
Their drink menu consists of popular beers from Ontario and Quebec micro-breweries (eg – McAuslan, Unibroue, Wellington), a few wine-by-the-glass choices, and of course the typical mixed-drink choices. Nothing to be amazed at, but nothing terrible, either. They seem to have given some thought to which wines and which beers grace the menu, and the staff actually know the menu well enough to give drink recommendations.
The food menu? Well, the first few times Rich and I went to trio, they had a full menu with various pastas, pizzas, sandwiches and appetizers. We would usually order two of their pizzas: one containing brie and pear, and the other which was a typical Mediterranean vegetarian, with olives, tomatoes, feta and peppers. Sometimes we would also grab an appetizer to start, such as their garlicky hummus served with pita chips. Sometimes we would also grab dessert, which was brought in from a local bakery daily. I recall having a wonderful apple flan there once, and a delicious hazelnut dacoise another time. So overall, we were happy with the menu, even if it was a bit small. There were items we enjoyed on it and we didn’t mind having them pretty much every time.
Recently, however, Trio seems to have decided to re-market themselves a bit. They now have a menu that clearly states on it ‘We are not a restaurant!’ and their door advertising mentions snacks and drinks, leaving off any mention of meals. The menu still contains most of our favourites, but has done away with most of the sandwiches and all of the pastas. We don’t have a problem with this, since we never went there for large meals in the first place. However, at our trip there a week or two ago, we did notice multiple people come in, look at the menu, and promptly leave again. We can’t be sure if they were old regulars or new to Trio, but it is obvious that this change is causing them to lose a little business. Whether or not this becomes a problem in the long term remains to be seen, but I’m hoping the idea will catch on with locals. The place really deserves to be a hang-out rather than a restarant, which is something their old menu was getting away from a bit.
So in conclusion: If you’re looking for a good meal with an extensive winelist and a ‘see and be seen’ atmosphere, Trio isn’t the right spot for that. Try your luck at one of the popular hangouts in the Byward Market. But if you want something more casual, with appetizers, good drinks, an occasional DJ and a funky decor, then try Trio Bistro.
(307d Richmond Rd, just east of Churchill; 613-722-3887.)