Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Parallel 36

Parallel 36 acquired its name from the scope of the menu, which focuses on foods that span the 36th latitude. Not so coincidentally, Norfolk shares this globe-spanning parallel with Spain, Italy, Greece, Japan, the Middle East, Turkey and Korea.

That’s a lot of cuisines for one restaurant to cover! My interest piqued, Dave and I headed in.

Located at the base of the Granby Street bridge (next to Bloom’s), the exterior was as unassuming as the interior was striking. Outfitted in a sleek array of warming cocoa and cinnamon, flecked with Oriental-style art, it was at once a comfortable and calming vibe. A long bar was visible from the door, but in no way intruded upon the diners.

Although it was fairly empty, there was a noticeable wait for our server. When she arrived, we asked a couple of questions about the wine before settling upon a 2004 d’Arenberg Love Grass Shiraz ($32). Excited that we had picked one of her favorites, she was back fairly quickly to present the bottle. Unfortunately, the wine was corked. It was somewhat longer before she returned with a second, thankfully untainted, bottle that proved to be worth the wait. Juicy, mellow, and thoroughly unpretentious, it’s everything a shiraz should be.

The menu was divided into Minutes (starters), Seconds (soup/salad) and Degrees (entrees), and we sampled our way through each one. Dave began with the macaroni and cheese ($6). A far cry from Kraft’s, this extremely generous portion featured Tillamook sharp cheddar, accented by the lively inclusion of chives. It was pure, perfect comfort in a bowl.

I was unable to resist the siren call of fried calamari ($7). Served in a large martini-style glass, the lightly breaded squid was indeed hot, spicy and cooked just right. A cucumber yuzu sauce pooled at the bottom of the glass, providing relief from the heat, and a welcome textural contrast. I don’t usually finish all portions of a restaurant meal, but this one was gone daddy gone!

As a nod to the seasonally appropriate weather, we split the dumpling soup ($5). Pillowy, Oriental-style dumplings were nestled under a richly flavored meaty broth. The little pork-filled packages were wonderful, but the amazing broth was the star of the show.

The entrees had a lot to live up to, but thankfully didn’t let us down. Dave’s short ribs ($18) were done Korean style and finished with a chili-soy glaze. Mouthwateringly tender, they were without a doubt the best thing we’d tried all night. The accompanying kimchee pancakes were interesting, but not successful in terms of texture or zing. No matter, most anything would have paled in comparison to the sanctity of those short ribs.

I strayed away from my usual oceanic inclinations and ordered what amounted to a vegetarian style-sampler platter ($14). With a Middle Eastern nod, it featured the chef’s take on dolmades: zucchini made up the majority of the savory filling, and each little parcel came wrapped tightly in grape leaves. Fried falafel cakes were a touch mushy, if welcomingly warm with cumin and a touch of slowly building heat. Cute little black-eyed peas provided a cradle for sautéed okra and tomatoes, while skinny spears of asparagus rounded out the greenery. It was altogether a nicely composed plate.

Dessert was tempting, but it was time to throw in the napkin: we were stuffed to the gills!

Parallel 36 has successfully embraced what could pose too broad a concept in fine form. Each component of the meal was well prepared, aesthetically pleasing, and most importantly, quite delicious.

Parallel 36
4226 Granby Street, Norfolk
Phone: 965-9436 fax: 965-9045
Web site: www.parallel36.com
Specialties: foods from the latitude of 36 degrees (Italian, Japanese, Spanish, Greek, Turkish, Korean)
Price range: starters: $6-$10; soup/salads: $3-$7; entrees: $13-$25
Hours: Sunday-Thursday: 11 a.m.- 12 a.m.; Friday: 11 a.m.-1 a.m.; Saturday: 5-11 p.m.
Alcohol: beer, wine, full bar
Smoking: only after 10 p.m.
Vegetarian: yes
Wheelchair accessible: yes
Payment: cash, credit cards, checks
Noise level: conversational to noisy
Atmosphere: upscale casual, romantic
Additional Information: daily specials, monthly themed dinners
Star rating: food 4, atomosphere 4, service 3 1/2
(out of five stars)


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