Venue Review: Tria Terra
The Charlotte Observer
How many times has this happened to you in Charlotte?
You're discussing what to order with your dining companion and you ask the server a few questions, then ask for a few minutes to decide. The couple at the next table lean toward you and say, "Having trouble deciding? Want some help?"
I can tell you how many times it's happened to me: Exactly three. And all at the same restaurant: Tria Terra, at south Charlotte's Carmel Commons.
There's something about the place that makes the regulars feel possessive - or maybe parental. They want it to grow, and do well, and they're just so proud of it, and they seem willing to go to great lengths to help.
The menu, as the name suggests, spans three lands: Spain, Italy and France. Owners Ivan Campoverde and Esteban Vintimilla, both native Ecuadorians, are brothers-in-law, and Campoverde is brother to Fernando Campoverde, a co-owner of the Italian Fiamma in Dilworth. Ivan cooked Italian fare at Fiamma - and for more than a decade in New York - and also visited Spain before opening here.
It is decidedly Spain and Italy that are Tria Terra's core, from housemade sangria and an assortment of paellas to housemade pastas. Housemade grissini (long, thin, crunchy breadsticks) and focaccia arrive quickly with thinned pesto for dipping, and an adequate wine list has several by-the-glass choices. But go for the sangria at least once; it's not too sweet and invites conversation.
We listened as a woman, one of those offering to coach us, teased Vintimilla that her recipe was better. In part of his reply, he said some people cheat, with brandy. "I'm a cheater, then," she said, laughing. I didn't hear any remorse. Vintimilla's sangria is a three-day process, and he recommends folks who get a carafe get someone to drive them. ("You won't feel it, but.....")
Paella (say "pie-yay-uh"), the rice dish from Spain, comes in several variations, some not on the current menu. When a neighboring diner raved about the Catalana (with chorizo, chicken and a mild sausage), our server offered it, and said the kitchen often produces dishes not on the menu. (I didn't test that statement further.) It was lovely: rich, tender and full-flavored. (A note: A third Campoverde brother is at La Paella in New York, says Vintimilla, and many imported Spanish supplies come here via there.)
So was a plate of fresh pappardelle, the wide egg noodles doused with hearty Bolognese sauce and fresh grated cheese. Tagliolini with crab meat was nice, too, if pale in comparison, while a thick grilled pork chop with caramelized apples, pearl onions and garlicky mashed potatoes was simple and fine.
Salads brim with fresh greens or vegetables, handled simply and well. But tapas are an equal start (or whole meal), from peppers stuffed with goat cheese to delicate zucchini to lamb, or shellfish, or Serrano ham.
Sorbet comes between first and second courses to cleanse your palate; you get a whole scoop of the sweet stuff, but don't fill up, since you'll want room for both your entree and one of the simple, classic desserts.
As we lingered over panna cotta (just the sort of clean, pure flavor and texture you want from this "cooked cream") and fresh berries in zabaglione (a light custard sauce with Marsala), a couple rose from their table to leave. The man waved slowly to the host, and said, "This was a great evening."
Tria Terra is small. Its tables are a little close, and not all its chairs are incredibly comfortable. But things happen here that don't happen everywhere.