Friday night my wife and I had a perfectly unmemorable meal at Sean Mulroney's new Italian spot across Milwaukee Ave. from his Double Door saloon. Hmm ... first Double Door, now "Three Ways" (and the pun on the neighboring Damen/North/Milwaukee hipstersection was not unnoticed by this diner).
In a word, Tre Via is mediocre. In another word, strange! First, in Sean's favor, the room is absolutely beautiful and I'd love to spend hours and hours there (e.g., the bar stools are actually full wraparound bar-fly cocoons) -- but only if the food were much, much better. The soundtrack is tasteful hard/post-bop jazz, played at decent levels. A decent if unextraordinary winelist, although the prices were reasonable enough. Although the place was certainly busy, the service was quick, friendly, earnest and while maybe it was not flawless, I had no complaints. But then there's this issue of the food.
Here's the bad news, item by item. Buffalo mozzarella salad had way too much dressing, plopped on top rather than tossed in (as I remarked to the wife, it's called "dressing," not "topping") -- and the salad was pretty small and undeserving the premium price charged. Next, the bacon-wrapped scallop appetizer, which included four or five top-quality, oversized scallops, turned out to be a sort of seafood salt lick. Salty bacon wrapped around brine-soaked scallops perched atop a spread of salty boiled greens topped with salty butter. I suppose if I were a horse, I'd like it; but as a sensitive human being and scallop lover, it was really an abomination to see these glorious gastropods beaten into submission by the heavy handed salt sledgehammer of the Tre Via kitchen. The excessive (and bizarre) use of spice continued into our pasta dishes. My cheese and spinach ravioli were unremarkable; somewhere about 60 degrees north of Franco American, but 30 degrees south of excellent. The sauce was another matter altogether -- although at first glance I thought I was in for something special (i.e., it looked like a good, old fashioned "red sauce house" style red sauce, thick and viscous and savory) so much hot red pepper was tossed in this poor marinara it made my eyes water! Even more bizarre, my wife's "bolognese" sauce was hot as the devil, too. The menu does not specify Arrabiata sauce and this stuff was in capicasin hyperdrive. Interestingly enough, however, when we reheated the leftovers (hey, I'm not going to throw out FOOD), the spices in the bolognese actually receded and the whole thing tasted mighty fine. So maybe when you go to Tre Via, ask them for whatever it was they threw out the night before, it might taste better.
Dessert, by contrast, was darned good. We had the "menage a trois" (get it, another "three ways" pun), consisting of a torte layered with white, milk and dark chocolate moose, under a white chocolate glaze. Very delicious; and the coffee was good, too.
Well, not a memorable dining experience (at least not for the reasons I'd hoped). Sean was seated at a table near us, and he and his pal were getting free wine service and seemed to be enjoying themselves. But I can't recommend the place (and that's despite the fact that I sorta know Sean from his days as an EPA lawyer and know he's a great guy). Hope they can work out the kinks; given the location, they'll certainly have no trouble keeping tables filled long enough to at least have a go at it.