Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Steak and cheese? Puh-leeze. Try the Parish Cafe...

Sandwiches do not typically evoke much excitement from this reviewer given the unwarranted mass appeal of retail chains that include D’Angelos, Quiznos, and Subway. One surprising alternative, however, the Parish Café, resides in Boston. Situated directly on bustling Boylston Street, this establishment elevates sandwiches to an art form by consulting with several local culinary giants - including Radius chef/owner Michael Schlow and Blue Ginger’s celebrity chef/owner Ming Tsai – who provide their own unique variations on the often substandard sandwich. Did this experimentation ultimately appeal to Paul’s Palate or would I simply be left craving a measly steak and cheese sub at D’Angelos?

Although the café’s dining area is somewhat crammed and one must nearly resort to shouting in order to be heard, the atmosphere is rather relaxed once we settle in to our table. Given the busy environment of the restaurant, the wait staff is friendly, albeit interchangeable. While these comings and goings smoothly keep our meal moving at a pleasant pace, they do diminish our overall satisfaction level with service. There is something to be said for developing a rapport with one, and not several, attentive servers.

Our meal begins with one of the most memorable appetizers I can recall tasting. We munch away on the heralded roasted reggae wings, which come marinated in a potent blend of Jamaican jerk spices, fresh citrus and soy. The amount meat on these wings is generous and extremely succulent. As an added bonus, the wings are accompanied by a heavenly concoction of banana-mango chutney. This reviewer could have gnawed on several of these wings and simply called it a day. As the waiter removes this savory dish, we begrudgingly proceed to our entrees.

The sandwiches, however, prove equally delectable, and are simply awe-inspiring given their boldness and combination of flavors. My companion, who is a regular inhabitant here, resorts to what she identifies as “old reliable,” otherwise known as the Zuni Roll. This sandwich, enmeshed in a warmed flour tortilla, contains smoked turkey, bacon, scallions, dill havarti cheese, and cranberry-chipotle sauce, and is as good as it sounds. The turkey is moist and virtually melts in one’s mouth. In an adventurous mood, I decide to order the Schlesinger, aptly named for East Coast Grille’s chef/owner, Chris. This sandwich consists of warm banana-nut bread, smoked ham, Monterey jack cheese, mango chutney, and pickled ginger red cabbage. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t initially feel queasy, if not intrigued by this perplexing combination of ingredients. The result, however, is pure magic. This innovative item is one of the most mouth-watering meals I’ve enjoyed feasting upon, and I suddenly have the urge to walk over to Mr. Schlesinger’s establishment and shake his hand in admiration.

The homemade white chocolate brioche bread pudding brings the meal to a successful conclusion. This dessert is served warm and is sufficiently moist to boot. Fortunately, it does not suffer the fates of similar plates, which include excess heat, syrup and whipped cream, and which are frequently on the heavier side.

Value is just right based upon the flavorful fare to be had. Appetizers range from $8-$12, while sandwiches fluctuate from $12-$15. Not bad, considering this patron would find himself in the poorhouse dining at one of the Parish Cafe’s all-star consultant chef’s main establishments (such as the aforementioned Radius and Blue Ginger). I apologize in advance, D’Angelos, but I believe I’m going to pass on that steak and cheese sub for now. Paul’s Palate can’t bear to take another bite.

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