In describing George Lindsay’s character Goober on his self-titled show, Andy Griffith said Goober was the type of person who would sit down at a table and say, “Hey, this is great salt.” Had he dined at Trombino’s Bistro Italiano, I believe Goober might have limited his compliments to the salt (okay, maybe he would have added the bread).
Our three experiences at this venerable Northeast Heights Italian bistro have us shaking our head in wonder at how this very popular dining destination continues to thrive–and more amazingly how its loyal patrons invariably send me e-mail questioning my parentage after I write something disparaging about Trombino’s. We feel like Bob Newhart as the only sane diners in an assemblage of taste bud deprived patrons who continue to pack what we believe to be a restaurant the quality of its cuisine which is a step down from the corporate chains that are often the target of my derision.
We can understand one bad meal–an unappetizing appetizer here, an occasional overdone entree there–but to go three visits and have our taste buds either lulled to sleep or tortured into submission is too much. Ironically, it was the axiom “Mangia bene, Viva Bene” (“he who eats well, lives well”) on the menu that first caught my eye and heightened my expectations that we might indeed have a good meal at the restaurant formerly known as “Trattoria Trombino.”
So, am I the only Albuquerque diner who’s ever experienced a bad meal at this extremely popular restaurant…the only diner who isn’t bought in? Trombino’s “Best of City” awards in just 2005 include Best Italian Restaurant from the Alibi Reader’s Choice Restaurant Poll, Albuquerque The Magazine’s Best of the City and Citysearch…but I’m not crazy. Everybody else is.
The parade of mediocrity started during our introductory meal at Trombino’s in 2000 when we were left aghast by fried shrimp reminiscent of the heavily breaded “all you can eat” shrimp served at restaurants such as Sizzler and an uninspiring marinara sauce not even as good as the one served at the Olive Garden. Remarkably the service was slow and lines were out the door (this being Albuquerque, the Olive Garden must have been packed) with ravenous customers salivating at the prospects of their meal.
During our second visit, we were determined to try something more unconventional in the hopes that it would give us a truer (or at least a reasonably favorable) impression of this highly regarded and yawning dining establishment. It started off well with an appetizer of Mussels Zafferano, Atlantic blue gold mussels steamed in a spicy saffron white wine sauce. This was among the very best saffron sauces we’ve had in the Duke City, but several of the mussels were either gritty, too chewy or we couldn’t extricate them from their shells.
An entree of Chicken Involuntini featured three lightly breaded chicken breasts stuffed with proscuitto ham, fontina cheese and sage served over spinach with a side of garlic butter pasta. The proscuitto, in particular, was de-fanged with no discernable taste, a commonality it had with the entire entree. Similarly mundane was an entree of grilled homemade Italian sausage (mild and spicy) served with seasoned red potatoes. We couldn’t envision any self-respecting Italian restaurant in Chicago or Boston serving such lifeless sausage.
Not even dessert could save the day. Not surprisingly considering our luck at Trombino’s, the chocolate delight (delizia al cioccolate), a French baked brownie topped with vanilla ice cream, Torani chocolate sauce and whipped cream didn’t leave much of a lasting impression either.
A “third strike and you’re out” visit in 2006 resulted in the uneven performance we had come to expect from Trombino’s. An appetizer of stuffed clams was baked to a crusty, crumbly and desiccated brown. An order of lobster ravioli was so mind-numbingly boring in comparison to the Indigo Crow’s version of this entree that we wondered how Trombino’s could possibly have gone so wrong. Next time we want to “mangia bene” at an Italian restaurant, we’ll go elsewhere.
Trombino’s Bistro Italiano
5415 Academy, N.E.
LATEST VISIT: 30 June 2006
# OF VISITS: 3
BEST BET: Lemonade