Friday, March 27, 2009

Take Me Back To Paris

About a year ago I went to Paris for the first time. Prior to my visit, I had a strong distaste for French food – too much butter and fat, tiny little portions, disgusting raw meats and, most often, ridiculously overpriced. I steered clear of almost all French restaurants until I was standing in the middle of Paris, and had no other option but to surrender to its French fare. After that first, melt-in-your-mouth bite of the sugar-sprinkled croissant that I stopped for on the Champs-Elysées I started to fall in love. But sugar will do that to me. Let’s just say I became much more open-minded to French cuisine during this trip, but not entirely due to the food, rather due to the comfortable and cozy ambience of the brasseries and the quaint little cafés that lined the streets. So imagine my delight when Stephen Starr opened Parc on Rittenhouse Square, touted as replicating an authentic French brasserie. Since Parc opened last summer I have been a few times and have loved each experience, but what has me concerned is my sister’s horrible review of Parc, comprised after her visit to the brasserie with my soon-to-be brother-in-law, who, not to mention, erroneously concurred with her faulty judgment. As a result, I was bound and determined to salvage the damage from the rumors my sister was spreading about Parc, thus I made a reservation to take my mom there – who, by the way, was the only person hearing these “rumors”.

Upon our arrival, they seated us at a perfect little window table for two. My mom immediately commented on what a pleasant surprise it was that the tables were not cramped together. I responded, quizzically, “What gave you that idea?” Guess who? That’s right – the “Parc-Monster”, my sister! I could see I had plenty of damage to control. I find the ambience of Parc to be rather unique in that amidst the bustling yet relaxed vibe of the dining room, each little table maintains its own escape from the rest of the room, where I can focus on my dining companion, but still enjoy the energy of my surroundings. Perhaps this is due to the fact that the tables are distanced appropriately and the noise-level is just right. My mother agreed. Hence, I managed to dispel another faulty myth created by the “Parc-Monster”, who had commented that the dining room was “ridiculously loud”.

The bread is always a highlight at Parc, and rightly so. My personal favorite is the slice of whole grain with cranberries, but my mom preferred the French baguette, perfectly crispy on the outside, light and airy on the inside. But before we filled up on the bread, we started with the Macaroni Gratin, which was nothing less than a cheesy bowl of heaven topped with a tasty layer of crunchy breadcrumbs. I have added it to my list of “must-haves” for when I return. My main entrée was not hard to decide upon because I get it every time - the Beef Bourguignon. I am a huge fan of comfort foods and this dish reminds me of the home-cooked meal my mom always made for me growing up, consisting of big chunks of beef over creamy mashed potatoes and vegetables. My mom ordered the Seared Sea Scallops which were seared to a crisp perfection, and served over a bed of beluga lentils and wild mushrooms. I was so impressed that I would consider surpassing my usual for the Scallops, but I won’t get ahead of myself. You are probably wondering what the “Parc-Monster” had to say about the food. According to her, there were four items on the menu, none of which were notable by any means. I have the menu for Parc pulled up on my computer, in fact, and will testify that there are a total of 16 unique entrée selections on the menu, as well as 4 additional sides that can be ordered separately. Thus, another “rumor” has been proved false.

Finally, we topped our enjoyable Parisian experience off with the Profiteroles, little pastries stuffed with vanilla ice cream and garnished with a rich chocolate sauce. Overall, my mom was delighted with this wonderful little Rittenhouse brasserie, and I had succeeded in my mission to put the “Parc-Monster” to rest! As usual, Stephen Starr continues to impress. My journal observation would go something like this, “Sit by the window inside the restaurant so that you can peer out and laugh at the unassuming diners on the outside, who are sipping their Taittinger and trying to look pretty as passersby walk with their dogs that bark and attempt to pee on said diners’ ‘please-look-at-me’ Louboutin’s.” Next I will review Butcher & Singer, another Starr standout.

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