When he opened the menu at Parc and found no meat entrees south of $41, my companion huffed, "Welcome to Gilbertville." Those surely weren't Dan Gilbert's fellow billionaires we were rubbing elbows with in Parc's compact space, but the restaurant is indeed positioning itself for the well-heeled that Gilbert has vowed to bring back downtown.
In Parc's first weeks, flock there they did, making it hard to get a reservation. They found fresh flowers and heavy white linens, glowing candles in old-fashioned candlesticks, courtly if modern, ever-present service — teams of servers, mostly male — and a "unicorn list" of special wines ranging from $500 to $6,000 a bottle.
Though prices are high — pasta $18-$38, reserve steaks running $27 for petite to $112 for 40 ounces — lucky early diners could also find bottles of wine starting at $24. A careful couple could get out of Parc for less than $100. If they skipped dessert.
But the vibe at Parc is not cautious; this frozen season, it's "watch the skaters on the ice rink just outside and celebrate being warm, big time." I saw a family there with three stair-step little girls about 5 to 8 years old, and wondered who had money to throw away on those who prefer chicken tenders.
Let me assure you that the food at Parc is fabulous. I was disappointed in a couple of dishes on my first visit but found 100 percent excellence on the second. Each plate has a lot going on, but in each case the elements combine to make a whole greater than the sum.
Take steak and eggs. The dish is kind of ugly, resting as it does in a foamy green sludge (parsley puree). But what has chef Jordan Hoffman done to the braised short ribs to make them so tender, and even to the poached egg that lends more magic than any egg I've known?
Baby back ribs are the apotheosis of the ribsters' art: Crusty yet tender, they are dry-rubbed and honey-glazed, adding just the right touch of sweet, and if the ribs showed any danger of being cloying (they don't), the apple-Brussels sprout slaw on the side counteracts with its combination of bitter, tart, and sweet.
Equal hymns of praise go to pink-gold Scottish salmon, flaky with a perfect crisp skin. Rapini grilled in olive oil and garlic comes with it, and couscous, and puree of curried carrots — it's a visual feast as well as a culinary one.
A butternut squash salad combines tender baby kale (such a better mouth-feel than adult kale) with goat cheese, walnuts, and slivers of red onion. The squash is "maple roasted," whatever that means, but I can testify it's mellow, and again, just sweet enough. Hoffman knows how to deploy his crowd-pleasing sugar without ruining the effect.
Both pastas I tried at Parc were scrumptious, but not very meaty. Carbonara was made with my favorite pasta, bucatini — thick spaghetti — and coated with a creamy, almost vanilla-y sauce with bacon, guanciale, and pancetta. Wild boar Bolognese was over rigatoni. Any scrimping on the protein was made up for by the complexity of the sauce.
A nontraditional minestrone was disappointing: Your server pours thick, weak-flavored, tomato-y sauce (unaccountably called "broth") over a tiny heap of vegetables. A yellowtail crudo starter is on the small side, set off with ruby red grapefruit and pink salmon roe. Some "puffed grains" were not an addition.
A lemon and olive oil cake is a dessert to try once, or if you crave olive oil in your desserts. It's a masterpiece of contrasting textures, with spongy cake, tart lemon curd, creamy mascarpone, luscious blueberry compote, and slick gelato that indeed tastes like olive oil. A sprig of basil is a stroke of genius.
Two complaints: As at so many restaurants, no one at Parc seems to have given any thought to the music. It's eclectic, uninteresting, hard even to describe — and loud. Why assume that people who care enough to pay for old-fashioned service and top-notch food don't care about the ambiance too? And were the Photoshopped images of rock stars grabbing their crotches really so compelling that they had to be exhibited larger-than-life size? General manager Theo Oresky opines that because the photos include a bottle of Dom Perignon and a Fendi bag, they're meant to match Parc's aesthetic: "Live life to the extreme."
Parc's wine list is long and eclectic. A Malbec by the glass was ordinary; next time I would try the $32 bottle of cava if I'm with a partner who likes a subtle bubbly. But anyone who doesn't mind being seen with a pink martini in his or her hand should try the house specialty (think of Zsa Zsa Gabor, who died in December). Mild, just a bit tart, you feel you could drink it all evening, and soon find you'd better not.