About a month our so after a dinner at Torrisi Italian Specialties, I rounded up Clare and Alice to check out Parm with me, the more casual sister-outpost to the original Torrisi establishment. Conveniently enough, Parm is located right next door.
Before the latter part of 2011, Torrisi had daylighted as an Italian-American delicatessen, which offered their signature dishes -- chicken parmesan and eggplant parmesan heroes. This lunchtime arrangement allowed the chefs to pay homage to their Italian roots as well as to ensure cash flow. The very same space transformed in the evening, moonlighting as a 25-seat restaurant. The food remained unpretentious and Italian-American-inflected, yet it also showcased the haute training.
However, the restaurant took an unexpected yet exciting direction when it began to evolve into a prix fixe only restaurant where the food wasn't particularly Italian. So during early November 2011, Torrisi Italian Specialties expanded its enterprise by opening Parm, where all of its sandwiches would now be made and sold, along with other explicitly Italian-American items, including fried calamari, garlic knots, antipasti, and one "nightly special" entrée. With Parm offering its original classic dishes, the team was able to ensure that its regular, die-hard fans of such items would have their fill of their favorite fare.
Cute art/sign/banner donned in the bar area of Parm.
The diner-eqsue bar area of Parm, which serves an abbreviated menu of snacks and drinks every night from 4-6 PM.
The menu at Parm is thickly laminated to resemble those old school dinner placemat menus, with the font to be quite fitting as well. Love that little touch!
To start, I had a glass of the sangiovese blend house wine, Alice had a bottle of Ommegang Witte beer, and Clare opted for the cocktail special that day, the backyard punch, which was a fun mix of watermelon juice, cucumber, and tequila.
We started off with a ball of mozz (i.e., fresh warm mozzarella) in olive oil -- other options include sticks or with prosciutto -- which was very similar (if not the same) to the one we had at Torrisi. Yup, a delicious glob of heaven: warm, super fresh, and incredibly soft -- the kind of cheese that just makes you go, "Ahhh..." Kinda wish we ordered some plain bread on which to eat this!
From the bread section we had an order of pizza knots to share -- pizza dough tied into knots sprinkled with herbs and some Parmesan cheese served piping hot, right out of the oven. Really, really good -- just like a pizza crust tied up in a ball. Every bite will be over and gone before you know it, so be forewarned.
We each did what we had to do -- i.e., ordered chicken parm (i.e., chicken parmesan) on a sesame roll made from sweet semolina with fresh mozzarella and homemade tomato sauce. The bread was really, really soft, which made it a lot easier to eat than other chicken parmesan sandwiches I've had in the past. However, given that it was soft, the sauce made the bread a little soggier than I would have preferred. But to me, it didn't matter, because the breaded cutlet at hand was perfect (juicy and tender with a well-baked crumbed crust) and the fresh mozzarella was a nice balancing touch. It was also the perfect size for someone who would have leftovers if given a hero-sized sammy.
And last (but certainly not least) for dessert, we shared a generous sliver of the homemade ice cream cake. We were given the choice between the classic neapolitan (i.e., layers of vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry ice cream) and s'mores (i.e., layers toasted marshmallow, chocolate, and graham cracker ice cream) with crushed graham cracker crumbs topped with whipped cream and a few squares of Hershey's chocolate. The decision was clear -- s'mores, it was! While I'm quite the fan of the Carvel ice cream cakes (and those delicious chocolate crunchies at their centers), this slice very much rivaled those cakes of birthdays past. Three layers of campfire goodness, this dessert really hit the spot after an Italian-heavy meal.
Findings: Overall, our casual dinner experience at Parm was great. While the atmosphere was very relaxed, the menu is far from that -- even for casual Italian fare and other fun nightly specials, the kitchen takes everything quite seriously. The chicken parm was very good -- (arguably one of the best I've had!), the starters were even more awesome (you know, the kind that you know you'll be jonesing for again very soon), and the dessert -- well, that just took the cake (excuse my pun :P). Parm is a great casual place to grab a bite to eat with friends, especially on Sunday evening.
Warning though - - the restaurant does not accept reservations nor does it accept parties larger than six. Seating is on a first come, first served basis. Once the dining room is filled, a waitlist is started. So I advise getting there early, but not too early because lunch service ends at 4 PM and dinner service begins at 6 PM. During that break, the restaurant only serves an abbreviated bar menu. We arrived at 5:15 not realizing this, so we had to walk around the neighborhood to kill some time before returning around 5:50 only to be met with a large crowd waiting all around. So expect waits, but it'll be worth it! :)
Price point: $12 for each beverage, $6 for each bottle of beer, $5-9 for each starter, $9 for each roll, $11 for a slice of homemade ice cream cake.
--June 10, 2012
248 Mulberry Street
New York, NY 10012