Set among countless shops and restaurants in the Peninsula Center, Trio Mediterranean Grill might be hard to spot at first, but it's definitely worth seeking out.
Offering Mediterranean cuisine from France, Greece, Italy and Spain, and even a few Indian dishes, Trio’s expansive menu can almost guarantee that the pickiest eater will find something to enjoy.
For owner, chef and manager Elias Barragan, the restaurant's huge menu is what he believes keeps customers coming back for more.
“People seem to love the fact that we have a little bit of everything,” Barragan said. “They can order something different every time they come.”
The restaurant's most popular dishes speak to its diverse menu. Barragan said the customer favorites include grilled lamb chops, seafood paella, chicken tandoori and Trio’s hamburgers.
Deciding to try Trio, I took my parents there on a Friday night to see if it was possible for a restaurant with such a large menu to serve good food consistently.
We were seated at what the restaurant refers to as the "Nike table" (it’s in the shape of a swoosh).
With its sleek metal decor, drop-down lights and warm tones, Trio's ambience seems to appeal to many different types of people. That night, there was a mix of families, singles, couples on dates and women having a girls' night out.
While figuring out what to order, we were given complimentary pita chips and hummus. Not long after we placed our order, out came the caprese salad ($7.50) I had ordered to split with my mom and a cup of French onion soup ($5.25) for my dad.
The salad ingredients were all fresh, and the balsamic vinaigrette had just the right amount of acidity. The soup had a well-balanced onion flavor and a good amount of melted, stringy Gruyere cheese. It also had a subtle taste of cinnamon, adding a nice smokiness.
As our waitress cleared our plates, it occurred to me as I looked out across the restaurant that Trio only had two waiters and one helper for about 20 tables, yet the service was still superb.
Much of the staff has been with the restaurant since Barragan retained sole ownership of it five years ago, he said, and some even since it first opened in July 2001.
“It is like dancing a waltz," Barragan said of the staff's skill at working the room. "Everyone knows where they have to be and where everyone else is going.”
Entrees were next: My chicken tequila pasta ($12.95) was served over linguine. Full of roasted chicken and corn, red peppers and sweet red onion in a tequila lime cream sauce, each ingredient complemented the flavor of the dish.
My mom's Greek pasta ($10.50) had subtle flavors of roasted tomatoes and garlic, feta cheese and basil in a sun-dried tomato cream sauce over bow tie pasta. Both pastas had just the right amount of sauce. So many places either overdo it or skimp on the sauce; Trio found the perfect medium.
My dad, deciding not to jump on the pasta bandwagon, got the bistro burger ($7.95). Moist and tender, the burger had sauteed mushrooms, grilled onion and cheese. The patty had to be at least one pound.
Even with such a wide-ranging menu, Barragan makes an effort to keep up with trends. Recently, he's been experimenting with Mediterranean dishes that include beans, something he became familiar with growing up in Mexico City.
Although Barragan has never had any formal training as a chef, he's learned by observing others. He has been cooking for himself and his family since age 7.
“It is like not having to work any day in your life. I can be here for seven days a week and I am still happy,” Barragan said. “It is very fulfilling and amazing. When you really have passion for what you do, it is easy.”
While Barragan’s idea from the beginning has been to open more Trio restaurants in the South Bay, he has one simple idea for his restaurant in Rolling Hills Estates.
“I want to be a landmark on the hill,” Barragan said.
If Friday night was an indication, Trio is already there.
Trio Mediterranean Grill, 46-B Peninsula Center, Rolling Hills Estates; 310-265-5577, triogrill.com. Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday; 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday; 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday.