Parlor is an exclusive, private social club that has a unique focus on fine dining and creations from chef Hilary Ambrose, who was previously a sous chef at Bouley, according to the materials I was sent.
About a week or so ago I received what I thought was yet another wedding invitation: another summons for a gift, as Seinfeld would put it. When I looked closely, I noticed that it was a special invitation for me and a guest to dine for free at this exclusive, invite-only social club.
The invitation included some press, some info about the restaurant, a sample menu, and a secret link to make a reservation for their preview dinner. I had originally included said link here in this review, but the people at Parlor politely asked me to remove it. I’ll play ball, I guess. Read on…
After browsing the website, and poking around at some reviews online, I found that membership is $1500 a year, plus a minimum $250 bar tab per quarter. Meals are “free” for up to four people, but not including a $10 per seat charge, plus the cost of drinks, tax and tip (which they automatically include in the bill at 20%, yet they still suggest that you tip an additional $10 per head on top of that). You can go as often as you want; you just need to make reservations ahead of time.
This isn’t a terrible deal, if it weren’t for the fact that my wife and I are constantly going to new places on a regular basis. If I had felt content in having been to all the greatest restaurants in NYC, if I felt the need to impress people with fancy and exclusive members-only type environments, or if I wanted a home-base kind of place to always go to for a solid meal once a week, I would certainly entertain the idea of joining a dining club (though maybe not this one). The fact that this place is recruiting little-old-me tells me that lots of people with their fingers on the pulse of NYC’s food scene think the same way that I do. Exclusive food clubs seem to be for pretentious people like the investment bankers in American Psycho, in the 80’s, or loser kids who need to create a social networking website and a facade of coolness in order to feel as if they’re well-liked. I’m not above dining with the masses. Food just needs to be good: it doesn’t need to be elitist or exclusive.
I was invited to join a free, exclusive underground dining club run by a celebrity chef about six months ago as well. Both my wife and I joined, created our online profiles, etc., but we haven’t bothered to go to any events yet. There are just too many amazing regular places to go to. My wife and I don’t want to commit to any one restaurant or one chef. We are enjoying being food whores.
If we joined a place like this we’d always feel like we would have to go and “get our money’s worth” and eat enough meals to tally up to the $2500+ yearly cost of membership. My wife compared it to a timeshare vacation. She’s absolutely right! It’s a timeshare restaurant. HA!
But hey – timeshares aren’t NOT for everyone. In other words, if you plan to use your membership well, then go for it! This could be the perfect thing for someone who needs to constantly entertain new clients, or who wants to impress friends or family, etc. I don’t mean to say all this to mock the place or to shit on members-only clubs. Not at all. My point is that it’s just not for me.
Alright enough of the commentary. Let’s get to what matters the most: the fucking food!
My buddy that I brought as a guest loved the concept and was intrigued by the atmosphere. I had somewhat of a soured flavor in my mind because my wife and I had our preview dinner reservation revoked a few weeks back due to over-crowding, despite making the reservation several weeks in advance. I believe Paul Mitchell (hair products guy) was in the house, so things were a bit hectic when we arrived. My wife had no interest in going back after that, and neither did I, really… but I thought my friend might enjoy it so I re-scheduled. I figured I may as well give it a shot to see what it was all about.
We started with an amuse of sweet corn financier. Or as normal people call it: corn bread. It was a little dry to be honest.
The appetizer, which was by far the best part of the meal, was a slow poached egg with shaved chicken and shaved truffle, then topped with a parmesan froth and a crispy asparagus spear that was crusted with rice cake crisps on the bottom. The egg was nicely cooked – not too snotty, great yolk consistency, good flavor from the truffle without being too heavy.
The main course was a choice of swordfish or lamb porterhouse. I went with the lamb, naturally. It was an extremely small portion; maybe four to six ounces, max. I was hoping for two or three of these, since they are essentially two small “medallions” on each side of the t-bone. It was served with a yogurt cream, leek, potato and assorted veggies/greens. The meat was nicely executed and well seasoned, but I think the stars of the plate were the little tomato ball-bombs that you see nestled in the yogurt cream. They were bursting with flavor and juice.
My buddy had the swordfish. It was pretty good, though maybe just a bit overcooked. Also small in terms of portion size; the fish is maybe a 2.5in cube. We were definitely still hungry coming out of the entree course.
For dessert there was espresso ice cream with milk froth, goat’s milk caramel and hazelnuts. This was a nice, flavorful ice cream. It sort of looked like a mushroom from Super Mario Brothers, which is great, but we were still hungry after finishing the meal.
So, our “free” meal cost us $72 and we were still hungry afterwards. Now imagine having to pay another $1500 each year in membership fees. Nah. I’ll pass.
The best part of the experience here was this drink that my friend had at the bar: the Hudson Frost. Sort of like a white Russian who is on vacation in Hawaii and got drunk on an Italian digestif. Seriously though – great cocktail.
So I was thinking about the meal, the atmosphere, the space, etc., while pissing in the bathroom. They have these black and white photos of partying celebs and such on the walls. The one in the bathroom looked like JFK Jr. making bull horns while dancing. So we have a bull in the bathroom… next to the toilet… I took a pic. I call my work of art here “BULLSHIT.” A nice apropos closing to a sub-par, supra-priced and generally unfulfilling dining experience:
286 Spring St.
New York, NY 10013