First Look: Truva

Turkish with a side of belly dancing downtown

"What can I say? I love it so much. Hmmm? What can I say about kazan dibi?"

The server at one of the three tables occupied at Truva (60 Andrew Young International Blvd., 404-577-8788) was waxing ecstatically about the flanlike, caramelized custard on the restaurant's dessert menu.

"Kazan dibi is creamy. ... It's like crème brulee without the topping," he went on. "All I can tell you is that it brings on a state of bliss when I eat it."

The rather dour couple of retirees looked at one another and, sharply, ordered something else – the rice pudding, I believe. I vowed to order the kazan dibi later, but I didn't realize an even sweeter course awaited us, too. But more about that later.

Truva advertises itself as a Mediterranean restaurant with an accent on Turkish food. Indeed, it takes its name from the Turkish word for Turkey. Most of the menu will be familiar to anyone who has eaten in Middle Eastern restaurants. What may seem unfamiliar – warning! – is the entrée prices. You probably could get away spending less than $20 on a few small plates here, but if you order a starter and an entrée, like the $26 lamb shank, your bill's going to go way up, especially if you order from the pricey wine list.

The restaurant is a rather odd place. About a block from Peachtree Street, it's a former Steak & Ale, so don't expect exotic exterior architecture. The interior is vaguely retro – at least to my eyes. The main dining room is sunken with a wraparound, cream-colored banquette with orange and green booths here and there. There's a big stone wall – or is it concrete? – and, in the rear, behind the large bar, is a gigantic undecorated room for private events, I suppose.

While I call this restaurant pricey, it's also yet another that could reduce its portions by half and I doubt anyone would complain. Wayne ordered "Albanian liver," one of a few unfamiliar dishes, for a starter. It was a mountain of cubes of beef liver thinly breaded and fried, served with slivers of raw onion – quite tasty with a hint of cumin and an acidic touch, which took the edge off the liver's inherent gaminess.

I ordered a standard – baba ghanoush, which is roasted eggplant pureed with yogurt and garlic. It was another gigantic portion, good enough, but not close to my favorite at Olive Bistro. Other small plates include hummus, stuffed grape leaves, calamari, falafel, stuffed eggplant and phyllo rolls stuffed with cheese or meats. There are also flatbread "pizzas" with various toppings.

For an entrée, I, as usual, selected the lamb shank. This was the largest shank I recall ever being served (I took half of it home). The menu said it was braised in coriander and mint. While I detected the coriander with no problem, I got no taste of mint at all. Nonetheless, the meat was quite flavorful, as was its jus, but it was placed atop a "pillow" of mashed roasted eggplant that was denser than mashed potatoes. Something lighter – even slices of eggplant – would have been preferable.

Wayne ordered stuffed cabbage, another gigantic portion and only $14, but I found it grossly overcooked – to the degree that the cabbage had the consistency of an enchilada. I didn't much care for the oily taste of the filling's ground beef and lamb, everything drowning in a bland tomato sauce.

As I said, only three tables were occupied during our visit. The restaurant played music way too loud for the number present. Most of it was female vocals that would have been much more enjoyable at half the volume. But never mind that. As we were finishing our entrées, there was a blast of ear-piercing Middle Eastern music that announced that sweet predessert course I mentioned. Yes, a belly dancer, in garb bluer than a peacock's feathers, came writhing out of the shadows to entertain the three tables.

I've written several times before that belly dancers rank just behind mimes as my least favorite form of entertainment. I've received some angry mail from dancers over the years, but I just don't like someone (of either gender) undulating frantically by my table for a tip. This dancer spent most of her time by our table because the retirees appeared completely nonplussed and the person dining alone at the third table literally refused to look at her. This made me feel bad, so I tried to pay more attention. Not that she needed more. Wayne clapped along with the music and stuffed dollar bills in her waistband while she shook and whirled.

After that relatively brief performance, we ordered the blissful kazan dibi. The waiter, who had worked so hard to sell it to the retirees, congratulated us on our choice. Actually, it was the highlight of the meal for me – like a very dense flan with cinnamon.

This restaurant's location makes me think it's mainly targeted to the downtown convention trade. That being likely so, it's not surprising there weren't more people in the restaurant, since we dined Easter evening. I wish I could recommend it more heartily – at least there's a parking lot adjoining it ($5) – but there is better Middle Eastern food in town for much less money. Nicola's comes to mind, but then, that restaurant is even more of a stage for belly dancing.

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