[All photos by Robert Sietsema]
A pitchman in a white coat with a whiny carnival barker's voice harangues: "How many excuse [sic] do you need to eat great food? Correct. None!" In the near-viral video for Troy, a sprawling new restaurant in Staten Island, the prolific director Eduard Izro (the Ed Wood of modern commercials) deploys an earnest actor with a difficult-to-identify accent to tease you into trying the medieval European food on Troy's menu. Medieval? Doesn't Troy belong to the more ancient era of The Iliad? The anachronism that pervades the commercial (and the restaurant) is often mind-boggling, confusing fantasy and historic reality. Call it a funnier and more confused Medieval Times.
Unable to resist the pitch and looking for some Sunday afternoon hilarity, three friends and I hopped in a car yesterday afternoon to make the long trek to Troy, feeling very much like Odysseus and his crew backing up the boat and reversing course. The restaurant is located in the lower middle class neighborhood of Midland, a region hard hit by Hurricane Sandy and famous for its Staten Island pizzas at places like Goodfella's and Nunzio's. The premises previously held the dubiously name House of Crabs.
Now, a raised Astroturf deck with metal furniture looks down on Hylan Boulevard. Inside, the dark stuccoed building is an entrance hall that winds downward — embellished with a leonine fountain — and two subterranean dining rooms, one with a stage and bar, the other with arching mirrors adjacent to the kitchen. Altogether, the place seats around 200. Apart from a few random decorative elements, the windowless dungeon is largely dark wood with towering gilt figures in the corners that appear to be Roman caryatids, some smirking. There are a few bluish bas-reliefs affixed to the walls that recall the Trojan War.
We were seated in the non-stage dining room next to a video monitor that flickered with random still images as the theme from Karate Kid played in the background: a flying dragon, a Dali ripoff with melting clock, a guy in assless chaps, women in bikinis with big boobs, an aerial view of the Caspian Sea, some Holy Roman Empire iconography, pounding waves, onion domes, a flying dragon. The waiters all appeared to be Russian, and they wore gold vests. We were the only diners in the restaurant, though a handful of others arrived later.
The menu makes many journeys of its own. According to the website it offers "Ancient and contemporary food fusion, Polish, Greek food, Roman food, French fusion restaurant, Medieval era food… Italian, Spanish/Basque." The prices are not cheap, with apps mainly in the $9 to $19 range, and entrees coming in at $19 to $38. We correctly surmised, though, that the servings would be humongous, given the drawn-out descriptions of the dishes, location of the restaurant, and general panache of the restaurant ownership. Here is what we ordered and received, in sequence.
Spanish Empanadillas ($12) — Though the menu describes them as goat cheese turnovers, what arrived was an ice-cold goat cheese tower laced with sundried tomatoes, surrounded by drops of sauce, one of which may have been the lobster bisque that appeared later (see below).
Caesar Salad ($13) — We craned our necks as this Caesar salad arrived, trying to figure out what the deuce was going on and why the salad was arranged so oddly. It tasted good, even though the puff pastry (the circle in the picture) that held the romaine like a napkin ring was flavorless, and the poached egg had been cooked hard. Note that this salad originated in an Italian restaurant in Mexico in the 1920s, not in ancient Rome.
Roman Octopus Carpaccio ($12) — Once again, a generous serving of a dish not even remotely Roman or ancient. Octopus in jelly sliced a little too thick and garnished with pickles, with a faintly Russian air. By this point, we had come to expect, and even enjoy, the weird and fussy platings.
Lobster Bisque Meunière ($10) — Since "meuniere" usually means a sauce with brown butter, capers, and lemon, this soup left us scratching our heads. Still, it was a classic lobster bisque, possibly canned, and we enjoyed scooping up spoonfuls of drenched crumb from the bottom of the bread reservoir. The surrounding wads of lobster meat, though, were way overcooked.
"Troy" Truffle Soup with Foier Grass [sic] ($12) — This soup had none of the goose liver the comical misspelling might have led one to expect, but who demands actual foie gras at this price point? There were plenty of black truffles of the (tasteless) canned variety, plus a pat of real truffle butter, which made the coarse-textured mushroom soup explode with flavor when we melted it in. Minus points, though, for the messy arrangement. The dried lotus root made us laugh. A journey to the Orient in the Empire of Taste?
Spanish Veal Chop Flambé ($29) — This pair of massive chops dumped in a wooden bowl were nicely cooked, though we couldn't figure out why an end slice had been lopped off both and concealed among the vegetables. The lavender mashed potatoes also tasted great, but the color was somewhat off-putting.
German Schweinshaxe ($22) — These pork chops were marred by a too-sweet glaze that oddly also carried some chile heat, and the cloying grilled peaches underneath remained uneaten. Once again, we totally dug the purple potatoes.
French Moules-Frites ($19) — What happens when you order mussels and a baby chicken arrives instead? Well, we should have read the dish description more carefully, because it clearly states: "Poussin, Garlic and herb roasted, with baby potatoes and egg, served in the nest)." The menu writer had clearly confused "poisson" (fish) with "poussin" (baby chicken). Lucky for us, the confusion wasn't with "poison." This dish is really Russian chicken tabaka under deep cover.
The baby chicken had the most over-the-top plating of all, on a metal salver done up with small sticks to resemble a nest, with a pair of smaller nests on each side, each containing a single boiled quail egg. But absurdist platings are clearly Troy's long suit, as if Salvador Dali were in the kitchen improvising wildly with mainly modern ingredients in a Russian-gone-loony vein. Still, it's a shame there's really nothing ancient about the menu. As the pitchman asks, "Did you ever wander what your ancestors during the early ages or the medieval era ate for lunch?" We did, but are still no closer to knowing.
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