Sep 23, 2012

Chef Antonio Park's Park restaurant: addressing readers' comments




by Alexandra Forbes

It seems a bit mind-boggling to me that the most obssessively-read post on this humble lil' blog is the one about Park restaurant. Enraged comments! Friends that read it, go try the restaurant and then complain to me! Drama!

I think it's about time that I address the issue.

First of all, I am unable, at this point, to write a fair and objective review of Park. Full-disclosure: chef-owner Antonio Park is a personal friend.

Having said that, I still do have a few opinions, of course. And I do sympathize with all those that write here and tell me personally that they hated the service.

The polished maître d' I wrote about in my original post is long gone. The staff is friendly but.... yeah, it could take close to half an hour to get a drink. I feel it.... It's happened to me.

And the person serving it might not know a heck of a lot about what's in the glass (though I've heard that they're getting, soon, a top-notch sommelier).

No matter: I still say this is by far the best place in town to get decent sushi.


Salmon belly niguiri, slightly torched


Which isn't too hard of an accomplishment, as there's really nowhere else serving sushi at this level. Buri - my favourite fish! - in two versions (from different-aged fish), for example, is dreamy.

Niguiri of oba iwashi (sardine family) with ginger and
a sauce made of Korean peppers, sake and yogurt


Uni so fresh you can't smell it, still whole, not briny or slimy in the least? An wrapped in crisp nori that is handed to you within 3 seconds, before it has a chance to absorb moisture and turn chewy? Mackerel niguiri so good you turn your eyes to the heavens, sighing? Buttery torched salmon belly?

And what's with that rice? Usually, only the Japanese can make that oh-so-tricky sushi rice, almost lukewarm but not quite, almost sweet but not quite, where the soft pillow of grains holds together just barely but falls apart immediately in the mouth.

The food, overall, is very good, from the bibimbap rice to the fall soup they've got on the menu now.

Buri, uni, shisso flowers


Desserts are reminiscent of something you'd have at Les 400 Coups: a panoply of overlapping textures, always highlighting fresh, bright flavours.

In short, solid cooking, first-rate ingredients. Here's chef Antonio Park showing off some of his kitchen's bounty:




Yes, granted, Park is expensive - but if that is an issue, go for lunch, when prices are lower.


Anyways... for those hungry for more dish descriptions, there's always Lesley Chesterman's glowing review in the Gazette. I've tried lots of stuff that I could talk about, but it's the niguiri that really blows me away: that oh-so-rare combination of the perfect rice and the best fish.

Niguri of Albacore tuna from B.C. with mujol caviar,
and niguiri of mackerel


In short, I love Park.

Yeah, granted, the service needs work. But you know what? I'm happy to see that Westmount - a previous gastronomic Sahara - actually has a top-notch restaurant for once (so nice that I can walk to it...). And if you care about good service and the details of what's on the plate, do as I do: sit at the counter right in front of the chef.


Park:
tel. (514) 750-7534
378 avenue Victoria
Westmount




3 comments:

  1. Ms. Forbes,

    it's not simply that your friendship with the chef affects your objectivity; it also affects the quality of the food and service you get. Those of us who don't have the privilege of personally knowing Mr. Park don't get the same treatment you apparently get. And what we get is not too good for its rather high price.

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  2. I had quite an interesting exchange with Lesley Chesterman on the subject of Park. What I told her was that I believe that Park *could* be an amazing restaurant, on the sole condition that you're friends with the chef. I was there on the very day this review (http://www.lapresse.ca/vivre/cuisine/restaurants/201205/04/01-4521941-park-reverie-maritime.php) was written and not only was the service extremely poor, but the food was not great. In fact, it was not even very good. It was ok, at best. When I asked what kinds of desserts they had, I found out they only had ice cream ("excuse me... what?"). When the waitstaff (and Park himself) noticed how unsatisfied I was with the meal, they ended up serving me the ice cream on the house, which was a nice gesture but did not solve the problem (especially because I cannot be easily bought off with generic ice cream).
    I ended up having a brief exchange with Park himself on twitter, in which he asked me to give his restaurant a second chance. Looking at your pictures (and considering the fact that Park bothered to respond to my comments) I would feel tempted to go back and give it a second chance, but now, reading these remarks here, I am afraid you can really only get all of this overwhelming awesomeness if you're friends with him, which is a pity for the rest of us, who are not food critics, but food lovers nonetheless. That said, I'm still a bit ambivalent re: going back...

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  3. We went to Park for the second time last night. We live in the west end, so we are thrilled that there is a high end restaurant close to home. The first time we went, we enjoyed our meal a lot, although we did find it expensive, but it was good so we were satisfied. Last night, we ordered the tasting menu and we found that the main course was not up to our expectations. When I mentioned this to the waiter, he didn't have the experience to deal with the complaint, he mentioned that other people seemed to like it and it was too bad I didn't. He was polite enough, but I didn't feel like my feedback would go anywhere.

    And that's the main issue I have with Park - the front of the house is weak. While the food (usually) is excellent, I don't think that the service and overall restaurant management lives up to the back of the house. If Park wants to build loyal, local clientele, it needs to be more of a restaurant than a one man show. To expect customers to pay top dollar for food and drink and have it delivered by inexperienced staff makes me want to take my dining dollars elsewhere until they resolve this. I just hope they do it in time.

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