A properly made almond croissant is a miracle to behold. Granted, on the miracle scale, almond croissants rank in the tiny-to-diminutive range. But outside of France they're rare. Believe me, I know. I've spent my whole life looking. It's my grand culinary quest, an obsession so deep-rooted it transcends all other reasons I ended up in this line of work. The short version is: The happy Saturday mornings of my youth were filled with perfect almond croissants, until the French baker at the marketplace we frequented changed his recipe. In that moment he created a voracious, nostalgia-seeking hunger in me, and I've been searching ever since.
So it's no small thing that the market at Parish Food & Goods sells an almond croissant that comes near to the unattainable perfection of my childhood memories. It has all the needed components: flaky, stretchy, buttery croissant pastry; an almost surprising heft; high-quality almond paste in just the right proportion to the pastry (enough to create the heft, but not enough to make the whole thing sloppy); toasty, copious sliced almonds smothering the top.
Jonathan St. Hilaire's pastries may not be Parish's most hyped feature, but they, along with the market they reside in, are the best thing about the new restaurant. Concentrics should be applauded for resurrecting the 19th-century Inman Park building, which was formerly part of a pipe factory. Upstairs, in the more formal restaurant, the antique raw materials and calculated design scheme create a stunning homage to New Orleans. The tin ceilings, long bar backed by gilded mirrors, and deft mix of worn industrialism and baroque romanticism evoke an Epcot-with-taste fantasy of the Crescent City.
Downstairs, an even more impressive feat has occurred. It's rare for a business to open its doors and immediately feel like part of a city, like a fixed reality rather than a transitory jumble of drywall and spangle. Parish Market, with its old walls, fantastic pastries, sunny aesthetic and friendly coffee bar, feels like an organic part of the landscape. And they make a mean po' boy, too.
Timothy Magee is the chef responsible for the po' boy, as well as the market's other sandwiches and the restaurant's food. Upstairs, the menu is written in chalk on a few large hanging blackboards, in part to help keep the paper waste to a minimum (wine lists are printed on brown paper bags). Unfortunately, the blackboards don't include the raw bar selections, making it unlikely that you'll know about the oyster pan roast, or the clean and minerally poached mussel salad. Magee excels at the art of salad making, an underappreciated talent in this meat-laden era. His sunflower salad is a study in yellow, combining gold beets with sweet, dense, vegetal sunchokes, sunflower seeds and baby corn. A savory chicken and crawfish cheesecake appetizer is rich and fluffy, and filling enough to serve as an entree. But its earthy and fresh mushroom side salad maintains the dish's balance, with parsley and red onions for clarity and crunch.
Magee's vegetable plate is more composed and inspired than the now-ubiquitous collection of side items. Instead, he arranges the day's freshest vegetables to compliment one another. One night, sautéed spinach lay beneath roasted yellow squash and lightly fried eggplant and was topped with a sweet tomato jam.
On the other hand, the new trend (Home has a similar dish) of chicken-frying duck confit totally baffles me. The whole point of duck confit is that it's cured in and redolent of duck fat. Frying it in vegetable oil predictably makes it taste like the rich dark meat of a chicken, but why on Earth would you want to do that? To turn duck confit into something resembling KFC is like taking caviar and mixing it with Duke's mayo – voilà, tuna salad!
Tender braised pork cheeks find equilibrium in a corn pancake and tangy mixture of leeks, mustard and cream. Broiled redfish with fresh garden veggies was a little oversalted, but came alive with a squeeze of lemon.
Sweets shine upstairs as well as down. The hulking and dense bread pudding with local peaches and a mellow bourbon sauce was harmonious and creamy for the few bites I managed after a heavy meal. It was even more delicious the next morning as a sinful breakfast of leftovers. Blueberry cheesecake tart tasted of fresh berries and nutty crust, and showed an uncommon and pleasing restraint for cheesecake.
The original wine list had a welcome focus on French wines, but on my last visit the waiter informed me that they were switching distributors and going for a broader variety. I can't speak to what's there now, but I can say I'll miss the list that was on its way out.
Many of the qualities that have both blessed and plagued the Concentrics brand are present upstairs – impressive design, an aura of excitement, food that's sometimes inspired and sometimes feels forced. But the market has achieved more than that; it already feels like a neighborhood staple, and is worthy of a large marker on the map of my emotional croissant quest.
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