June 3 2016 04:07 PM

Agnolloti and hushpuppies at Hillcrest New American spot

beeftartaretonnato
Beef tartare tonnato flatbread
Photo by Michael A. Gardiner

    There are many ways to make a special meal. Maybe it's the luxurious perfection of Addison Restaurant, the dazzling creativity of Wrench & Rodent Seabasstropub or the heart and soul of women from three generations working Baja roadside stand Tacos Varios Mar y Tierra. Or maybe you can do it the way that TRUST Restaurant (3752 Park Blvd.) in Hillcrest does it—with dishes that are a cut above yet grounded, technical but unpretentious and both passionate and deeply satisfying.

    Chef Brad Wise's food at TRUST can, perhaps, best be described as "New American" (if that term actually describes anything in the first place). Wise emphasizes fresh and local ingredients (but doesn't saddle the restaurant with the "farm-to-table" label) and incorporates flavors from a melting pot of foreign, immigrant and traditional American sources. The result is food that feels natural, rather than fused, though that which ties it together may not always be apparent.

    Take, for example, Wise's ricotta agnolotti, sunchokes, black garlic streusel, black truffle, panna and basil. The truffles make a splash, of course, but a moment later it is the subtlety of the agnolotti—the traditional ravioli-like stuffed pasta of Northern Italy's Piedmont region—that commands attention. Then you notice the umami richness of the black garlic streusel. It is only when the plate is nearly all gone that you ask yourself what it was you just ate. Italian? German? French? It takes just a moment to settle on the answer: Who cares?

    Traditional Southern "hushpuppies" are deep fried corn meal balls only one small step removed from a mythologized origin as a tool of appeasement to dogs hanging around the outdoor fry pot. It is a rich, savory and smoky dish that somehow, impossibly reads as light. It is deeply grounded, yes, but it takes the tradition to a new level while still honoring its essence.

    TRUST's serves its beef tartare on lavash flatbread accompanied by mustard seeds, quail eggs, Worcestershire vinaigrette, pink pickled onions and another nod to Piedmont, a mayonnaise-like, creamy tuna sauce called tonnato. A visually stunning dish, it plays with multiple culinary reference points offering contrasts between rich and acid, raw and cooked as well as soft and crunchy. It is a well-conceived, well-constructed dish and it's delicious.

    One of the simplest and best of TRUST's dishes is a chicken liver toast with mostarda, grilled levain bread (sourdough) and extra virgin olive oil. Simple, yes, but perfect. At times, Wise looks to Greece, like with his wood grilled lamb meatballs with lentils, tzatziki sauce, house-pickled shallots, fresno chiles and mint. Other times he looks to Mexico, like with his brussels sprouts with cilantro, jalapeño vinaigrette, cotija cheese and tajín spices. No matter, they're all good. The worst criticism: calling a salad with some beets in it a "beet salad."

    The simple fact is, on multiple trips to TRUST I did not have a single bad dish. The best ordering strategy? Get a large group and when the waiter hands you the menu hand it back and say: "Yes!" It will be a special meal.

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