Sweating It Out In The Parish

There’s something a bit disheartening about going to a recently opened (3 months?) restaurant in the Pearl on a summer’s day of nearly 100 degrees and not finding air conditioning. Are spaces even allowed to open in the environs of the Pearl without A/C? When this was a cooking school before, wouldn’t they have had A/C?IMG_3079 I mean, what the……….? (fill in with your own comfort level of disdain-laden language.) This is a weird complaint coming from me, as my body is nearly always cold and corpse-tempered, and although I had been dying from the heat for two days, I didn’t even turn on my car A/C until I was nearly to the restaurant. So if I was over-heated, it must have been uncomfortable. I know the South is supposed to be all hot and sweaty, but would an upscale restaurant really open in a upper class district without having A/C? It seems highly unthinkable, so I can’t help but wonder if maybe the A/C at The Parish had broken down, or was overwhelmed by the extreme heat, or just not effective in the little private room we were shuttled to, off the main dining room. You would think they would mention it to us though, if one of the latter scenarios was the case, as they had to notice we were hot, as we kept asking for pitchers of ice and saying “man, we’re hot” and because the waiter looked incredibly uncomfortable himself (although the young hostesses seemed fresh all evening.)

Actually, I had read and heard how nice the decor was inside The Parish, and that the owners (the EaT Oyster Bar people) had done their best to bring an upscale New Orleans dining house to Portland, so I would have liked to have seen more than our hot and noisy little room. Even a trip to the restroom yielded no results (so to speak) as it was within steps of our isolation chamber, so the only interesting thing I could see was jars of pickled goods under the hostesses station. As for our room, besides the big table and the torture chairs, the only other things to look at (besides the “winners” I was dining with, tee hee) was a rather ratty looking wild boar head mounted high on the wall opposite me (wild boars could use a comb and a toothbrush) and a rather creepy black and white old timey photograph of three youths dressed is very scary evangelical garb.IMG_3094 As is usual with these private rooms, not exactly decked out to the nines. I can understand why sometimes people put large, loud, unruly groups in these separate areas (for example, bachelorette parties or groups of prom-goers) but we are distinguished diners who have to be a good example to other patrons with our effusive ordering, so why wouldn’t restaurants want to show us off? (rather sadly, RR’s loud and crazy days of boisterous and improper behavior and subject matter (diddle rooms) seem to have ceased and desisted long ago. My current regulars are great, but I miss those occasional kooks.) The problem with most private dining areas, they lack the character of the rest of the restaurant (one exception, Aviary) so not only do you not get the flavor of the restaurant, your surroundings are often lifeless.

I’m very thankful that this summer I have been experiencing better than usual turnouts, once again due to my food-lovin’ group of current regulars. IMG_3083This time my roster of nine was very similar to the group we had a Carpaccio Trattoria, Glenda, Heidi, Julian, Hank, David, Shohong, Cora and Sam, with one notable addition, Sam’s father, Jerry, who was visiting from Chicago. Although it was between 95-100 degrees out, Jerry, in his 8th decade, was a real trooper. Over the last couple of days he had been at Smith Rock, Silver Falls, and now to a non-air conditioned restaurant. What endurance! Somehow, everyone had one thing in common this evening, we were too hot. Even little Hank, who was a model gentleman at the last dinner, seemed a bit more testy this evening, as he too seemed overheated, Luckily, on the couple of occasions he cried a bit, the acoustics were so bad we could barely hear him. He did seem to be sucking his bottle with incredible vigor though, perhaps wishing for a cool Mint Julep. Also, like his mother, he seems to have an appreciation for good books. In Heidi’s case, she savors reading them, in Hank’s case, he gnaws on them with great relish.

 As long as we are beginning with a complaint-fest (although my review gets better, I swear) nearly as bad as the heat was the acoustics in our little sauna (private dining room, I mean) this was a scream-to-be-heard dinner, the sound quality was terrible, seemingly too many hard surfaces. At one point, as I was the first to arrive, the waiter was standing by my side speaking to me (there were just two of us in this private room) and I didn’t even know he was there, and I just turned to stare at him, like a deaf, heat-addled zombie.IMG_3084 Nothing like getting the evening off on a fun note! Most of the rest of the dinner, we could see Glenda’s mouth moving, but god only knows what she might have been saying. It could be the main dining room is more pleasant for the ears. And my last major complaint, the chairs were not only hard, non-body fitting, and uncomfortable, but slippery as all get out. When I first sat down, I kept feeling like I was going to plummet to the floor (okay, they weren’t quite high enough to plummet.) A good illustration of this was about a third of the way through our dinner, one moment Heidi was sitting on her chair, and the next moment, she was under the table, on the floor. This scared the bejeezus out of all of us, as she was holding little Hank at the time, but both emerged unscathed. Evidently Heidi was having a bad day all the way around, as she has earlier fallen out of bed and trashed out half of her and Julian’s bed chamber in the process, breaking furniture but no limbs. In this case it had to be the chairs though, as I had witnessed what slippery monsters they were myself.

Okay, here comes my last, last major area of complaint. Shouldn’t you warn people if they want bread, it’s $1 a slice? (or perhaps a tad less, when you factor the butter into the equation.) Unless I know a restaurant serves bread, if I don’t see it around and none arrives by the time you have the starters, I figure the restaurant does not serve bread.IMG_3080 A time or two someone has asked for bread at places that didn’t seem to serve bread, and some soon arrived (I suppose this is a good way to save on bread costs, don’t give people bread unless they ask,) Since we were in our black hole room, I couldn’t judge from other tables or what was going by with servers, but while The Parish seems like the kind of place that would give you bread, I got the impression this was not their policy. Sam and father of Sam (at least it wasn’t son of Sam) had soup, so Sam decided some bread would be nice, and asked the waiter. Soon, three plates with three slices of toasted white bread and that butter that is made from other people’s butter appeared (there was nine of us + Hank. No bread for the little one, I guess.) It wasn’t the fanciest bread ever, someone mentioned they thought it was cut up po’ boy buns, but it was toasted well enough, and with the butter it was decent, if not “Portland, City of Bread” good. Luckily it came late enough in the meal that it wasn’t gobbled with abandon and more requested, our usual routine. We did eat all but one slice. I mention this because when the bill came it included three bread charges of $3, or $1 a piece. Sometimes we see that people offer bread as an option on their menus, and we buy some, because we really want bread. Shouldn’t you let people know though that if they order bread you are going to charge for it? Isn’t $9 a bit steep for nine slices of hoagie roll? Also, when one person orders optional bread, shouldn’t you discuss with the rest of the table whether they want to buy bread as well, and not just slap this rather daunting charge on the bill at the end. It all seemed tacky.

Usually you can count on these New Orleans places for fun, strong drinks, but sadly for me, this wasn’t a table full of fun, strong drink drinkers, so I was in the minority. David went to check out the bar and saw that they had Drambuie, so even though the waiter had no idea what a Rusty Nail was, David was confident that this was one dinner he would not have to order Scotch and whip out his mini bottle of Drambuie he seems to carry everywhere with him now. Glenda, who is also a lame cocktail drinker unless something is sparkling oriented, wanted a gin and tonic, so I reminded her to remember to request Aviation Gin, which she did. IMG_3082It was such a light pour though, she had to request an additional jigger of fire water. The Sam family (I know their last name is not Bones, and while I think I know what their last name is, Sam will get her underwear in a twist if I mention it) wanted Bloody Mary’s, Sam’s a virgin style, but Jerry’s was too spicy, so he had to send it back. I know Julian had diet cola, and maybe Heidi had red wine? I had a Hemingway Daiquiri, and obviously this Hemingway guy was a lush, as it was strong, strong, strong. Of course, I may not have ever had a non-blended daiquiri before, so maybe that’s how they taste when not watered down with crushed ice.

As sometimes weirdly happens with this group, the A & E reviewed The Parish on the day of our dinner, so the people who had read that largely favorable review had an idea what to and not to order. Strangely though, the Oregonian had mentioned something about small portions, and none of us experienced that.IMG_3096 All servings ranged from adequate to over-abundant. Also, before I came, I wasn’t entirely sure what I would order, as the web menu for The Parish is outdated, and many of the Southern specialties that now populate the menu are not mentioned online (for example, the fried chicken, mentioned by the A & E as the best The Parish has to offer.) When I actually sat down at the restaurant and looked at the menu, there was now too much to order, and I heard several people at the table agonizing over the tasty sounding Southern delicacies. 

 Here are some of the things we started with ……

This is how I started my evening, Three Fried Oysters with remoulade sauce. The breading on these babies was a little lighter and crisper than often found, and the oysters were very fresh and tasty. It’s true that $2 per oyster might be a little steep, but I didn’t get sick later, so what more could a person want from an oyster?

 Pork Rinds – Whenever David sees these on a menu, he tends to get an order for the table (I think this is the third time.IMG_3093 Others – The Gilt Club – gigantic sized and The Woodsman Tavern – orange and cheese covered.) These were very traditional pork rinds, a little larger than what you would get in a sack, but crispy, tasty, and not too greasy, at least as far as what you are actually eating, deep fried pig skin and fat. 

Wedge salad with soft egg & Buttermilk Ranch – this was a big hit at our table, and quite a few were ordered. I though for sure Glenda would go for the Frog Legs (actually Cora did that dastardly deed) but instead she was tempted by the soft egg with this salad, as several people around the table were. 

Fresh Greens with blue cheese dressing and chicken livers – When we dined at Aviary a few months ago I commented on the fact that those folks took something that should be moderately healthy, salad, and made it about as unhealthy as possible, by adding fried chicken skin. IMG_3095Okay, this has to be a toss-up with that one, as you take something that sounds like it should be good for you, fresh greens (just once I’d like to see a menu with rotten greens listed) somewhat sent on the road to ruin by adding creamy blue cheese dressing, then totally trashed out by adding fried chicken livers. I prefer to pretend this salad was much more healthy than the Aviary salad, as at least this one came with a moderate serving of iron in those livers. Whatever the case, the dressing was tasty, and the livers were tasty, and the whole affair wasn’t at all ruined by adding those nasty greens.

Soup du Jour _ This was some sort of special onion soup, maybe Spring Onion soup? (yes, I know it was August.) All of us were dying of heat stroke, and both Sam and her father selected hot soup as their starter. There must be something going on with that bunch ( can two be a bunch?) Whatever, Sam wanted the onion soup, but then was disappointed, as she said it tasted like French Onion Soup.IMG_3089 Jerry, on the other hand, decided the turtle soup sounded interesting (shudder) so went in that direction, hoping they left out the shell. Needless to say, Sam did not want to share her father’s soup, prompting David to comment that Jerry must not share his daughter’s intense fondness for the Earth’s creatures. Jerry said he liked animals well enough, but once the thing was already dead, what did it matter? Let’s hope his house is not filled with domestic pets. As for the Turtle Soup, he was not impressed, saying the extremely dark soup tasted like beef. Maybe the stock was beef, as it might take too many turtles to make a broth. One sounds like too many to me. Don’t take advantage of those poor slowly moving objects in the food chain!

 Ahi w/blackberries and radishes – I don’t know what the actual description of this small plate was, but this is what it looked like from the photo. Although it seems kind of an odd thing for a Southern joint to be peddling, it was a raw or lightly seared piece of tuna with seasonal accompaniments. Heidi ordered it and said it was absolutely delicious, a notion seconded by Julian, who also found it incredible.

Pan-braised frog legs with spring peas and tomato Creole – Here is the actually description of the Kermit-based starter that Cora had.IMG_3097 At least the frog legs weren’t so blatant, as they were all whipped up into a conglomeration plate, rather than naked legs just laying there. I had no idea what it was by looking at it, which was fine and dandy with me, the sensitive meat hypocrite. 

Shrimp Étouffée ~ A spicy Creole stew with a crab stock base & three jumbo gulf shrimp – This was Heidi’s entree, and she was really happy with it, having a delicious meal from beginning to end. Luckily her trip under the table had no impact on her taste buds.

Jambalaya ~ Chicken and house made Andouille Sausage – Jerry wasn’t sure what to order, as like many folks, spicy doesn’t always go down that well, and he didn’t want a sizzling tongue for the rest of his stay either. IMG_3104He thought about the grilled shrimp, but the waiter told him that was the spiciest thing on the menu, so that was out. He was told the Jambalaya was not spicy at all, but I seem to remember him inquiring if the preparation was sort of soupy, and that he was told yes (Jambalaya varies greatly from venue to venue.) Until he got his order though, I had forgotten that this was one of the items the A & E mentioned was not overly good, and was somewhat like a Southern fried rice. Sure enough, it arrived, and it was incredibly sauceless and dry. Jerry said he enjoyed the flavor of the sausage and the chicken, but the rest was just too dried out. It really did look like a giant mound of fried rice.

Pork shoulder – I think the cut of pork Shuhong ordered was pork shoulder. It looked like a nice preparation, but neither she nor David appeared to like the sauce. David’s comment, “why do people think pork is supposed to be sweet?” My opinion (all that matters in the world, of course) sometimes a sweet pork preparation can be the best, it all depends on the cut of meat and the sauce. I guess this wasn’t the right combo.

Strangely, although they were not sitting near each other, or talking much, Cora and Sam both had a starter then a plate of baked oysters for their main dish, each selecting the same combo and amount of oysters and Collard Greens on the side. Baked Oysters – 3 Rockefeller with Watercress & Spinach puree topped with Parmesan cheese and 3 Bienville with Mushroom Bechamel sauce. IMG_3100Sam, apparently having oysters after a long lay-off from oyster associated illness, approached the first three oysters with interest, but then lost enthusiasm, finally making others around our table eat half of what she ordered. Cora enjoyed her oysters, and ate one or two of Sam’s as well (I think she took one home.) This might be the first time I’ve had baked oysters, and the Rockefeller preparation certainly was fancy, with the browned cheese on top. I think I heard both Sam and Cora state that they thought baked oysters was the best preparation, and although the flavor was tasty, I don’t know if I liked the texture. Better to have the ultra slimy raw morsel slide down your throat or the weird and briny thing squirt in your mouth after crunching through the crispy crust as far as I’m concerned. Eating oysters is not supposed to be a normal experience. Cora liked the Collard Greens, although she said they were much more natural tasting than she was used to (they must have been lacking lots of fatty pork items.) Sam did not like the Collard Greens, claiming they were not as good as hers, and having the waiter box them up to give to Cora.

Fried Chicken w/ biscuit and gravy – This was not at all what I was thinking of ordering beforehand, but after the A & E raved how delicious it was, four of us ordered it. I think at least three of us (David, Julian, and myself) wanted to see how it stacked up against the incredibly well-cooked fried chicken at Country Cat, often thought to be the best in town, and it certainly did a decent job.IMG_3101 Like the CC, this was crispy on the outside, very juicy on the inside. This was quite a bit more spice laden than CC, so I guess how spicy you like your fried chicken would be a determining factor in how well you like The Parish version. I know Julian really liked his, although I didn’t ask him to compare with CC’s version, which he also really enjoyed. David, of course, offered his opinion without my asking for it, stating that although he thought this was really good, he still found the Country Cat’s fried chicken better. I must say I agree, although this was a larger portion, and very tasty, I think I like my fried chicken a bit less spice laden, so you taste more crispy chicken skin flavor. Also, the CC’s fried chicken is de-boned, always more pleasant than struggling with bones. Finally, I think the accompaniments at CC are better, mashed potatoes and gravy at night, spoon bread and syrup at brunch, I didn’t enjoy The Parish’s gravy that much, and the biscuit was very so-so, and I live for biscuits! That being said, this is still very, very good fried chicken, certainly in the top five in town (other goodies, Screen Door and Miss Delta. Hmm, all four are Southern influenced restaurants. What’s wrong with us dumb Yankees, can’t we make chicken?) 

I must say, I think I’ve now seen everything, as Glenda actually ordered fried chicken this night. She was mulling over some of the fish dishes, the frog legs, the duck gumbo with added duck, and the pork shoulder (all down her usual alley) but I guess she decided to go with the restaurant’s strength, and when she heard how good the chicken was supposed to be, she jumped on board with the majority of us. IMG_3103The world did not come to an end, however, as per usual, she completely avoided the pork rinds. People were astonished at the end of our meal when I showed no interest in dessert this evening, even though prices were more reasonable than usual. Could it be because over the course of our evening I had eaten a pork rind, bread with butter, fried oysters, a salad with creamy dressing and fried chicken livers, and fried chicken with gravy? I wanted to at least make it home before the chest pains began.

Also, The Parish only had three desserts, all three which I could live without. No one went after the bread pudding, mainly because I think bread pudding is so heavy, and people were stuffed and over-heated to begin with. IMG_3106Glenda went for the Pecan Pie with Creme Chantilly, which looked very nice with its flaky crust. Praise Ganesh, pecan pie is one dessert I can almost always resist, it’s too sweet for even me (the woman who could compete in a frosting eating contest.) Glenda said it was a tasty version. Sam had the specialty dessert for the night, Chocolate Bouchons with caramel sauce and ice cream. Sam loves these gooey, chocolatey, caramel-laden desserts, so this was the only saving grace for her this evening.

Although this review started out relatively negatively (no A/C, slippery chairs, terrible acoustics, expensive bread) I think the majority of us would give the Parish a 6.5 to 7 rating, mainly based on the quality of much of the food. IMG_3090The waiter was fine in an overheated way, and the hostesses/service assistants seemed really sweet, but other non-food aspects were verging on sub-standard. Also, although some people had really great food (Heidi and Julian) others did not like their food at all (Sam and her father.) Maybe it depended on how fond you were of Southern cuisine. I personally love Southern food, and most of what I had, I liked, and I know Heidi and Julian love Southern cooking as well. Glenda, being more Continental, and one to avoid many fried items, isn’t a Southern food fan, but at least on this evening she seemed to enjoy her salad, chicken, and pie. I think David thought his salad was decent, and as a fried chicken lover, liked that, but I don’t think anything appealed in particular to Shuhong. Cora liked her items, but wasn’t raving non-stop. 

When The Parish was set to open I was all excited, as I had heard it was to be an upscale New Orleans style restaurant, so I hoped it would be as classy and high quality as Roux was before it closed several years ago.IMG_3086 I checked out the early reviews on Yelp! though, and at least in the beginning, they weren’t that positive, especially mentioning service issues. So I put this dinner off for a bit. Finally I threw it on the roster though, and was pleased when I read the review that very day saying the food was quite good. Maybe part of my problem all along was my expectations, wanting an upscale Southern dining experience in The Pearl, not a down home, comfy sort of dining experience like you would have at Screen Door or Miss Delta, both places having really good food but button down atmosphere (Acadia kind of falls in the middle of the spectrum, atmosphere wise, and has good food.) At least in the area where we sat, So far, The Parish doesn’t provide an upscale or polished dining experience, so if you go there, just scope out the menu for what looks like some good Southern eats, and don’t expect tons of amenities like free bread or a pleasing dining temperature on a hot day. Although I’m sure it’s much fancier than EaT Oyster Bar (I’ve never been, although I always wanted to check it out) The Parish still has a long way to go if it actually wants to be thought of as an upscale eatery. To be fair, the prices aren’t upscale (except for the bread) so if you visit with an attitude of just going to that new New Orleans style place, that just happens to be in The Pearl, to check out some good down home food, you might be just fine.