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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

March 11, 2004

Roppongi: Best of both worlds

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.

Chapter I: The Search

Having finally gotten inured to our exiled state in the other side of the continent in what a normal human being could safely call "Paradise" (with a capital P), we decided to stir out of our immediate prison (in the form of a Quality suites Hotel) to venture forth and experience the culinary delights of San Diego.

As usual, this turns out to be a harder task than initially supposed. Some days, I feel life would be more akin to the apt nautical analogy of "smooth sailing" if I had no choices. At least then, I could just spend my days whining and muttering disconsolately about the fascist restrictions imposed on me, rather than spending my life burdened with the Herculean task of deciding amongst a plethora of options (xxxxxDo you know what a plethora is?). It wasn't as bad this time around. Michal was set on going someplace in La Jolla, and so my online searches (Zagats, DigitalCity and miscellaneous other sites) were limited, focused and short.

My culinary predilections are pretty straightforward and anyone who's known me for a while (say, an hour or so) can soothsay my opinions. Given any cuisine that has the words nouveau, fusion, or contemporary attached to it, I sorta kinda tend to jump in that direction. Mainly, I think, due to the aura of excitement and uncertainty I feel it would impart to my other drab, humdrum existence. In this case, being the predictable creature of habit that I am, I, given a choice between exemplary restaurants that served Hearty Italian, Traditional Seafood, Steak, and Asian-European fusion, dove in headlong flight towards the latter. That being an establishment that went by the rather quaint name of Roppongi (The corollary to Clarke's Law [1] is that any sufficiently incomprehensible foreign language phrase is indistinguishable from quaintness.)

Chapter II: The Area

So after work, we venture to La Jolla, the land of beautiful people, fast cars and of course, Starbucks. And while I'm stating the obvious and duh'worthy, let me add that it's also the land of milk and honey, air and salty water, sun and rain. Leaving aside such minor details, La Jolla looked pretty much like any other "sunset walks by the beach next to million dollar beach-houses filled with 6-figure objets d'art" area. It was a little deserted owing to recent rains, slight windy conditions and it being a weekday. Roppongi is located in downtown La Jolla on a street lined with stores whose names I couldn't pronounce even while sleep-talking, and restaurants without menu items were cousins to the store names.

Chapter III: The Experience

Roppongi starts off with a good impression and somehow manages to better it. The decor is muted and subtle without being bland. Even the blazing fires on the outside seemed to blend in. Everything was in tones of brown with varying themes, all influenced by the far east. You enter through the bar area, narrow and busy, into the main restaurant section, which is open but busy. The restaurant was well laid out and, even with it being fairly busy, the ambient noise was minimal [2]. The serving staff were courteous, knowledgeable and good-looking.

The menu at Roppongi is sharply divided down the middle. The left page of the menu is devoted to Asian tapas and sashimi/sushi, while the right side is divided into the more traditional western courses of starters, salads, entrees and side dishes. While the food obviously had a heavy Asian flair, the ingredients also had connections more western cuisines. In addition, Roppongi also has a good wine list.

It didn't take us long to decide on what we wanted to eat and the ordering went smoothly except for a slight tussle with our waiter concerning what kind of water we wanted (we ended up with a cool-looking cylinder of Voss water when all we wanted was tap water.) Michal and I shared a Ahi Sashimi appetizer, but thence our choices differed. He went crazy over the tapas ordering Indonesian tiger shrimp skewers with tomato horseradish and mango salsa (looked scrumptious), Woked black mussels with leeks, lemongrass, coconut milk and green curry, and Grilled portobello mushroom with spinach and miso dressing. All of which met his Atkins requirements. I, on the other hand, went with Organic greens with a sesame soy vinaigrette, Hibachi grilled seabass with roasted vegetables and papaya ponzu, and a side of Hibachi grilled asparagus with seven spice hollandaise sauce. The salad dressing was great, tho overall the salad wasn't anything to rave about. The seabass was great and the papaya ponzu gave it an unique flavor that initially felt strange but I quickly grew to like it. The asparagus was really good with the sauce complementing it perfectly.

Having not punished my stomach enough, I decided to order dessert. The dessert menu had some interesting offerings as well as a nice list of dessert drinks. Being an in-your-face chocoholic, I of course went for the Warm melting chocolate decadence with vanilla gelato. This required (as was stated in the menu) 20 minutes of preparation time. However, it was worth it in the end. While very good, the dessert wasn't quite in keeping with Roppongi's unique offerings.

Ratings

Service Polite and knowledgeable
Decor Subtle and non-intrusive
Food Good east-west fusion

Footnotes

  1. Clarke's First Law is "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."
  2. One of my pet peeves with restaurants is that the growing trend is to design them so as to exacerbate the ambient noise in the restaurant, presumably to make it seem busier than it is. While this also serves to mask sounds from crying children and particularly loud diners, the cure seems to be worse than the poison.