I don’t really have an opinion about Valentine’s Day. It’s a Hallmark holiday, sure, but if a couple wants to use it as an excuse to spend time together, I don’t see the harm. I do recognize the headache it causes for dining out, just like New Year’s Eve, both for customers and restaurants. This year, the holiday was extra trying, occurring on a Sunday, of a long weekend, on one of the coldest days of the year. So not only were couples going out, but so too were those seeing no need to stay in on the adjusted “Saturday” night. Kitchens also had to deal with the delivery demands of a cold, weekend night. As with New Year’s Eve, I usually have no desire to go out because it can be an overpriced shitshow. But when I first read about Dirt Candy’s Solo Diner Week for the holiday on Goodies First, I paused to reconsider my position. Wouldn’t it be fun to relish solo dining among all the couples? Except, Dirt Candy was stopping the promotion on the 13th, which kind of defeated the purpose for me. I then read that Momofuku Noodle Bar was doing a prix fixe in honour of the holiday, calling it S.A.D. instead—Singles Awareness Day. I appreciated the joke and was intrigued about the kitchen extending itself for the evening. I was all set on going until the deep Arctic chill arrived. I didn’t want a cold walk and subway ride. But I also was going a little stir crazy.
I remembered that some friends had sent me a Parm gift certificate for Christmas, as they know how much I like the roasted turkey sandwiches, and within a manageable walking distance, is a new-ish location of the Major Food Group mini chain. I was even able to make a last minute OpenTable booking.
Spilled Milk is a favourite podcast of mine, hosted by food writers Molly Wizenberg (of Orangette) and Matthew Amster-Burton. Every week they talk about a different food or dish (e.g., frozen pizza, cauliflower, ham and cheese sandwiches), beginning with their first experiences or childhood memories with the food and then just moving onto funny stories and jokes. You might notice their influence on my posts… Anyway, the episode the week of Valentine’s Day was about garlic bread, and Molly mentioned how delicious said bread was at Torrisi Italian Specialties (now closed), a sort of precursor/sister restaurant to the original Parm on Mulberry Street. That very same week, New York Times writer Julia Moskin posted an Instagram of the original recipe. While I don’t know if the recipe now used at Parm is exactly the same (I didn’t taste the crushed red pepper), I had to order it because, one, bread, and two, the stars above governing food writing seemed to suggest it should be so.
It was a perfectly serviceable garlic bread. The type of garlic bread that weakens my resolve, however, is that which is made with slices, where each side is kissed with butter, garlic, and salt to the point of almost becoming soggy. I was able to resist eating it all because these thicker slabs became tougher and chewier as the toasted bread cooled. My temperature proclivities prevent me from enjoying cold toast, so I did not reveal myself as the carbaholic we know I am and finish the lot of it. And I’m not sure about the use of a seeded semolina hero; the semolina adds a nice sweetness, but I’m not crazy about sesame seeds on my garlic bread.
The strong showing of the arugula salad was unexpected, as I ordered it purely to eat something green. When presented, parmesan covered the salad like a thick coating of snow, and as I tossed it, I saw that the fresh, peppery greens that lied beneath had a generous coating as well. So, for every salad you’ve ordered that didn’t have enough cheese, this one more than makes up for it. And while eating it, I didn’t have to play the where-are-the-dried-figs game. There were plenty.
I couldn’t even have ordered a turkey sandwich if I wanted to as the heroes that Parm is most known for are take-out only during dinner at this location. But my intention was always to try the baked ziti, a dish I know only because of Carmela Soprano. When her expert skills in making this dish were first showcased to the world, ziti was a totally foreign shape to me. There was penne, there was rigatoni, but what was this other tube? It only fueled a fondness for my created otherness of Italian-Northeast American culture.
Parm ups the ante with their version by browning the sides of each piece (not just the top) so that you get more of the crispy bits that often only come with corner pieces. I should say that before you get those bits, you have options for how you will attack the slice. Do you try to get some of the pooled marinara sauce first? Do you spread the large dollop of rich ricotta? While I understand making room for vegetarians, I was not going to miss out on the meat gravy for an extra $4. Do you then try to get all three sauces on a tube at once? Or do you make a mess of it and mix? Regardless, I found that once I broke through the browned exterior, what lurked within was mozzarella, melted and ready to be stretched into glorious strings.