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May 18, 2004

Parallel 33: Around the World in 80 minutes

Abstract:This restaurant having propelled itself to the top of my restaurant list, I'm left mostly at a loss for words. Hence this one is short and sweet. Just a warning: If I know you, and you manage to visit San Diego without eating at Parallel 33, I'm going to be doing drastic life-altering things to you.

Players:Michal and Viren.

This plot unfolds in San Diego, and as such may not be exactly convenient to those NoVa/DC residents wanting to follow the trail.

Prologue: Fuschia or not to fuschia

Being in San Diego, and having had a great experience in one Asian/European fusion restaurant, I decided to keep rolling the die. I found Parallel 33 while searching for fusion restaurants, and upon looking up reviews on the web, decided that it must be visited. This decision, while impulsive, was arrived at at least in part due to the name of the place. If the owners had given half the thought to the food that they had put towards the name, I figured it would be a good place. I was not mistaken. Far from it, I absolutely loved the place.

Amiko Gubbins and Robert Butterfield are the people behind Parallel 33. The concept is cool and interesting: fusion cuisine from countries that lie on the 33rd parallel: Morocco, India, Japan, China, Lebanon and of course, the USA. "They had me at 'Hello'".

Act I: Location, location, location

The location is interesting by itself. A little bit out of the way in Mission Hills, Parallel 33's neighbor's include a liquor store and a run-down strip of stores, all blazingly advertising their wares in a haze of neon. Rather than being distracting or disappointing, the neighborhood somehow felt right -- like being in an oasis, succored by manna from heaven. Though I did have fleeting blasphemous thoughts about my car being stolen, but that's just me.

Act II: Taste, it's a wonderful thing

Parallel 33 is a shining example of what happens when people with taste get to expending time and money on decorating a place (or possibly hiring an interior decorator). The restaurant is small and cozy; expensively and wonderfully decorated with a focus on the natural and organic. There is a heavy accent on the same countries that the cuisine borrows from.

In shades of ochre and yellow the decor follows the 33rd parallel as it circles the globe, so that the small bar boasts a shrine to Ganesh, the elephant-headed Indian deity, while a ceiling sculpture composed of newspapers printed in Hebrew and Arabic emphasizes another important region crossed by this busy geographic line. Star-shaped cutouts in the walls that separate two dining rooms are centered by flickering Moroccan oil lamps, and the booths are upholstered in fabric embroidered with Asian pictographs. The bamboo shoots, with exquisite homage to the form follows functionality paradigm, serve as decoration and as table separators and privacy curtains.

What makes the interior of Parallel 33 great is the thought given to every detail. I loved the interiors from the cushion-like objects on the ceiling to the comfy sacks that formed the back of our couch.

Act III: Manna, I say. Manna.

The menu was small and simple. Almost everything in there was a confluence of different ingredients and flavors. I, as usual, went for my 3-course meal: an appetizer, an entree and a dessert. The toughest choice was the appetizer. Every one of the items under there looked interesting and very appealing. I finally decided on the Ahi Poke because, as our waiter reminded us, it's the only one which the chef has put her name on. The main course was an easy choice. I just went with the seafood special which turned out to be halibut. The final course, for me, is always a tough one. Parallel 33 didn't make it any easier. I finally decided on the Date Madeleines because of their unique blend of flavors.

Amiko's Ahi Poke with Asian Pear and Mango salsa, wasabi dressing was priceless. The Ahi, pear and mango were mixed into short stacks upon crispy wafer bases and finished with a sprig of seaweed and sesame. The flavors blended exquisitely.

Pan-seared halibut on a bed of couscous with spinach and a delicious sauce. The fish, while wonderfully done, served as a great foundation for the flavors from the spinach and the sauce.

The dessert I chose -- Madeleines of Medjool dates with vanilla rose gelato -- was mouth-wateringly delicious. The taste was unique as well as scrumptious. Puddles of toffee sauce hidden beneath the scallop shell-shaped madeleines served to intensify the flavors of this amazing dish.

Ratings

Service Fast, unobtrusive and knowledgeable
Decor Exquisite and well themed
Food Damn good eclectic fusion with an emphasis on seafood