Thursday, February 16, 2012

I’m Just Saying: Parm, NYC

Meatball Hero at Parm, NYC.
 To say there has been a lot of buzz about Parm, the off-shoot of much hailed Torrisi Italian Specialties in New York City, is an understatement.  In one of his first reviews on the job last month, New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells gaveParm two stars out of four.  That is a lot of stars for what is essentially an Italian-American sandwich shop. 

I’ll be the first to admit that unlike Pete Wells, I have not eaten at Parm multiple times.  But I did eat there last weekend with my brother, and one time was enough for me to understand a few simple things about this shrine to the hero. 

1.     Service. Perhaps in an effort to stay true to its Italian-American homage, service is spotty.  The waitresses, who seem to have a thing for cat-eye glasses and orangey red lipstick, paid little attention to our table save to plop down each plate as it came up.  I will give points to the hostess who managed the flow of food tourists like a seasoned air traffic controller, calling my cellphone at a bar down the street at the precise time she said she would when a table opened up.

2.     Calamari. When it comes to calamari, I like tentacles.  For my taste, this basket had too few.  But what it lacked in tentacles it made up for in a pile of sweet fried peppers mixed with the lightly breaded, but otherwise ordinary, calamari rings.   As my brother and I sparred forks over the last peppers, I almost wished our basket had been filled with just that.   

Calamari, Parm, NYC.

3.     Chicken Parm. Close my eyes, and I could have been at any cheap-o restaurant in the country eating the chicken parm hero, complete with the acrid taste of burnt oil.  You know, that bitterness that comes from a flat top that hasn’t been cleaned well enough, or a vat of frying oil that has seen too many baskets of fried things go through it?  Yeah, our chicken tasted a bit like that.  I’m just saying… that’s not a flavor you expect in from a restaurant team that is supposedly revolutionizing Italian-American food.

4.     Meatball. And then came the meatball. The meatball hero at Parm is not of any restaurant, or planet for that matter, that I have ever encountered.  The sweet, pink, melt-in-your-mouth combination of veal, beef, and Italian sausage is a revelation in meatball making.  Juicy, tender, and pink, the meat literally melted in my mouth like butter with each bite.  I will never look at a meatball the same way again.

Can a restaurant really thrive off one star-making menu item?  The burnt oil taste of the chicken parm might be forgivable and forgettable was it not so glaringly below the high bar set by the meatball.  But given the enduring popularity of red sauce Italian restaurants in this country, I doubt this one diner’s opinion will keep the hoards away.  That meatball really is something to behold, to hold, and to lustily devour.  But as for the blah calamari and chicken parm, I could find that mediocre standard anywhere you can find an Italian restaurant in this country, probably with no wait and at a fraction of the price.  I’m just saying….

Amy Powell is a food and travel writer based in New York City. She is a graduate of Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration and the French Culinary Institute. Follow her on Twitter @amymariepowell

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