After a soft opening in late September, I finally got around to trying Parker's a little while back. Any new food place in Sioux Falls gets a lot of attention, and soft openings are becoming de rigeur. What's a soft opening you ask? A soft opening is when a new restaurant or bar opens without a big announcement that they are opening on some specific date. People find new places in Sioux Falls without a lot of advertising and attention. Patrons begin to trickle in and this gives the staff a chance to sort of ramp up rather than be faced with a packed house from the word "go." It allows a place to work out the kinks instead of having to open full-throttle.
Parker's occupies a space that has undergone some fairly extensive remodeling. It's on Main Avenue, near 10th Street in a space formerly occupied by a Mexican restaurant, an attempt at a Brazilian joint and a place once known as the House of Soccer. The building has benefitted from the City's facade easement program and features Sioux quartzite and large windows.
Parker's has been billed as creole/cajun/american, which I must say made me a little skeptical. The cajun craze has passed and, face it, no one (at least no one with any sense) really expects authentic cajun cuisine this far from the bayous of Lousianna. The indoor decor of the place is definitely an homage to New Orleans, though: bare brick walls, goofy flooring, old building that leads back to different rooms, high ceilings. It's pretty nice, but the lighting could be better. It's just a tad dark in there at night.
The kitchen is open- that is to say, the chefs work behind the front "bar" area in view and within earshot of the diners. Personally, I couldn't do this. I don't mind people watching me cook because I am on display anytime we cook at my house. The problem would be the diners listening to me and the things they might hear.
The menu is not very extensive, but it features some great items. The dinner menu is divided into courses: starter, salad/soup, entree. Expect familiar items: beef, pork, chicken, fish, but don't expect it to be prepared and presented like something you'd see at Minerva's or Foley's. For instance, there is usually a fresh fish item on the menu. On the night I was there, it was halibut. However, it was coated in a curry sort of rub and pan roasted. Halibut is a phenomenal fish and this particular piece was cooked exactly right. It was cooked just to the point of being done so the flesh was moist and the curry-dusted outside was dry, and well-seared, but not crusty. The halibut was served with fresh cucumber cut into ribbons and dressed with a creamy sauce- rather reminiscent of the sliced cucumbers your grandmother made during the summer months, only more delicate and definitely prettier. The other side was, as I recall, Isreali couscous. Couscous is pasta that is basically milled into the consistency of grain. It's great stuff, takes on flavor like a sponge and cooks in about five minutes. If you aren't familiar with it, you need to get with the program. Isreali couscous is bigger in size- kind of like small tapioca pearls. Personally, I thought the couscous could use a little more flavor, but I was glad to see it on the plate.
Other menu choices include a pork chop, chicken and flatiron steaks. I can't wait to try more. It all sounded great and it was hard to make a choice.
The salads were interesting and feature fresh local produce. There was an heirloom tomato salad with some balsamic glaze and fresh mozerella. This is an example of good menu writing, because in reality, this is a salad caprese- tomatoes and fresh mozerella- for nine bucks. There is also a gumbo on the menu. (Cajun/creole homage to NOLA.) Not bad. Really good creole/cajun food has an amazing quality of prolonging spice. It should be spicy, but not the sort of punch you in the mouth like wasabi or vindaloo hot. I thought the cup of gumbo I had could have used a little more front-end heat and a little less rice in the bottom of the cup. It also could have used just a tad more texture. The feature was the andouille sausage- hand-made. That was great. Like I said, though, the gumbo needed more texture. If you have it in NOLA, you might have a piece of chicken here or there or some vegetables that haven's entirely dissolved.
The real shining star of the menu, however, was the lamb sausage on the appetizer list. You have GOT to try this. Handmade by the chef, and accordingly cooked to the rare side, it is just a tad spicy and oh, so delicious.
The menu of Parker's puts it in the same category as, say, Cafe 334, K's, and probably a few places you may have visited in more metropolitan places. It's good food, but prepared with more imagination than what we have become used to here. The presentations come to the table absolutely camera ready. I guarantee you'll pause when the food makes it to the table to take in the presentation.
The staff is very competent and helpful. Ben Josten, formerly of Food & Fermentation, is there. Ben is a definite asset. He has a passion for wine, a very good understanding of food, and a talent for pairing the two. If you are in doubt about anything on the wine list, seek Ben's assistance. You can't go wrong.
I am reaching the point in my dining and food snobbery, that I wonder if an absoultely perfect dining experience is possible. Taste, after, all is subjective. Nevertheless, if you want to know what I thought could be a little different, or a little better, here it is:
- Tweak the lighting. The food is gorgeous, but it's a little hard to see. Hell if I know how to adjust lighting. I am not a lighting engineer, but I know it could benefit from the assistance of someone who is.
- Punch up the wine list. The selections were very nice, but there can be more of them. You don't need a Sears catalog sized list, but a few more selections would be great.
- Emphasize the ingredient sourcing. In passing, the wait staff mentioned that all the fresh ingredients for the menu, with the obvious exception of the seafood, are obtained locally. Like from within 100 miles of Sioux Falls. That's phenomenal and I think Americans, in general, are finally coming around to what the French have understood for centuries- great, fresh ingredients obtained from people who care and know what they are doing make a HUGE difference. Why doesn't the menu tell me that pork came from a Lincoln County farmer? It should. Frankly, I really want to know this before I order.
- Punch up the flavors, especially in the sides. Don't get me wrong, I thought the food was well-prepared, but I look for amplification and compliments to the natural, subtle nuances of fresh food. Don't be afraid to season with a heavier hand.
- I hope between Ben and the culinary staff, you will try some special paired wine events.