Trifecta Grill: At the Starting Gate

After two visits to Winnetka’s new Trifecta Grill, I’ve tasted my way through much of the menu—not a difficult task as the menu isn’t large.

The biggest problems here so far are finding a seat and interacting with your dining companions, assuming they are talking to you and not people watching.

It’s a hit out of the gate for serial Winnetka restaurateur Patrick O’Neil and his wife, Molly, who already own two busy restaurants: popular bistro O’Neil’s and the family-friendly BBQ joint/sports bar Little Ricky’s.

Belly Up to the Bar

The drinks are plentiful and generous, with some really interesting signature cocktails (including the Effen Ugli, $12, with Effen citrus vodka and fresh ugli fruit juice, or the Blueberry Mojito, $11, much tastier and less sweet than you would guess).

During our freakish glimpse of summer in March, we enjoyed a meal on the lovely bluestone patio, complete with fire columns to warm away the night’s chill when the sun set. I know it will be a very popular venue when summer returns at its regularly scheduled time (i.e. August).

Menu is a Work in Progress

Discussing the merits of the menu is a little trickier. All three salads—I mean “green stuff” —that we sampled were hits. Loved the presentation of the Romaine Bundle ($14), the salad formerly known as Caesar, but the price was out of line for the portion. The Mango Shrimp ($15), a tasty enough mixture that I expected to come atop a bed of salad greens rather than a Bibb lettuce garnish, was confusing. Is it a salad, or a scoop of shrimp and fruit? The Wedge Head ($8) was the bargain of the bunch, a huge wedge of iceberg lettuce loaded with crispy bacon bits, tomatoes and a delicious blue cheese dressing.

The “gourmet pizzas” were easy to split and there were several interesting topping combinations (Mexican, $15, with roasted corn and poblano peppers and Fontina cheese; Veggie, $15, sporting sautéed spinach, carmelized onion, nubbins of grilled asparagus, mushrooms and tomatoes, goat cheese and pesto). The thin crust is adequate, nothing to write home about, but a perfectly serviceable vehicle for the toppings.

Sample Away with the Trifecta Trios

The “trifecta trios” are a quick way to tour the menu. The Fiesta ($15) offers samples of the shrimp and tilapia Ceviche, a mediocre Tilapia Taco (Cajun-seasoned grilled fish in corn tortilla with “spicy” slaw and sour cream) and two delicious Chipotle Chicken Lollipops, moist and meaty.

I thought that the Fries de’Fecta ($10) would be a first-class ticket to stomach nirvana. The presentation was adorable, with three tiny fry baskets, each filled with a different type of French fry: purple Peruvian, sweet potato and Russet, along with three mayo-based dipping sauces, including a nice garlicky aioli. But, alas, they were under seasoned, and the Russets were the only ones to approach the correct level of crispy. Both the blues and sweets were soggy, though cooked through. Fryer not hot enough, perhaps? Or the timing is off?

The Slider City ($15) proved a mixed bag. The Sirloin Burger, with Ricky’s BBQ sauce and onion strings, was the clear winner, followed by the Short Rib Sammy, a chunk of braised short rib with caramelized onions and sweet chili. The buns were properly fresh and squooshy. The less said about the Lamb Burger with tzatziki, the better. Steer clear of that one.

Fondue Me

Desserts are a work in progress, I’m told. I’d advise them to keep the Chocolate Fondue (a bargain at $10), with your choice of white or dark chocolate. Go dark or go home, I say. Lightly perfumed with Grand Marnier, the sauce was luscious, and the fresh fruit for dipping plentiful. I’d rather see marshmallows than Jewel-quality angel food cake chunks, or the store-bought brownies. Is it so hard to make your own? The Peach Cobbler ($8), though out of season, was pleasant.

Knowing what pros the O’Neils are, I know that some of these kinks will be worked out. Meanwhile, it’s clearly the place to be seen. Families tend to flock earlier in the evening; lots of tan, well-dressed women here as the night wears on. Come to drink, take in the scene, and eat selectively. At least for now.

3 out of 5 stars

Trifecta Grill