As CultureMap first reported back in September, River Oaks restaurant Triniti has remodeled its bar and given it a new name, Sanctuari. The new space officially opened Thursday night with a packed house of attendees who were eager to sample the 30-plus drink cocktail menu created by bar manager Laurie Sheddan Harvey and drink wizard (her official title) Leslie Ross.
Separated from the dining room by a series of black-painted panels, the Dennis Brackeen Design Group has given Sanctuari a clubby, lounge vibe thanks to its black leather chairs and cream, wraparound banquette. Marble-topped tables provide another luxurious touch that differentiates Sanctuari from Triniti's more placid atmosphere.
A new rail near the patio entrance and new high top tables provide more seating. The private dining room has also been transformed with black paint and new furniture to match the bar and provide overflow seating.
The drinks are never too sweet or too tart — whether they're occasionally too strong depends on one's palate for alcohol.
"The whole focus of this project is to give the bar a venue specific to itself where they can practice their craft," Triniti chef/owner Ryan Hildebrand tells CultureMap. "I really want people to come here with no intention of eating in the dining room . . . .
"Of course we want people to eat, but, if this is their introduction to the building and it’s just for a drink, I’m confident it will translate into future visits."
Hildebrand and his team, including Tastemakers Rising Star Chef winner Greg Lowry, have created a new menu of small plates to serve at Sanctuari. "We definitely want to make it more finger food friendly," Hildebrand says of the food, which includes a selection of bar toasts topped with fresh vegetables and a bacon blue cheese burger topped with a fig marmalade Ross developed for a cocktail.
"I wanted it to be a complement to the drink program as opposed to front and center in the bar. The smaller portion, finger food, stuff people can share and eat . . . The idea being that there’s a place for you to come eat light and — this is going to sound terrible — drink heavy."
The cocktail menu features Harvey and Ross's riffs on classic cocktails. For example, the "from Russia with love" kicks up the traditional Moscow Mule with a little blueberry vanilla gastrique and the "tiger cried" is an inventive riff on the classic Ramon gin fizz made with Fernet Branca and Thai chili-infused green chartreuse. Four non-alcoholic cocktails are available, too. Sanctuari's drinks deliver carefully balanced flavors; they're never too sweet or too tart — whether they're occasionally too strong depends on one's palate for alcohol.
Ross has also had an effect on the kitchen by helping Hildebrand incorporate different alcohols into dishes to capture certain flavors. "I tell her what the flavor profile I’m looking for is and I say find me a booze that does that. She’s, like, 'This one.' It takes no time, and it works really well," Hildebrand explains.
As the restaurant heads toward its three year anniversary in December, Hildebrand says he thinks that the combination of Triniti and Sanctuari, along with some recent staffing changes such as the addition of general manager Robert Harvey, have put the restaurant on the path to long-term success.
"It’s taken this long to get the team right, to get the menu right," Hildebrand says. "It’s a big restaurant. It takes all the right players in all the right places.
"We’ve created a formula for longevity. We have the ability to bend and change, which we’ve done a lot of. That’s what has helped us get here is being flexible and reacting to the market."