This article is part of my weeklong food blog series, "How to Eat Free Food in Dallas Every Day of the Week". Editor's note: Trece closed on Monday, August 1, 2011.
Monday is the best free food night of the week. Not only are there lots of restaurants with food specials, but there are two restaurants offering totally free, two-course dinners, with no purchase required! Check out my receipt showing "Monday Dinner" discount at -$47.95 in free food for two people! My friend wanted to buy wine, so that plus tip was our only expense.
The two restaurants with free Monday night dinners are Trece and Villa-O. They share the same owners, same location near Knox Ave. and same restaurant class, "casual fine dining", so their patrons are a mix of fashionistas, d-bags and old money. This restaurant group also owns Sfuzzi, so you'll find several of the same food and drink items on the Italian menus at Villa-O and Sfuzzi, but no free food at Sfuzzi.
If you're thinking an expensive two-course dinner for free sounds too good to be true, I can attempt to explain. First, it makes some business sense because Monday was probably their slowest night of the week, so they are offering something worthy of dragging people out of their house on a Monday work/school night. Offering such an extreme deal gets word-of-mouth referrals and free press, like this article. They probably also get new customers coming to try their food. Most people who come for free dinner are more apt to buy a full-price bottle of wine, plus an appetizer or dessert (higher profit margin items), and hopefully they like it all enough to come back to buy everything at full price.
The catch is that reservations for free dinner are required at a max of 6 per table. I think that's how they control the number of freeloaders and make sure they don't lose their shirts on this deal. You must also order off of a special short menu, so you won't be able to get their most expensive dishes for free. Their Monday night free dinner special has been going on every Monday for at least a year and half (that's when I first tried it). Even with free dinner it was pretty dead the few times I went last year, but tonight, Villa-O was packed. I guess the word "free" has gotten out.
Since it's a free two-course dinner, you get to pick a soup or salad and an entree from the Monday night short menu. Free rosemary bread and olive oil for dipping are included. New from when I went last year is that this Monday menu changes every week to feature a different region of Italy. On this night, the region was Tuscany.
First course options were a tomato, cucumber and bread salad, white bean soup, and chicken pate. My friend and I had the salad and soup, respectively. The bean soup was pureed and tasted like a thick Thanksgiving Day gravy, but we both liked it. The salad was pretty much what it sounded like: big chunks of tomato, cucumber and lettuce tossed in olive oil. The bread/giant croutons were well seasoned, so at least I had a few bites to forward to. It wasn't very much food either, at least not compared to the bowl of soup. This photo was taken before I ate any of it:
The second course offered four options: lemon artichoke and garlic risotto, meatloaf with mushroom sauce, chicken with mushroom something, or tagliatelle with tomato meat sauce. You can tell I don't like mushrooms because I don't remember what else those dishes came with, and I'm not a big fan of artichokes, so that really narrowed my options down to the fancy bowl of spaghetti. My friend got the meatloaf.
My friend's meatloaf came with a surprise side of mashed potatoes and a palm-sized, thick slice of meatloaf. The meat was really tasty after I laid it in the olive oil remnants on my bread plate. The meatloaf dish looked like a full meal compared to my smallish bowl of noodles (see photo) with a partially melted and already cooled layer of sliced parmesan cheese on top.
One bite of my pasta and I was instantly reminded of the kobe meat lasagna I had on my very first Monday night free dinner here a year and a half ago. There is something about this meat that makes it taste like you're eating a meatloaf, and the tomato sauce reminds me of the cheap mom-n-pop Italian joints I grew up on in the Midwest. My Indian-born/Chicago-raised friend took one bite and with a somewhat obvious look on his face, he said,
"They made that with canned tomatoes; it tastes bitter."
Of course! Canned tomatoes perfectly explains my flavor connection to cheap Italian joints. Villa-O's menu sings the praises of fresh, organic ingredients, so I don't know that canned tomatoes are actually involved, but something isn't right about this red meat sauce.
While I did not go to Trece this week, I have tried their Monday night free dinner menu a few times. The food at Trece is high-end Mexican or TexMex, just like Mi Cocina and Gloria's, except I can never find anything on the Trece menu that I actually want to eat—for free or full price. (I'm just a big fan of beans, rice and corn, but I don't recall anyone else wanting to jump for joy over their menu/food.) The only saving grace for me is that the cocktail menus at all of the restaurants under these owners share some of my favorite cocktail recipes in Dallas. I'm not usually one to like pre-made frozen drinks, but if you get the Frozen Blueberry Mojito I think you'll understand.