Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Off the Map: We Just Really Like Mashed Potatoes

Pommes Puree -- Parc Brasserie, Philadelphia, PA
Parc Brasserie

So far in our culinary journey across Philadelphia, we have encountered a win (Kanella), a fail (Parc), and another win (The Dandelion).

Unfortunately, this pattern sets us up for a fail, and we find just that at "Food Truck Row" in West Philadelphia.  We venture here to try to find the A&M Halal Food Truck, which is yet another stop on our Best Thing I Ever Ate itinerary.  But when we eventually stumble upon said "Row" (a place that, after four years living less than ten blocks away, we never knew existed), we find a bevy of assorted food trucks.

All of them closed.  Fail.

Soldiering on, we scurry over to our school's football stadium so we can partake in our one scheduled homecoming activity: going on the field with the band alumni during halftime.  Based on our calculations, we are due for a win.  Instead, we encounter our first Philadelphia double-fail of the day.  It seems that there is a misplaced list of which band alums are allowed in the stadium (heaven forbid we pay for tickets to a sporting event), and no one seems willing to try to locate it.  After being sent from the box office to a random tent and then back to the box office, we confront the security guards themselves, who, after much confusion, tell us that they'll let us in if we can produce some kind of ID affiliating us to the school (apparently, a tattoo would be preferred.  We're not kidding).

After seeing our addresses on our driver's licenses, security decides that we wouldn't travel all this way just to break into a half-played football game, and we are granted admittance.

Win.

By the time we finish frolicking on the field for all of five minutes, we are ready to return to our strict eating schedule.  Out of the goodness of our hearts (or really, our OCD-like tendency to complete things), we have decided to give Parc another chance.  Earlier, when we had arrived and staked out two places at the over-crowded bar, we were informed that the pommes puree (mashed potatoes to us peasants) would not be available until 3:00pm.  Annoyed, as we are fairly certain that their online menus say otherwise, we had left and stumbled into The Dandelion.  Now, it is 3:30pm, and we are back for our promised mashed potatoes.

And no one will serve them to us until 5:00pm.

What is going ON, Parc?!
How Are We Supposed to Carb-Load Now?!
Since we have no where else to go, as most of the other places on our itinerary open at 5:00pm, we decide to wait it out at one of the many empty tables outside.  Where the hostesses at Parc seem none to keen to seat us, as it takes them many minutes to allow us to occupy one.  When we do, we have our first encounter with the waiter who will soon be regretting that he ever showed up for work today.  You see, we have decided to play dumb ("play dumb" is relative in our case, based on our continued inability to figure out how to split our tabs) and ask him if they will serve us a side of mashed potatoes, even though they are not on the mid-day menu. 

"We'll take leftovers," Vodka offers.  "Like, if you have some extra from last night.  We're not picky."  The waiter seems to find this gesture odd, as he is not aware that we are on a Best Thing I Ever Ate mission for Robert Irvine's CLASSIC choice, and we have not admitted to this fact.

Instead, Ginger adds this gem of an explanation: "We just really like mashed potatoes."
And We REALLY Dislike Having to Wait for Them... AGAIN
The waiter, bless his heart, says he will go check.  When he comes back, he has both of our grapefruit martinis but not a single side of mashed potatoes, which the staff in the kitchen is still insisting cannot be served before 5:00pm.  We have come to learn that Parc is very stringent on the various "rules" of their establishment -- they are not flexible concerning, well, anything, but particularly about their doling out of dinner side dishes ahead of time.

We tuck into our cocktails and the complimentary bread basket.  Our drinks are icy and quite good, if not particularly memorable (the grapefruit margarita at Barrio Chino has ruined all subsequent grapefruit-based drinks for us).  Ginger still manages to down hers within minutes, and she then decides that she should choose a drink she can sip more slowly.  When beer is suggested, she turns up her nose and states, "Please, that would take me the rest of my life to finish drinking."
Least Cohesive Cocktail Shot Ever
Settling on a new cocktail, Ginger is also quite taken with the bread basket, which Vodka, for once in her life, finds completely undesirable.  Slathering butter onto piece after piece, with nary a care for the four additional dishes we are still scheduled to eat tonight, Ginger drones on about how she should have lived in 1990 because "no one cared then."  (As she is mid-way through her second cocktail, it is difficult to determine what exactly people did not care about and/or whether or not Ginger is aware that she actually did "live" in 1990).
Let's Hope This Bread Did Not Also Live in the 20th-Century
By this point, we have almost come to accept our potato-less fate, at least until our friend arrives and hears all about Pommes-Puree-Gate.  As it is now close to an hour after our initial inquiry, less than thirty minutes until the mashed potatoes will appear on the dinner menu, our friend decides to take a stab at the quest, once again "playing dumb."

"Do you, by chance, have mashed potatoes?" she asks our long-suffering waiter as we attempt to suppress our laughter.

"Let me go check," he answers.  We decide that said waiter is unfailingly polite, as we would have answered with "Why don't you ask those idiots next to you?"  Alas, our friend gets no further than we did, as our waiter tells us that the kitchen is still refusing to allow the potatoes out of their premises.

Now, this is just getting ridiculous.

In the meantime, we make separate trips to the restroom and are doubly confounded by restaurants' inability to label bathroom doors "Boys" and "Girls."  Parc's restrooms feature completely faded letters that once read "Monsieurs" and "Dames."  Now, call us crazy, but if restaurants are going to insist on labeling their bathrooms in foreign tongues, they should at least make sure that the writing is legible so that their patrons don't, say, go wandering into the "Monsieur" room by mistake (hypothetically speaking).

Finally, after a full ninety minutes of hanging out on the sidewalks of Philadelphia in search of mashed potatoes, a steaming bowl of them arrives before us.  Digging our spoons into the creamy yellow-ish mixture, which is sprinkled with chives, we figure out what Parc has been doing all day:

Pureeing potatoes within an inch of their lives.
And For Our Next Course, We'll Take Some Smashed Peas and Carrots
We're not saying the mashed potatoes are not good.  In fact, their taste is more buttery, salty, and yes, CLASSIC, than almost any we have encountered before.  But they are also the consistency of baby food.

Now, Ginger has absolutely no issue with this texture.  Admitting that she "never eats mashed potatoes," she does not have an ideal with which to compare these.  Vodka, in contrast, keeps repeating "These need some chunks" at spoonful intervals.  It seems her problem with the potatoes is merely a matter of preference: she likes mashed potatoes thick, chunky, and sticky, while the ones before us could be piped into a Gerber jar with next to no effort.
Best Thing I Ever Ate for the Under-12-Months Set
We lap up the remainder of the potatoes and decide we are grateful that we weren't forced to order the roast chicken with which they are usually served.  We say goodbye to our fellow potato-grubbing friend and head off to our new locale, continuing to debate the merits of soupy versus chunky potatoes.  Eventually, Ginger sums up her preference in a single phrase:

"I just enjoy knowing that there is a food I can still eat when I have no teeth."

Parc Brasserie's Pommes Puree: 3 stars

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