I really wish we had more Turkish food in San Francisco. I also lament the dearth of Greek food as well. Is it so hard to get a good souvlaki here? Maybe it's just too freaking cold so all those hot-blooded Mediterraneans are tempted to stay away. Anyway, ~TROYA RESTAURANT~, a Turkish and Mediterranean place, has been holding down a breezy corner in the Inner Richmond for a few years, and can now boast a new chef, Randy Gannaway--he was most recently at Aziza (he was previously a sous chef at The Girl and the Fig, and worked at Carneros Bistro & Wine Bar at The Lodge in Sonoma). Troya is the picture of a neighborhood restaurant--nice and friendly staff, affordable pricing, a comfortable casual atmosphere, and while it's not a place I would insist someone trek cross-town for, it does have its own little charms. It's definitely on a higher level than the other Turkish joints around town, more sit-down than hole-in-the-wall.
Troya would actually be an ideal date spot--easygoing vibe, not packed or too noisy or expensive, there are a number of prime tables flanking the window, and it has soft lighting (flattering lighting, always key). There's even a fireplace, but I don't know how I feel about it being so close to the cool-looking sunburst wine rack.
My dining partners and I started with the zucchini cakes ($6), two tender falafel-sized patties that were a touch salty, but evened out against the coriander mint aioli. We preferred the seared lamb loin ($7) marinated with çemen (a feisty fenugreek paste). They warn you the lamb is served rare, which is important because most folks would freak with meat this rare, but man, with a swipe of the cumin yogurt and a piece of the watercress, it made for a heavenly little bite. I have to hand it to the chef, he learned well at Aziza: he gets whole lambs here, and uses all the parts for various dishes.
Another tasty app was the trio of skewers of calamari ($7) stuffed with spinach, eggplant, and goat cheese. The creamy center played nice with the smokiness of the tender calamari--there was also a slight kick too. But the cannellini beans underneath were a bit grainy, and the fennel and radicchio salad needed more salt.
There was a bunch of other mezes to choose from, like a lentil salad, or grilled halloumi, and of course some dolmas and spreads. (Vegetarians will have a good selection of choices here.) All the mezes are about $7, and the mains hover around $15, so this place could be ideal for a large group trying to get their swerve on, but still watch their budget. And not like I am one to encourage corkage (here's a good wino piece from Alex Fox on the matter) but it's only $15--if you're going to go that route, I say for every bottle you bring for your group, order one off the list.
Okay, back to the eats. From the mains, we tried the chicken güvec ($14.50), two crisp legs of Fulton Valley Ranch chicken (darn, a touch overdone) with a scrumptious almond coriander sauce. Very casserole-like, a total "mom is cookin'" hearty kind of dish. The base of parsnip, eggplant, and olives made it tangy, and tasty. Extra-delish with a side of basmati rice pilaf ($4) that comes gussied up with some sumac.
The beyti ($15), a sliced-up wrap of adana lamb in flatbread with tomato and yogurt sauce, while a nice presentation, felt strange as an entrée. If it's what I would have ordered as my main dish, I would have been bummed--it felt too lunch-y, and would be better as a shared app. As it was, the tomato sauce had a weird wang to it, like it was from a can. We were told it was sumac in it, but whatever it was, the sauce was lacking in certain charms. It also felt spendy compared to the satisfaction-factor of the chicken dish.
The mushroom manti ($13.50) are a traditional Turkish treat, almost like a rolled ravioli. They are delicate and especially tender here--ends up a Turkish lady comes in to make them. We heart her. Wonderful with the yogurt sauce and the drizzle of paprika oil.
Dessert included a pot de crème ($6) that was too cold and thick, and I didn't taste the rose in the dollop of cream on top. A better choice is the traditional route, like the künefe ($6), shaped like a little brick made of shredded kadayif (phyllo that's crispy, almost the texture of shredded wheat) that is baked to order, and comes with sweet fromage blanc in the middle, and topped with pistachios. I wish it wasn't so late when I dined there, because dessert would have been perfect with some Turkish coffee ($3).
The food isn't faaaaabulous, with some dishes scoring higher than others. But I suspect as Gannaway settles in more, the menu will continue to improve and get honed in--he's really passionate about the food, and I appreciate his commitment to using quality ingredients, organic where possible, and still keeping the prices where they are (no easy feat).
The wine list is more thoughtful than your "usual ethnic place," with most by-the-bottle selections hovering at $40, split between Californian and European choices, plus a fair number of by-the-glass selections for a restaurant of this size. Oh, and one handy thing to note: Troya is open continuously for lunch from Friday through Sunday, a spiffy thing for your back pocket the next time you're hungry for lunch at 4pm, and everything is closed. A crafty Trojan horse you can spring on someone, perhaps.
349 Clement St.
Cross: 5th Ave.
San Francisco, CA 94118