There seems to be a trend with high-end prix fixe restaurants to open smaller, less formal off-shoots to open their cuisine to a larger audience. One well known example, L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon, has brought the flavors of the great chef into a more relaxed setting, where you could conceivably visit for a nice lunch, instead of the “once every five years” type of meal. Thankfully, other fine restaurants have followed suit, which paves the way to some great food at a price that doesn’t break the bank. Two recent discoveries, Parm and La Esquina, are both offspring of their larger, more formal parent restaurants.
Parm grew out of the well known Torrisi Italian Specialties, which used to try balancing the high end prix fixe market with more accessible cuisine, like meatball sandwiches and the like. When the demand for both led The dynamic duo of Rich Torrisi and Mario Carbone to create the throwback Italian deli/sandwich bar that is Parm. When you walk in the door, you’d be forgiven for assuming it’s been around for decades, when in reality it’s only a few months old. The illusion is aided by the menu full of traditional Italian comfort food, Chicken, Eggplant and Meatball Parm, Sausage and Peppers Heros, fresh made ricotta and mozzarella with prosciutto and baked ziti with optional meat gravy. This is the real deal, stick to your ribs Italian bar food that is continuously copied but rarely executed in any sort of appetizing manner. You won’t find soggy eggplant, over-breaded chicken, or jarred tomato sauce.
What led me here though, were the rumblings about the Parm Heros. I discovered a list of the 101 best sandwiches in New York and took it as a personal challenge. So far I’ve tackled a shade over half a dozen and counting, some featured here! Parm did not disappoint. Sitting proudly at #21 on the list, it was everything you could ask a Chicken Parm sandwich to be. Chicken that is both crisp and tender, blanketed with piping hot, velvety tomato sauce, melted mozzarella and fresh picked basil on a toasted sesame seed roll. Perfection from simplicity. This Chicken Parm is like the Ramones, simple power chords played fast and hard to a tried and true beat, it’s the same every time and you wouldn’t want it any other way.
La Esquina is an altogether different animal. Although it’s also an off-shot from the larger brasserie of the same name, it’s closer to a taco truck than an actual restaurant. It inhabits a triangular lot that’s no more than eight feet wide at the most. The kitchen is crammed into the larger side, while a window bar with stools lines the opposite side. Size obviously doesn’t matter because these guys are pumping out some awesome Mexican street food at a furious pace.
My standby has always been the tortas, the Pollo Rostizado to be precise. It consists of a rotisserie chicken, arugula, shaved red onions, tomato, avocado and an unreal smoky, spicy chipotle mayo (not CHI-POL-TAY). The chicken here is so moist, not the dry, unpalatable breast you usually get in these situations. The arugula lends a great nuttiness, with the onions and tomato giving you that pop of crisp freshness. The best part though, is the delicious sludge that’s formed by the chipotle mayo and avocado blending together from the heat trapped inside the bread. It’s creamy and buttery, with a perfect spiciness to give the chicken an added flavor explosion. Just awesome. Another tasty dish I recently discovered was the Platanos Machos Fritos. This is a pile of sweet plantains, covered in cotija and spicy avocado salsa verde. Look me in the eye and tell me that doesn’t sound like the perfect lunch.
Once again, the gift of the SoHo food scene keeps on giving. The strange thing is, I’ve never been a big fan of chicken sandwiches, and both of these are classic chicken sandwiches that are so often ruined with less than optimal ingredients. But, like I always say, everything tastes good when it’s done right. Until next time everyone!