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Shannon DeCelle

Troy Polloi
By B.A. Nilsson

Monument Square Café
254 Broadway, Troy, 274-0167. Serving lunch Mon-Fri 11:30-2:30; dinner Mon-Sat 5-10. AE, D, MC, V.

Food: H H H H
Service: Eager
Ambience: Noisy

I offer this only as a statement of fact: I don’t know what purpose it serves to gather at a bar after leaving work at five o’clock. I haven’t held a nine-to-fiver in nearly 30 years. I dig the notion of post-job unwinding, when beer never tastes better, but my gigs typically end much later at night. At five I’d be thinking about getting home and getting some supper started, because the prep is going to take at least a half-hour, with again as much time needed for cooking.

If you’re trying to get your evening meal together in less time than that, you’re missing one of the great joys of living. Sure, there’s a huge chunk of the food industry devoted to the concept of the “30-minute gourmet,” but it’s generally pandering to the hurry you believe you’re in. Devote the appropriate amount of time to the rituals of dinner, and the rest of your life will also be eased.

Or you can go out to eat. Trouble is, when you do so at the Monument Square Café, you’ll find the bar area crowded with people busily unwinding after work, and they’re noisy. Also, the room is a giant echo chamber that bounces the hubbub off the tin ceilings and shiny walls, and mixes it with the music crowing harshly in the background.

“They could do magical things with muslin,” my wife, Susan, said as we sat in the pleasant-looking dining room, separated visually from the bar area by a room-long divider. “Drape it like clouds across the ceiling to absorb some of the noise. Since it would seriously diffuse the lighting up there, they could put lamps along the walls, which would make the room look less harsh.”

Open since March, Monument Square Café is the latest enterprise of Buzz and Laurie Literski, last seen shepherding nearby Daisy Baker’s to life, and before that working at the now-closed Allegro Café. The current location of the restaurant was once the Capehouse, which took a dizzying fall from best seafood restaurant in the area to an annoying mediocrity. The charm (and noise) of the old place is preserved, and the staff is eager, efficient and very helpful.

Although the restaurant bills itself as continental, the fare has a decidedly Mediterranean edge (in the Northern Italy region). Among the appetizers, you find a spinach-ricotta crepe in garlic cream ($4), skewered lamb on rosemary sprigs ($8) and oysters served three ways (Lauren, Rockefeller, mignonette, $8).

Pasta dishes run from a simple fettuccine pomodoro ($8) to wide pappardelle with wild mushrooms in a wine demi-glaze ($13). Other entrées are divided between “small plates” and “signature plates,” each in different price ranges. The former ($9 to $13) include veal scallopine with wild mushrooms, grilled lamb chops, pan-seared salmon and vinegar pepper chicken; the latter ($16-$23) is where you find steak and shellfish.

We were dining on a deadline. We needed to get up the hill to RPI by 8 PM, and I didn’t know exactly how to reach my destination. So we decided to forego appetizers. “I’ll just get a salad,” said Susan, and I reckoned that would add a negligible delay.

The menu offers three salads. For $7 you can get a combo of roasted pear, blue cheese and toasted pecans, or an arugula salad with parmesan; Susan chose the mixed baby greens with herb vinaigrette ($4), which proved to be a generous array of fresh baby greens ringed with endive leaves and grape tomatoes with a very tasty dressing.

But this would mean she’d be eating while my daughter, Lily, and I starved. So I asked for an appetizer portion of a pasta dish: gnocchi with garlic and olive oil. “We don’t make appetizer portions,” our server explained, so I reluctantly agreed for the regular size ($9) and silently asked the heavens why it is that pasta, of all things, can’t be rendered smaller. It can, of course, and our server quickly returned to tell us so. Good for her for checking, and we were served just enough (at $5.50) to take an edge off our appetites. This was a classic gnocchi preparation of potato-based dough, with plum tomatoes and fresh basil filling out the flavor. Nice presence of garlic, too, for that pesto flavor—but this produced a more powerful effect than my entrée would, which only underscores the fact that it’s offered as a main course.

Susan ordered a paella special ($19) that placed clams, shrimp, scallops, a couple of sausage slices and lots of chicken in a tomato-enhanced rice casserole with plenty of basil. A little soupy, perhaps, but there’s no hard-and-fast rule on this dish. It’s a great way to usher in autumn.

Mine was the Tuscan grilled trout ($16), which turned out to be just the filets, butterflied, grilled and served over mashed potatoes. An impressive sculpture, with an attractive, slightly bland piece of fish, but the potatoes were reconstituted from a mix and thus had an oddly lump-free texture with not much flavor at all. More was offered by the grilled vegetables that finished the plate.

We didn’t stay for dessert, most of which are obtained from local purveyors but which include an in-house bananas Foster that sounded quite tempting. As it was, we had leftovers to tide us through the following day’s lunch, and at a not-bad price: dinner for two, with tax and tip and a couple of glasses of wine, was $68.

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