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Parker House Review

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!

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  1. Aaaaaaaaaand SOLD! Cannot wait to check it out!

    Excellent review- thank you!

    1. Oh sweet! I have a reservation tonight :) Thanks for the in depth review...I think that seafood cannelloni may make it to my stomach!

      2 Replies
      1. re: cmanten

        I am definitely going back for the lobster mac'n cheese. How can that NOT be good? LOL

        1. re: ureviewcalgary

          Last nights dinner was great! We had the lobster turnovers and crab dip to start. I was a little disappointed in the daily butter (pesto)...it seemed rather plain compared to what I can imagine the fennel and sambuca would taste like.

          My husband had the lobster mac'n cheese and it was fabulous! I opted for the daily risotto (lobster, cheddar and tomato) which was probably one of the better that I've had in a long time. The only disappointment in the meal was our friends sablefish chowder - the broth was fabulous but the fish was way overcooked.

          The wine list was great - a nice mix of pricey and affordable wines and the waiter offered up a pinot noir that wasn't on their wine menu for us. Dessert - we opted for the boston cream pie (not bad) but had the waiter add a couple of scoops of the vanilla black pepper ice cream. Definitely worth the $2 they added to the bill ;)

          Loved the rooms (and the fireplace in the bathroom) and almost could pretend I was in Boston with the snow falling outside. For 3 people including a bottle of wine, it came to $183 before tip...definitely worth it. We can't wait to go back1

      2. Is this the place that's right next to the Good Earth Lougheed?

        Reviews sound excellent! One thing that caught my eye was the price range. Finally some excellent food in the 'mids' price range.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Hoj

          Yes it is! I don't remember actually seeing a sign on the outside rather than open now.

          And the lights hanging from the ceiling are also equally as fabulous as the tile.

        2. hey ureview!! haven't heard from you in a while. - good review, i'm starving now, i'll have to check it out soon! i'm curious to see what $250 000 worth of tile looks like.

          1. Oh dear - I just went to Parker House last Friday, and it was not good. Bread as hard as rocks. Yes, it's just bread (but not to me!). But nothing else had any flavour at all, the risotto was just absolutely terrible (like broken bits of LONG GRAIN rice).

            The amuse-bouche was alright, but it was foie gras! With a kind of jam, it was so-so.

            The wine we ordered was good...

            I (once again) got suckered into ordering risotto in a restaurant.... and now I will never do that again unless... well... maybe in Northern Italy, or the Risotteria in NYC. Yes, the rice was regular long grain rice, so the texture was off. For risotto milanese, saffron powder was used, so the colour was vibrant and there was no taste. There was no broth used, or it wasn't beef broth, and there was no butter (a necessity in this risotto). It needed parmigiano.

            The osso buco was boring beyond belief. No flavour in the sauce. It needed some onions or garlic or something... anything actually.

            The mac n cheese was very salty, but not right at all. It tasted like Campbell's soup with penne. Penne is not the right pasta for this dish, and the crust left much to be desired. Lobster mac'n cheese can't be good with lobster, if the mac'n cheese part isn't right.

            I paid $40 for an overpriced, and inferior osso buco, and my husband's steak was also $40 and nothing to write home about. It was a steak, and he ordered the most expensive rib-eye, that the server raved about.... It wasn't bad, but nothing more than anything significant. Better steaks from Safeway.

            Never going back.

            1. ---------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.-------

              No it was as hard as a baseball... I could have easily broken the entire restaurant if I threw it in any direction. It was also VERY salty. Excessively so. The shell is not soft, and the inside is more dense than soda bread. Not good.

              8 Replies
              1. re: hornvixen

                Seems like two different restaurants. Typical for a new opening. I'm still excited to go....in a month or so.

                1. re: hornvixen

                  I also found the bread hard (and cold). I'd love to try the buttery, soft, sweet, warm version. The flavoured butter was nice (mine didn't have sambuca, I'm sure I would have noticed - I hate licorice), I think it was herbs and salt, maybe fleur de sel. I didn't find the lobster mac n' cheese that great, the lobster tasted like the precooked packed in water kind, but big chunks and quite a lot of it. I thought it was not as good as the lobster ravioli at Divino, but it's been a couple of years since I've had it.

                  Everything else was quite good. As I said in another post, the food was uneven but good overall, and I'd definitely try it again, in a month or so when they've worked out the kinks.

                  1. re: hornvixen

                    Did you send anything back? Too bad you didn't have the experience I did, but if everything was as bad as you say I'd be interested in knowing what you, and then the restaurant, did about it. Cheers!

                    1. re: ureviewcalgary

                      Reason's I would send food back:

                      -if it was cold
                      -there were bugs in it, or plastic, or something there is not supposed to be
                      -if it tasted spoiled, or rotten
                      -if i ordered a steak a particular way, and it came to the table overcooked, or still raw.

                      Although, watch the movie "Waiting", and you'll think twice about sending anything back...

                      There is no reason to send any of the food back in this case.

                      1. re: hornvixen

                        Interesting logic for a food writer to avoid discussing a bad food experience with a restaurant yet still write about it. No wonder the chef isn't a happy camper. You might have added some context to your experience in order to better explain what was wrong. Comparing organically raised, dry aged beef to Safeway probably didn't bode well for palate credibility in the eyes of staff. Insinuating that you can't send food back to their kitchen because of what hollywoord has taught you surely didn't help either. I'll be writing a follow up based on comments I see here, emails I have received and discussions with Andrew Keen and the staff.

                        1. re: ureviewcalgary

                          I have avoided nothing. I am not obligated to discuss this with the restaurant, nor do I care to. They can read my review. If they like it great; if they don't great. I did not write it for them. Anyone is entitled to disagree with my review. It is simply my opinion.

                          At this level of dining, I would fully expect that if I were to send something back, nothing could be done about it, as this was their best attempt, unless the order was wrong (ie. chicken served instead of beef). I think we could all agree, that a forty dollar entree is a premium price and the product, service, room and food should reflect this.

                          To be more specific, the osso buco was fairly tender, but was one-dimensional in flavour. Perhaps more onion or similar, according to the Chef's preference, could make it more enticing. I received a substantial amount of bison, which made it quite difficult to attempt to finish, considering that there could have been a greater depth of flavour. It has potential, but needs flavour, the bison did not suffice on its own.

                          I completely understand that risotto in a restaurant is exceedingly difficult to achieve, in the best of circumstances. It can be a tricky endeavour. However, the correct texture could not be achieved, since it did not resemble arborio, carnaroli, or vialone nano rice. Again, I felt that the saffron created a brilliantly beautiful colour, but I also needed a bit more depth of flavour. Perhaps a richer stock, or more aromatics could be used.

                          The tile in the room is luxurious, but I really just wanted some very good food.

                          1. re: ureviewcalgary

                            I think quoting your own review Ureview might make a bit of a statement:
                            "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."

                            Hornvixen came across those problems. You shouldn't have to go to a restaurant charging such prices and then have to negotiate with the staff on how your meal was not up to the standards put forth by the restaurant themselves. Isn't that what an executive chef is for? Maintaining standards?

                            Anyways, I did not want to delve into this too much, but I did.

                            I should say though, this restaurant intrigues me. I'll have to give it a try when I'm back in town.

                            1. re: peter.v

                              You are exactly right. Bottom line - if you don't want to be criticized (good and bad) don't open a restaurant.

                    2. I gotta say, that's a great review! I've got my own story of my one trip to Parker House.

                      I went in for a quick beer and a burger somewhere around the 27th after work, around 4:30 in the afternoon. I sat at the bar, and although the Irish bartender was a nice guy, I kinda felt bad for him. I asked for a burger (which I was willing to pay near $15 for) and was told that they didn't have any left. Why give me a lunch menu then? I know that Parker House is a little more upscale, but no burgers? So, I opted not to eat and ordered a Stella. Again, nope - the tap is there but the beer is not. In the end, I ordered their 'local' beer, which wasn't bad, but was from Ontario. Local, eh?

                      And, as though they wanted to tell me that they definitely didn't want my money, they served me my 'local' beer in a 16oz pint. I'll pay $7 for a beer, no problem, but the standard at the places around my building is 20oz pints!

                      Alright, Parker House. I get the picture - you don't want me to sit at your bar to eat and drink while I watch the hockey game. I guess I'll go somewhere else.

                      5 Replies
                      1. re: Tindall

                        20 oz "pint"? I'm not a drinker, but isn't a pint a pint?

                        1. re: John Manzo

                          british pints are 20 oz, whereas US pints are 16 oz

                          i too find it hard to appreciate and respect an establishment that serves those little US pints... it's just that buying cheap glassware and trying to save 4 oz per beer doesn't reflect well on the rest of the establishment and their food.

                          1. re: nonlinear

                            Hear hear! Malcolm's is a block away, serves a 20oz pint and I can watch sports. (I guess it show's where my entertainment dollars lay!)

                            1. re: nonlinear

                              I can't say I agree, I don't think 16oz glassware is cheaper than 20 oz, and I have no problem with a 16oz pint as long as it's about 80% of the price of a 20oz pint.

                              I guess you'd have a real problem with places that serve bottles of beer? they're only 12 oz.

                              1. re: hsk

                                I don't think we're too far off from eachother's point here, hsk! In this game it's all about value-for-money, and paying the same price for a US pint at Parker House that I'd pay for a British pint is NOT good value-for-money.

                                Likewise a bottle of beer. If it's not good value-for-money, then people are going to feel ripped off. Now, where else is Parker House cutting corners?

                        2. so i read both ureview's post and hornvixen's blog reviews prior to dinner at Parkerhouse last night - thankfully we had a similar experience to ureview!

                          our cocktails were delicious - why is it that manhattans never taste as good at home?
                          their version of a ceasar is a nice change, they use gin and horseradish - yum!!

                          our rolls were delicious!! soft, fresh and a taste i haven't had in a very long time.
                          my SO stared with the oyster trio as well, when it arrived I was just getting up to go check out the washrooms, by the time i got back the plate was clean (granted i'm a little slow these days with a broken foot...but i wasn't gone that long...)so i'm guessing they were good! he then had the monkfish, i had a bite and it was very nice. I splurged and ordered the most expensive tenderloin to find out if it was worth the money - yes it was!! you didn't need a steak knife for this one! so tender, cooked perfectly(i'm a medium girl).

                          on the subject of wine - i think they had a very good selection by the bottle, lots of range, both in regions and price. since the two of us had opposite meals, we decided to go by the glass - the manager/sommelier helped us with pairings and we both got to have something new to us that was also delicious!
                          I'm starting the WSET program and it was nice to chat and find out the somlelier's background and thoughts on the education programmes out there. In addition to His great service, we had a great server/servers(many people came to our table over the evening) attentive, friendly.

                          i think we will go back again - of all things the server recommended the chicken flatbread, she raved and raved about it, so i'm curious.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: pants

                            The chicken flatbread is errrrr OK. I would go for the beef one if you had a choice, we ordered all of them to try. Good thing is they're cheap.

                          2. Went here on Friday night, granted it was a late dinner. It too about 15 min to actually have our drink orders taken, after that it was more than 1/2 hr before we saw a waitress again. We were the only table in the joint so I was quite confused. The service was terrible, not only by the waitress, but also the host since I asked a couple times for things to be sped up. The food was alright, one of our flatbreads came out without the balsamic reduction, but it wasn't the end of the world. I don't know if I would go back or not, the atmosphere and situation ruined the moment.

                            1. I feel compelled to write a small review about Parkerhouse after the amazing experience I had there last Thursday.
                              My boyfriend and I went for a late-ish dinner, around 8pm. Finding parking was a nightmare, but we finally did get a good spot infront of the restaurant. We decided to go on a Thursday because we heard it was half price oysters on that day.
                              Upon entering, we were seated by a hostess, and I was immediately impressed by teh very upscale decor of the place. Our waiter seemed to not know that it was oyster Thursday, but we sent him to ask the cooks and he came back saying that it indeed was half off oysters, and apologized for not knowing. We forgave him and went on to look at the menu. Overall, I was not impressed by the waiter, who seemed a bit clumsy and did not seem very 'smooth' or knowledgeable about the food. I was pleasantly surprised to see a 'Under 475 calories' menu, and everything on that mini-menu looked scrumptious too, just like the rest of the menu. I wanted to try so many things! We finally ordered the rib-eye steak, bison tenderloin, tartar trio, oysters and a bottle of wine.
                              The oysters which came first, was okay. They were not the best I have ever had, but it was half price night, so it was not a big deal. The tartar trio was excellent. It was beef tartar, bison tartar and tuna tartar served with 3 different kind of freshly-made crisp chips the chef (or sous-chef) explained to us himself. The tartar was well-seasoned, fresh tasting, and the chips were perfect with them. VERY good start to the meal!
                              When the steak and the bison tenderloin came, I was blown away. One would expect bison to be tough, and especially since it was from the '475 calorie menu', I was not expecting an amazingly hearty dish. BUT, both and steak and the bison were cooked to PERFECTION. We had ordered medium-rare for both, and these were literally the softest, most TENDER pieces of meat I have EVER had in a restaurant. I am convinced I would have been able to happily cut into the steak and the bison with a butter knife. They were also perfectly seasoned and just the most delicious thing ever. I was beyond impressed. Definitely the best steak I have had, ever. Period.
                              We ordered 2 desserts after the meal, and even though I always love dessert, and these were good too, they could not beat the amazing steak experience I just had.

                              The total bill at the end of all this was $160 to boot! For oysters, an appetizer, 2 main meals, 2 desserts AND a bottle of wine, this was amazing! I left an extremely happy customer, and will DEFINITELY come back again for the steak and to try out the other things on the menu because they just sound so darn good! And I am recommending this amazing institution to everyone!

                              ParkerHouse Grill and Wine Bar
                              131 6th Avenue South West, Calgary, AB T2P 0P8, CA