I was intrigued by the October 21st unveiling of Parker House in the historical Lougheed Building. Named after The Parker House Hotel in Boston (est. 1896) I see a poetic irony in having a local restaurant pay homage to New England’s culinary tradition while being located in a heritage building in landlocked Calgary. Complimented by the ever famous Parker House rolls, the menu has been kept secret with few knowing what to truly expect. I had to know!
Side note: eating and writing about a restaurant that is 11 days old may be an excuse to temper expectations and write off issues as a work in progress…but customers should never compromise. If the restaurant is charging full prices, expect good service and food. Problems aren’t our concern. We have enough overpriced “fine dining” spots getting away with inconsistency in service and food quality. Enough of my rant...on to the food.
Upon being greeted by a happy hostess (that makes 2 in Calgary) and seated on the mezzanine level we were provided a lovely amuse-bouche featuring a seared scallop topped with bacon foam and surrounded by a brilliant orange infused cocktail sauce. A lovely beginning accomplishing its intended nefarious mission….I was now salivating.
I was overwhelmed by the menu. There are so many thing to try. Resigned to an evening of gluttony we settled on Manhattan clam chowder, duck wings, trio of oysters, braised beef ribs and lobster turnovers…to start.
The Manhattan clam chowder ($7.23) was quite good…if you don’t like the taste of clams or clam juice. Subsequently my wife loved it as she despises clammy flavors. I thought it was more like a very good vegetable soup with clams. It wasn’t bad, on the contrary it was a great tasting soup…but it wasn’t what I expected from Manhattan chowder.
The duck wing portion scared me ($14.54). Three layers of sweet chili glazed log cabin style stacked wings with gorgonzola dip and ancho chili chutney on the side. This was all the meaty goodness one could hope for when eating duck. The wings could be a tad crispier but that’s a preference. They were served warm and tasted fabulous. The dip and the chutney were both excellent compliments to the glaze.
Oysters trio ($18.78) featured shucked, Rockefeller, and Cajun spiced fritters. There’s nothing like a fresh oyster for me but in this case the Cajun fritters stole the show…by a long shot. Light batter with the right amount of spice and crispiness. I could have eaten dozens of these jewels.
Thankfully our final appetizers came out on one plate because by this point I’m sure people around us were counting and we didn’t need another serving on our table. At some point during the appetizers we received the coveted Parker House rolls…but I’ll come back to those. Enter a half pound of braised beef short ribs ($12.12) and the lobster turnovers ($17.68). The maple glaze on the ribs is something I could smear on ANY meat. Outstanding flavor and the ribs were fork tender. The 3 puff pastry turnovers were served with a coriander and lime aioli. Wonderfully light puff pastry with a piping hot, creamy filling and in nice balance with the aioli. At this point I call a time-out. The entrée order can wait…but what about the rolls…
Per an online search engine…"a Parker House roll is a shape of bread roll made by flattening the center of a ball of dough with a rolling pin so that it becomes an oval shape and then folding the oval in half. They are made with milk and are generally quite buttery, soft, and slightly sweet with a crispy shell." My take…imagine the best tasting dinner roll you’ve ever had…just like the description above…buttery, soft, sweet, warm…now add the flavor of fleur de sel and you have it. Served with a daily flavored butter (we had fennel and sambuca) these sweet yet salty “works of art” will keep me coming back on their own…there’s nothing like them in Calgary. It’s not just a bun; it’s a triumph of baking in our food scene.
Maybe some lighter entrées would be in order…the grilled spring chicken with chili glaze and fettuccine alfredo ($24.68)….or the lobster mac’n 3 cheeses ($24.45)….no no it has to be the seafood cannelloni in rosé brandy sauce ($22.75)…forget that, it’s the crab boil ($25.15)…okay we finally decide on the roasted salmon with porcini crust in shellfish consommé ($22.45) and bison osso buco with saffron risotto ($40.62).
The salmon was lovely. Moist and cooked to perfection. The shellfish broth was better than the clam chowder (I assume they come from the same stock so what gives?). The portion of bison was ridiculous….even if I hadn’t gorged on appetizers there’s no way I would have finished the massive shank. Just like the ribs, it was fork tender. The risotto had gorgeous color with saffron permeating every little spec of rice. Excellent finish!
I could not have been happier with my first jaunt to Parker House. Next time I will definitely dine on the lighter side and taste a few items it just wasn’t possible to sample given the limits of my beltline. The Guinness steamed mussels and multiple varieties of aged, organic steaks featuring local producers caught my eye (and I rarely order steak). All desserts are $7.63 but there’s no way I could even attempt one…though the skillet baked brownie with vanilla black pepper ice cream will meet my tummy soon…
Regarding the service…it was friendly, courteous and though a little awkward at times I have no complaints. The wine list has many values by the bottle and by the glass. It’s not a deep list overall but it does feature the Euro Cave preservation system with six whites ($6-15 range) and ten reds ($7-14 range). More than enough to choose from. On this evening Penfold’s Bin 389 was a featured wine which was served at proper temperature. My first glass reeked of detergent but a new glass was provided without delay.
You will be impressed by the room, or should I say rooms of Parker House. There’s a dining room, mezzanine level, lounge area (3 piece jazz bands included) and a basement with private dining room. Nothing was missed in this space from the impeccable glass tile (about $250K worth) to the hand made, mouth blown glass chandeliers (cost unknown, but feared!). I have no idea what this place cost to build but it’s gorgeous. Sure to be Calgary’s newest hotspot, I’ll be back, with friends!