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Blurring Culinary Borders at Parm

February 21, 2012

Chinese at an Italian restaurant?  Yes, I read it right and so did you – the nightly special on Sunday nights at Parm, the Italian off-shoot of the popular Torrisi’s, is indeed Chinese.  How will translate?  What kind of strange fusion will the dish taste like?  Curiosity alone was enough to bring my appetite and I along with an adventurous dining companion in tow down to Nolita.  Of course, Parm also has one of the best sandwiches in town (warm hand carved roasted turkey and crispy chicken parm) so this trip would be worth it for their Italian specialties alone, even if this Chinese/Italian culinary experiment turns out to be a flop.

We arrived at 5.30pm on a Sunday thinking that we would beat the crowd.  Word to the wise, all food fanatics think alike as we found a rather sizable crowd waiting around the tight squeeze of a bar in the front of the restaurant.  The hostess kindly informed us that the reservations are taken around 5.45pm and seating starts at 6.00pm.  Because we weren’t even close to the first ones in line, we were given a 6.30pm seating.  Good thing we are in Nolita/Soho and the winter has been gentle enough to allow for a bit of window shopping as we passed time.

As predicted, around 6.30pm, we were led to the back of the restaurant to a tiny table top for 2.  The small space was already filled with delicious aromas, notes of basil, olive oil and garlic piquing my senses.  It was not the most comfortable seating as conversations from tables less than a foot away from us invaded ours.  Nonetheless, we focused on the food and after a quick consult, we were ready to place our rather enormous order with the waitress.  A few Italian classics to start the meal.  And a quick note, if you are eyeing the garlic bread, please do not skimp and get it deluxe.  The deluxe consists of a light and fresh plate of ricotta with a fresh tomato sauce and a drizzle of garlic olive oil.  The crunchy savory bread with a smear of this deluxe mixture did a little dance in my mouth.

A basket of fresh and crisp calamari was accompanied by fried peppers along with a classic marinara and a spicy aioli.  Beware of the peppers though!  Not all of them are sweet and innocent as I discovered when one released a ball of heat in my mouth.

As we worked our way through the calamari, a large ball of house-made mozzarella wrapped in prosciutto appeared at our table.  Now, I confess shamefully that one of my least favorite things is cold mozzarella (I am ducking for cover) for a number of reasons.  That said, having had the mozzarella at Torrisis, I knew that this was no ordinary mozzarella.  Each mouthful was firm yet creamy and the prosciutto lent a salty bite to the cheese.  Now, this is one great piece of cheese if it can get me to change my mind, even just temporarily.

Parm has a variety of vegetables to choose from and we picked the brussel sprouts to be our token vegetable dish for the night.  The portion was rather small but boy were they delicious.  The morsels were fork tender and the first bite revealed a burst of freshness from mint and parsley.  The dusting of parmesan added the perfect salty punch to the rather mild cabbage.

When we were half way through the Italian dishes, the Chinese portion appeared.  The Chinese special started with a bowl of unbelievably light fried wonton skins topped with an addictingly sweet plum sauce and a pungent mustard.  I found myself eating more than I should of this twist on the classic Chinese restaurant appetizer.

The special dish was Chinese style pork ribs over fried rice with sweet sausage.  The ribs were done in the traditional Chinese char shiu fashion.  A little messy and quite tender, these were satisfying and rather filling.  The fried rice buried underneath was surprisingly light, filled with scallions, chive blossoms and snow peas, none of that frozen vegetable medley stuff.

And of course, what’s a meal at a restaurant named Parm without a parm sandwich?  We couldn’t resist and ordered a chicken parm on a roll.  Perhaps it’s because we were already stuffed with delicious plates or it might have been an off night, but the chicken parm didn’t taste as mindblowingly amazing as I had remembered.  Regardless, still a respectable sandwich with plump pieces of chicken and a sweet and light sauce with fresh basil leaves.

What was my verdict?  The Parm definitely had fun creating their version of the classical dishes from Chinatown and it translated into, dare I say, better versions of their well-known inspirations.  This was even clear down to the little sweet bites that came with our check, an orange wedge along with a Baci.  I was definitely intrigued enough by their creativity to come back and try another nightly special.   Perhaps the Italian Thanksgiving on Thursdays or the Zuppa di Pesces on Friday nights?  And for the less adventurous, I promise that you will find yourself more than satisfied with Parm’s selection of Italian classics from garlic knots to mozzarella to chicken or meatball parm platters.  Just take a look at the line that gathers each day during lunch and dinner times.

Parm | 248 Mulberry Street, New York, NY 10012 | http://parmnyc.com

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