After all, the first inclination of these three former Siri's servers was to plant their Thai-fusion bistro in an emerging hot zone like East Falls - until that aspiring restaurant hub suddenly began to fizzle before it took root.
But Fairmount? It's one of the city's most desirable residential neighborhoods, but its dining scene has been shockingly stagnant over the last decade. Stifled by a lack of commercial space, a tough neighborhood association, and a dearth of parking, it has nearly fallen off the map of Philly's dining destinations.
But perhaps it takes a keen local resident such as Michael Poole to see potential where others don't. Most restaurateurs who considered the former Gourley's space where Trio has settled, at Brown and Taney, simply saw an island cut off from the wider world by a neighborhood with virtually no parking.
Price it right, cook with heart, and welcome them with sincerity. And they have come - even if it isn't perfect.
Trio is a rarity in this era of the super-hot corner BYO: a neighborhood place truly intended for its neighbors, with entrees that show some style and effort, but priced at mostly less than $20.
There are other Thai fusion restaurants around, some of them a shade more interesting than Trio, and certainly some more convenient. But every neighborhood should have a good pad Thai - it's a basic quality of life. And Trio serves one of the city's best, its springy rice noodles tossed with shrimp and peanuts in an intriguingly dark glaze that balances the sneaky tingle of peppers, the funky tang of fish sauce and citrus, and the deeply sweet undertow of tamarind and palm sugar.
You can order it to go, as many locals do (including Jamavan's 80-year-old mother from Bangkok). Or you can stay for a while in Trio's lovely bilevel space, its large upstairs dining room colored in burgundy and deep green, flickering votives and fresh Thai orchids on every table. There's also a breezy outdoor deck that makes up in view what it lacks in size, with a vista of the Center City skyline that is hard to beat.
Considering that Jamavan, a graphic designer by trade, hasn't cooked professionally since the early 1990s (at Mayfair's Bon Vivant; he was a waiter at Siri's), his kitchen performs admirably well, with a light touch on the famous Thai spice, but an eye toward fresh ingredients and simple flavors.
The base of his soups swirls with an herbaceous current of galangal, lemongrass and kaffir lime, then gets creamed with coconut milk and slivered portobellos, or sparked with chile paste and snappy mushroom segments.
Crisply fried pastry bundles of beggar's pouches are filled with crab suspended in shrimp mousse over a sweet chile sauce with pickled garlic. Fresh corn and shredded coriander root add texture to the shrimp mousse fried into the crispy fritter coins. A special crab-fried rice flavored with curry and soy comes studded with morsels of crustacean, but also the surprise of slivered pumpkin that has a nutty sweetness.
Jamavan's kitchen lets a few details slip on some dishes. Calamari crusts have a burnt taste that evidences tired frying oil. The grilled hanger steak salad has the right sour and spicy dressing, but the meat itself could be more tender. The chicken satay has a wonderful peanut curry sauce, but the delicate meat is overcooked.
The service is consistently friendly and outgoing, but also has its lags, with unnaturally long pauses between courses, even when the restaurant wasn't busy.
But when our entrees finally did come, they were usually worth the wait. Jumbo shrimp with Asian eggplant and crispy tofu in garlicky black bean sauce exuded the minty perfume of Thai basil. The hot pot's clay lid was lifted at the table, releasing a burst of fragrant steam from the soy mushroom broth that bubbled up from glass noodles scattered with carefully cooked seafood.
A dusting of five-spice powder added just enough flavor to give an otherwise classic rib-eye entree with gratinee potatoes an exotic Asian twist.
Sesame-seared tuna is a dish I've had in dozens of other places, but Jamavan's had a rare sense of flavor balance. The pristinely ruby fish was cooked just enough, then fanned around a mound of buttery mashed yams ringed by a dark slick of sauce, a sake-mirin reduction that was both sweet and savory, but not cloying.
I can't say the same for the pork loin, whose balsamic marinade and tamarind-palm sugar lacquer gave the impression of candied pig. One too many flourishes with the crabcakes - specifically, the almond crust - gave the otherwise tasty cakes an awkwardly thick crunch.
Trio makes some decent desserts, including a fair tiramisu and a less exciting key lime pie. But the creme brulees are not to be missed - especially the silky custard flavored with floral Thai iced tea that may be one of the best arguments I've ever eaten for French-Thai fusion.
What a lucky neighborhood.
Contact restaurant critic Craig LaBan at 215-854-2682 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/craiglaban.