Chez Casa Trentman 

    by Elmer Kanosh

    There’s a short list of establishments in the Five Lakes area that offer a truly fine dining experience in a warm, relaxed atmosphere, fewer still at a price that won’t flatten a bank balance, and Chez Casa Trentman isn’t likely to lengthen that list any time soon.

    From the moment one arrives on the heels of a quarter mile trek from the only place to deposit one’s car, “Self-Service Valet Parking,” this decidedly unique dinner house projects its own atmosphere without compromise.

    The restaurant opened last spring with an offer of a free meal to any party of four or larger who could prove they were botulin free for a full week after eating here, and while some interpreted this as a bold statement of avant garde cuisine, others simply took a prophylactic dose of tetracycline and Cipro before entering, and prepared to pay full fare no matter what.

    Chef and co-owner Osama bin Trentman, most recently celebrated for the mercifully quick closing of his “Beet My Knish” vegan bistro, will undoubtedly add to his following with this effort, although some of those followers may be armed by the time they catch up with him.

    From the prix fixe One Course Tasting Menu at $150 (which is complemented by two glasses of Chateau McLuckie Irish Chardonnay and an amuse bouche which, on each of our five visits, consisted of half a teething biscuit under herring in cream sauce on a sea of low-fat schmaltz), to a dessert menu that boasts “canned grapefruit sections on a shingle,” this is a restaurant experience that evokes fond memories of an airline meal in a center coach seat on a packed Airbus to New Dehli.

    Arriving diners are enthusiastically greeted by Chef Trentman’s slobbering Newfoundland, who, after leaving his indelible “eau saliva” signature on whatever passes his way, insists on sniffing the crotch of anyone in heels, so you’ll want to wear flats and a potato sack until you’re safely seated at one of the inventively theme-crafted tables made from glued-together backhoe tires (see “ambiance” below).

    Your first clue to the culinary aspirations of the kitchen can be gleaned from the organization of the menu, which is divided into “Less Risky,” “You Only Live Once,” and “Requires A Release From A Licensed Taxidermist.”

    In all fairness, all courses carry a faint nose of formaldehyde, so you’re probably as safe with any one choice as with another, if by “safe” you mean, “I didn’t really see a bright white light, it was only a glimmer, and Aunt Esther looked a lot younger than she was when she passed.”

    The ambiance indeed takes no second chair to the food in this unconverted highway salt dome with original floor treatment still intact. 

    Chef Trentman has thoughtfully declined to put in a drop ceiling, so as you crunch your way to your seat, and throughout your interment here, you can hear echoes of everything that’s been said in the restaurant for the last half hour, in addition to whatever cautionary advice your tablemates are trying to pass along.

    Perhaps that’s why when we ordered “Steak Diane” we got “Hake in a Pan” on one occasion and “Soused Pig Knee” on another.

    Although the menu offers a number of tempting and inventive side dishes, from Napa Cabbage Slaw to Grilled Tuscan Summer Squash and Wood Stove Smoked Scalloped Potatoes, all entrees arrive with an apology and no accompaniments other than room temperature Del Monte green beans, The Colonel’s famous cole slaw (also a refreshing 72 degrees), and a ramekin of Velveeta au gratin.

    As for our favorite here: it’s not easy to combine Lipton French Onion dip, Oreos, and spicy lamb kidney while producing a dish with balance and culinary appeal, and Trentman’s proves the rule with a creation in which not a single flavor is discernible, let alone desirable. 

    Surprisingly, even the layer of shredded Crisco, which acts as both emulsifier and all-weather protective coating, can’t quite hold together the appeal of this unique treatment of what the menu lists as “Classic Roast Duckling a L’Orange au Chop Suey.”

    Service at “Chez Casa” (as its devotees fondly refer to it from their hospital beds) would be improved if the wait staff were at least marginally aware that they’re working in a restaurant, not a war-torn hashish den in El Alamein. 

    Sporting uniformly vacant stares from sandstorm sunset-colored eyes, they appear to lack navigational skills consistent with wandering in a desert without bumping into each other, and respond to calls for attention as if running in stark terror from an approaching Rommel tank brigade. 

    Their particular technique for placing food on the table is perhaps best described as “bombs away!” and their knowledge of menu items rivals a camel’s innate grasp of Arctic survival techniques.

    Speaking of “Arctic,” all of the coffee here arrives as if iced, no matter how you order it, so if you want something warm and soothing at the end of the meal, rub a dollop of Bengay on your navel and be thankful you still have a small intestine after Chef Trentman has had his way over three courses of culinary insurgency.

    I called the Chef to ask if he’s planning any changes now that the restaurant has moved beyond its oozing primordial stage. 

    He thought for a moment before replying with his characteristic perspicacity, “Only if the Justice Department can actually prove in criminal court we’ve violated the Geneva Convention with intent.”

Reservations: All that one can muster before calling, and you’ll have to provide proof of major medical insurance at the door.

Handicapped access: Wheelchairs are thoughtfully provided, but only at the exit ramp, where they’re needed most.

Major credit cards accepted, but unless you consider identity theft to be a personal life goal, cash would be the better choice here.


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