Trevi

Flavor: Italian
Ambiance: Dark but somehow cheerful
Service: Very good

In Asheville’s restaurant scene, the award-winning, consistently busy Trevi is one of the big boys. What is it, exactly, that makes this restaurant so successful? Is it the classic, accessible and familiar menu? The unpretentious atmosphere that walks the line between family-style and date night?

Certainly, a big draw must be the service. When my Picky Companion and I entered Trevi, even though the place was bustling and nearly cacophonous with diners, the hostesses greeted us calmly and pleasantly, as should always be the case when your job is to be the first face customers encounter.

We were escorted to the bar to wait, and were entertained by an equally pleasant bartender who knew the wine list inside and out – again, as she should. What lifted her beyond our expectations was her effort to make an experience as mundane as waiting for a table entertaining.

Trevi offers a decent selection of wines by the glass. We had wanted a good Montepulciano that the restaurant usually offers, but they were out of it that evening. When asked for recommendations for a different red, the bartender didn’t recite memorized descriptions or even offer her personal favorites. Instead, she poured a small taste of each wine, one by one, and then watched our reactions. She didn’t stop until we found something we were truly pleased with, and she seemed happy to do it, despite the crowd.

We were seated, and while the wait for food had been made quite long due to the presence of a rather large party, our waitress made sure that everyone in our section was quite content.

Still, the restaurant, at least where we sat at its center, was dark. Very dark. I felt old; holding the menu up to my nose, angling it to try to catch some light, holding it at arms length – nothing made it easier to read. One woman requested a flashlight.

Trevi’s menu doesn’t stray far from classic Italian food, or, perhaps more accurately, what Americans may consider to be classic Italian food. There’s lasagna, chicken-and-eggplant Parmesan, and chicken Alfredo. You may have your veal piccata or Marsala. Much of the preparation is light: The menu is not overburdened with dairy, and it offers plenty of seafood, like a shrimp à la vodka, a crab and shrimp risotto, and a widely acclaimed Pistachio Trout. The restaurant employs fresh ingredients, plenty of herbs, and good oils.

The restaurant’s olive oil for dipping, aromatically infused with rosemary and garlic, is indeed good. I believe I ate more of it than the bread it was served with, which Picky, true to form, dubbed “not sexy” for its rather uniformly chewy texture.

The mussels were also quite good. Cooked to a perfect degree of tenderness and swimming in a savory, garlicky broth with fresh herbs and obscenely red tomatoes, it was the hit of the evening. I hadn’t expected anything out of the ordinary from a simple appetizer, but the broth had a wonderful depth of flavor. I wished only for more garlic bread to soak up the juices.

The antipasto was a good nosh, but mostly without distinction, save the presence of the marinated broccoli on the plate, an odd but entirely tasty addition. A bigger variety of cheeses and/or meats would have made it more memorable. Picky complained that the roasted peppers tasted canned, a fact which I disputed.

“If they are not canned,” he argued, “they’ve gone to extraordinary lengths to make them taste that way.”

One of our entrees, unfortunately, took a turn for the worse. I had been looking forward to the Cinghiale Ragu from the moment I opened my menu – “slow-cooked wild boar,” it tempted me, “in a rich red sauce” – but it proved to be a siren’s song.

The tortellini with which the boar had been tossed was, as our waitress readily admitted, not made in-house. That would have been fine enough, had the pasta been fully cooked. Anyone who’s ever cooked store-bought tortellini at home knows the perils of being too hungry (or perhaps too rushed) and prematurely draining the pasta: The noodles will be tough, the filling grainy.

For its part, the boar was tender, but a little dry and under-seasoned. Some extra sauce might have helped; the whole dish seemed to have dried out a bit. To the restaurant’s great credit, when we mentioned the problem, it was removed from our bill without a word.

The Crab Linguini was a good summer dish – a whole fried soft shell crab resting on a nest of noodles tossed in a light, garlicky tomato/clam sauce laced with fresh herbs. The crab was mild in flavor, the flavors understated and pleasant.

A Sicilian pizza followed the same light summery theme, with its light-as-air, cracker-thin crust and fresh mozzarella, oregano and tomatoes. The dish was accented with tangy capers, marinated eggplant and sweet onions. The sauce was lightly applied, as were the cheese and seasonings, so that no one flavor dominated the other.

The tiramisu, made in-house like many of the restaurant’s other desserts, was recommended by a server. It was a little sweet, but also quite good.

Trevi is, for the most part, a crowd-pleaser. The portions are hefty, there is something for just about everyone, and the service is, in my experience, very good and knowledgeable. An occasional foible or miscue (unfortunately, I encountered several in my two visits) can most likely be chalked up to a hefty amount of business; the kitchen feels rushed and the restaurant runs out of things – normal occurrences in a restaurant as popular as this one. My educated guess is that customer complaints like ours are most likely drops in a sea of rave reviews.

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