Wood smoke on a cold winter's night is no less than evocative. Too often it is an aroma absent from downtown landscape - for obvious reasons, naturally. A recent visit to Parlour Italian Kitchen & Bar commenced with the crackling allure of a wood fire splitting the frigid air with pops, snaps, and piquant smoke, and ended with espresso crumbs and full bellies.
Parlour occupies an impressive space that skirts the downtown core with twinkling lights, high ceilings, a jazzy soundtrack, and checkered napkins reminiscent of the alley-dining scene in Lady and the Tramp. Calamari, to begin, are ever-so-lightly dressed in a nearly nude batter that finishes with a fiery snap. Peppery arugula interject as a terrestrial greenery counterpoint to the squid's marine affinities.
Arancini are refreshingly uncluttered. These piping hot, auburn orbs breathe a steamy sigh of relief when opened, and reveal a mantle and core of smooth arborio rice and unabashedly oozing talleggio.
Cauliflower Fritto are the evening's surprise hit. A quick trip to the fryer transforms the normally bashful vegetable into a creamy, nutty-sweet invention. A few squeezes of juice from charred lemon halves impart astringent acidity.
Pizza - wood-fired, of course - has many interpretations, but the Family Jewels interpretation is adorned with a crown of salty black olives, fennel-infused sausage and buttery eggplant. A dreamy stratum of mozzarella and smoked gouda sings of far away summer fields. The crust is indeed floppy in the middle, but structural integrity improves with increasing proximity to the edges.
Tiramisu and Panna Cotta are yardsticks of Italian desserts. Parlour's take on the former is of the deconstructed variety. Espresso-infused crumbs appear as glossy black caviar, surrounding a cloud-island of mascarpone that cleverly conceals boozy ladyfingers. The espresso-caviar hogs the spotlight.
Panna Cotta is a creamy-firm paradox with understated hints of vanilla bean. Blueberries are indigo spheres of dark, boreal forest glades; counterpoint to the cream's quivering, ivory aura. Almond biscotti are a bit too hard without an espresso at hand for dunking. Lashings of honey underneath cannot be ignored.
Nor can the primal, hyperborean essence of wood smoke be ignored as one leaves Parlour's twinkling lights behind and reluctantly retreats into the moonless winter night.