Same old, same old. Not necessarily what you want to hear about a restaurant, and how it has evolved over the years.
Or is it?
At a time of such general high anxiety, there's something to be said for a dining room that feels comfortable and familiar, where the menu doesn't change too much and where the cooking is reliably good.
That's what diners can expect at Parigi. Chef Janice Provost's Oak Lawn place, at 32 years old, is one of Dallas' longest-running restaurants.
It's interesting to go back and read about the history of the bistro that Marilyn Romweber, her daughter Andree Falls and their partner Jennifer Burns opened on Sept. 2, 1984. Romweber and Falls conceived of the idea for the place – which featured French- and Italian-influenced cooking with a California flair – while in Paris (or so the story goes); Parigi is the Italian word for the City of Light. The California part of the equation came thanks to Burns, a California chef and caterer whose affinity for goat cheese and roasted red peppers, leeks and crème fraîche came across as bold and sophisticated.
The place was a hit from the get-go, it seems. Much was written about the fact that no signage announced its name, and yet "the fur-swathed cognoscenti have found and converged upon it, apparently willing to accept a wait even with reservations." You get the picture.
The polished, intimate white-tablecloth dining room is still popular with an older Park Cities set, who greet their servers like old friends.
I had been beating myself up for not setting foot inside since the publication of my 2011 review and so was happy to return. I was happier still to spend an enjoyable evening nibbling crab beignets, shaved Brussels sprouts salad and prettily piped deviled eggs, then hunkering down with a heartwarming pan of classic chicken and dumplings bathed in a rich and nicely herbal broth. My friends took to seafood: crab-filled white bass on a beurre blanc gently flavored with kumquat next to a swirl of celery-root purée, nicely grilled salmon on Brussels sprouts petals lightly cooked with bacon. If neither was terribly interesting, both were well-executed and nicely presented.
Provost had a lovely light touch with my husband's main course, pappardelle noodles laced with crab claws, lobster, shrimp and mushrooms in a gentle tarragon-pesto cream. I'm not usually one for grated Parmesan on seafood pasta dishes like this, but somehow it worked; the effect was luscious and satisfying.
I was surprised when I got home that night and reread, for the first time, my 2011 review, and learned that my favorite dishes had been a shaved Brussels sprouts salad and seafood pappardelle, but there you go.
On the next visit, gooseberries gave a vibrant salad of pea tendrils, fennel, beets, carrots and shaved watermelon radish in a blood-orange vinaigrette unexpected pops of bright flavor, though the Burrata parked on its edge tasted like a party- crasher. Similarly, I couldn't figure out what role the dried cherries were meant to play with an otherwise classic roasted bone marrow dish, but it was easy to ignore them.
Not so the raw garlic cloves hiding in a dish of sharp-tasting, oily marinated olives. I accidentally ate one, and my palate was shot.
Before long we had moved on to main courses. Orecchiette with ham and peas was fine but forgettable; risotto with sausage a wee bit salty.
A couple of meat dishes were more satisifying. A smartly turned-out beef tenderloin was as rare as my friend Georges likes it, set on buttery mashed potatoes, spooned over with mustard sauce and garnished with sautéed carrots and broccoli. Grilled rack of lamb with excellent flavor was set on hummus boosted with roasted eggplant and flanked by a stripe of Meyer lemon-cashew-mint pesto. Were the hummas and pesto too similar in texture? I'd say so, but if their confluence on the plate was the worst thing to happen to us all week, I'd call that a good thing. Happily, no one broke a tooth on the rock-hard fried chickpeas scattered on top.
Parigi's modest, something-for- everyone wine list is just as comforting as much of the food; Provost keeps a reasonable hold on her prices, so it's easy to conjure a reliable bottle of red to play with those meats; a 2009 Château Larose-Trintaudon is a good buy at $52.
The desserts usually disappointed – coconut cream pie was one-note sweet; apple tart had a leathery crust. But none so much as the "half-and-half": a monstrous runny glob of purposely undercooked chocolate soufflé known as "the glob" that shares a plate with sweet, hot peach cobbler (no, it's not peach season; those babies have been frozen). Both have been on the menu forever, and they're popular; Provost says the restaurant sold 1,088 globs last year. Both were disturbing.
So was being interrupted frequently by a server who also aggressively overpoured wine; she also misrepresented a dish that we in turn ordered. (No, the pâté is not house-made; says Provost, "Les Trois Petits Cochons makes the pâtés we use, and has been making it for us since Parigi opened in 1984.")
The delightful, thoroughly professional server on my return visit committed no such faux pas.
Thirty-two years is an eternity in Dallas restaurant time, and the 15 years that Provost has owned Parigi is impressive in itself. She has had a couple of notable chef-partners during that time – Abraham Salum, with whom she bought the place, and later Chad Houser, with whom she founded the nonprofit Cafe Momentum. (Houser left Parigi in 2012, in order to devote himself full-time to leading the culinary training foundation for youths coming through the juvenile justice system.)
Clearly, she knows what her patrons want and delivers it. It is good to know that she is still there, and going strong.
Parigi (3 stars)
Price: $$$ (lunch starters $4.50 to $12.50, main courses $12 to $18; dinner starters $4.50 to $16, main courses $15 to $38; brunch dishes $4.50 to $16.50; desserts $7.50 to $10)
Service: Ranges from refreshingly professional to sharp-elbowed
Ambience: A handsome, unfussy, intimate white-tablecloth dining room with a long, comfortable banquette running along one wall and an appealing patio out front
Noise level: Pleasantly buzzy, but it's quiet enough to converse
Location: Parigi, 3311 Oak Lawn Ave., Dallas; 214-521-0295
Hours: Monday-Friday 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., Saturday 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., Sunday 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Credit cards: AE, MC, V
Wheelchair accessible: Yes (back entrance)
Alcohol: Full bar. A 3 1/2-page wine list, focused on French, Italian and California bottlings, has reasonable markups.
5 stars: Extraordinary
4 stars: Excellent
3 stars: Very good
2 stars: Good
1 star: Fair
No stars: Poor
Average dinner per person
$ -- $14 and under
$$ -- $15 to $30
$$$ -- $31 to $50
$$$$ -- More than $50