Review: Triumph Grill
Get your motor—and your appetite—runnin’.
Photograph by Katherine Bish
How often we’ve said, “All this wonderful meal’s missing is an after-dinner stroll through a vintage motorcycle museum.” Well, dreams do come true. Triumph Grill is located in a lavishly, tastefully rehabbed building at Lindell and Olive. Mellow, earthen browns and greens lend a relaxed atmosphere. Intriguing, stylish “motorcycle parts as art” decorate walls. Seating is broken up into small areas that tamp down noise; avoid the one near a small bar that’s friendly and fun but can be loud. Down a short corridor is a basketball court–sized space, the walls lined with dozens of motorcycles, mostly European, dating back to the 1920s. It’s cool. It would be a worthwhile destination even if there weren’t a restaurant involved. But you aren’t reading this for our thoughts on the rocker box configuration of a ’69 Ducati, so…
The food is modern American, borrowing from a dozen cuisines to mix with traditional fare: an herb-encrusted salmon grilled and plated with quinoa grains; mango salsa with a spiced chicken breast. You get the idea. Appetizers are appealing. The house take on squid is a refreshing change from fried rings. These are thick strips, lightly sautéed with a spicy sauce that kicks like an old Kawasaki and pairs well with the meat’s texture. A pool of smooth and smoky herbed cheese fundido is flanked by flatbread points for dipping; symptoms of a mild addiction may follow. Tortilla soup aims for spicy but hits insipid instead. A silky, earthy bisque of wild mushrooms and leeks, though, is an absolute must, and a chowder of crabmeat flakes with slivers of sweet potato is almost as outstanding. Soft loaves of salt-flecked pretzels come with a zingy Dijon sauce. Share them; a single order is enormous.
Triumph’s main courses careen over the culinary landscape like Mr. Toad’s jalopy, with nearly every stop worthwhile. Risotto is creamy and satisfyingly chewy, its tender pearls of rice coated with a seafood-tomato stock and studded with shrimp and shards of sweet blue crabmeat. A bone-in “cowboy” rib steak is thick, beefy, and tender. It arrives with a swirl of cabernet-shallot reduction and glistening with a dollop of Gorgonzola-rosemary butter. With it, too, comes a smooth blend of roasted garlic and butter that contains some mashed potatoes. Wow. These are extraordinarily rich, exquisite potatoes. The “Far East” in the fish and chips consists of a couple of dips, both very good. One is a wasabi-spiked aioli, the other a savory ginger-soy sauce. Both add considerably to the charm of tempura-battered sole fillets, crispy and golden, resting on a big mound of house-made fries. The same pair of delectable dips comes with an appetizer of flash-fried asparagus.
A bath of truffle oil is splashed over fettuccine that’s tossed with spinach, slices of grilled chicken breast, and juicy wild mushrooms, all served in a roasted garlic cream sauce. Few Italian eateries in town could do a better job with pasta. Lasagna is offered, noodles laced between layers of squash, portobello mushrooms, and spinach, along with hefty gobs of melted cheese and a roasted tomato sauce.
Sandwiches we sampled were average at best. A Reuben without a healthy slather of Thousand Island? It’s like Easy Rider without the ride. The house-made corned beef was good, so too the grilled pumpernickel. But the sandwich was too dry. The Daytona, pulled chicken breast in a spicy sauce with crumbles of bleu cheese and pickled red onions on toasted brioche, was slightly better. Best bet for the sandwichly inclined: hickory-smoked shrimp, with crisscrossed rashers of brown-sugar-crusted bacon, lettuce, and tomatoes, on toasted whole-grain bread with a piquant, sweet chili-mayo dressing. We don’t get paid enough to have tried the “Elvis,” a Frankensteinian pastiche of peanut butter (“organic”—like the King ate organic) and sliced bananas (“nanners,” as Ebbis would’ve put it) on grilled “Pullman” bread. (The last item is a bit precious: It’s an old name for plain old sandwich bread of the sort that builds strong bodies eight ways.)
Desserts are cleverly, diabolically presented. A wire rack is loaded with aperitif glasses filled with cheesecakes, chocolaty slurries with crumbles of cookies on top, bread pudding, and the like, and your waiter drops it at the table. Pass or eat what you want. We did. Eat, that is. And didn’t regret it. The sizes, about three bites per glass, are a civilized way to finish dinner.
The wine list here gets the job done. The selection is wide, with an emphasis on simple, honest taste, like the fine Ravenswood Lodi zinfandel. Draw a line east from the San Francisco Bay Area, and it’ll cut right across the Ravenswood vineyards in Lodi. That means cool afternoon ocean breezes and moderate summers; the zin grapes grow fat and juicy, making the supple, jammy Ravenswood wines always worthwhile. The Solaire cabernet Bobby Mondavi introduced last year is loaded with berries and vanilla oak. Both these wines are good choices with many of the meat and pasta dishes here. If you’re going with the herb-grilled salmon or the fish and chips, or if you just think it’s cool to sip a white wine, go with the Clean Slate Riesling, snappy-crisp and mineral-spiked, or the superb Toasted Head chardonnay, mellow with hints of butterscotch and mangoes, plus a finish longer than the NBA playoffs and much more interesting.
Service here is friendly, competent, and efficient. On the wickedly busy night we visited, appetizers appeared swiftly; the entire meal was managed with aplomb and skill, and we watched one rude party unhappy with their table location be reseated with what seemed like effortless grace. Triumph is an inventive place, both in its food and atmosphere—and in that really fun motorcycle museum that comes with every meal.
The Bottom Line: The best restaurant/motorcycle museum in the immediate area; the ambience is stylish, the food excellent.
Address: 3419 Olive
Hours: Lunch and dinner Mon-Sat; Dinner only, Sun
Average Main Course: $16 (with lower prices for reduced-size portions)
Reservations: Roger that
Dress: Leathers? Uh, no. Just go for “nice.”