Big city flavors at suburban Towson, Md’s Cafe Troia [classic article]

The heart of the historic, commercial and legislative center of Towson is changing, restaurant-wise . . . as it rightly should. With two colleges within walking distance and many wealthy residents within 10 minutes’ drive, it makes sense that restaurants would step things up. What surprised me was the beautiful quality and great flavors of Cafe Troia. I was happy to be hosted to experience it.

One thing I would love to see is a makeover of the interior, as I think some more popping colors and decor would create the anticipation for the cuisine to come.

I started out Calamari alla Griglia: fresh calamari grilled and tossed with a dash of balsamic vinegar and herbs. It was a different — and lighter — preparation of the seafood than is common. It’s simple, yet special. The calamari was tender and flavorful. With this and all the courses, portions were very generous.

I also tried their Autumn Salad: mixed greens, rum raisins, pistachios, shaved carrot and candied orange, dressed with a blood orange vinaigrette. This is a modern salad with marvelous composition. I think lots of people like fruits and nuts in salads, but are bored to tears with cranberries and walnuts. Though this salad is in an American style, it uses Mediterranean ingredients in new ways. It has some sweetness, but not overly so — it still piques the appetite.

An entree that would be at home in any fine dining restaurant across the planet is Orecchiette al Tonno:
disc shaped pasta with pan-seared tuna, garlic, olives, capers, onion, sun-dried tomato, arugula and a dash of balsamic vinegar. It had beautiful tender, sushi-grade fresh tuna — I ordered mine rare and that’s how I got it. The orecchiette was properly cooked — not always the case in restaurants with this pasta named after little ears. At some places, they can be too al dente.

I was there on a brutally cold night, so Ossobuco alla Milanese hit the spot. It’s their signature veal shank stewed until tender with tomato, herbs and red wine. The veal was tender and had a meatier flavor than veal scallops, for example. The tomatoes and wine added tanginess to the dish. The cut included a huge bone filled with marrow — a treat! The bone was laced on the outside with pesto. You can order it with risotto or house-made gnocchi. I got the gnocchi, which also had good texture — not gummy or starchy.

For a great seasonal dessert, try the spiced bourbon gelato: full of flavor (not just milk and ice notes), rich and creamy.

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