I went to Parallel 17 for the first time a few weeks ago for brunch armed with my wife's DINR cards. When I later sat down to write about it I became interested in knowing more about the head chef, Mary Nguyen. While perusing the standard online resources (that is, I Googled her name) I found myself re-reading her two-part interview in the Westword from November 2009.
As I read the interview for the second time, I remember thinking the same thing that I thought the first time I read it but had since forgotten (such is the novelty of poor memory): she seemed as down-to-earth and unpretentious as many of Denver's finest chefs. I agreed with a lot of her answers, like when asked about current Denver culinary genius, she gave a shout to the poorly represented, "...hole-in-the-wall places that serve amazing ethnic food." Exactly. She even went further to say that her favorite restaurant is Shish Kabob Grill on Colfax and Grant, citing her admiration for the hard-working family running the place. "[I]mmigrant dreams and hard work," she says, "It's what this country is built on." Couldn't agree more.
Then I re-read the part about her toothpaste tube full of duck-liver mousse that her European husband has smuggled in on a regular basis. It's not the illicit transport of perishable non-FDA approved food items that excited me--though I do admire it--but the fact that I have long dreamed of portable pȃté in toothpaste form. In fact, I wrote about it after a trip last year to Toronto, where I had a divine chicken liver and foie gras mousse at Cava that I thought should immediately be available in toothpaste form (and if it was I would be equally as well-stocked as Chef Nguyen). The fact that Chef Nguyen and her family keep a supply of toothpaste tube pȃté handy-- in fact they can't live without it -- can only lead to the conclusion that they have discriminating taste and are upstanding citizens of high moral fiber. Or, at least, they really like pȃté.
My wife and I also really like pȃté. And we also really like Vietnamese food. For this latter reason I was very excited to try Parallel 17.
I went with a large group of people that we can loosely refer to as the Asian crew. We were able to order a lot of items from the brunch menu, and among them was a plain plate of scrambled eggs, potatoes and fruit--or what is known as a "choke order" in a restaurant like this (I think he was hungover to be fair). But besides the uninspiring egg plate we were otherwise surprised, pleased, happy, satiated, enamored.
Banh Mi sliders started us off and we were pleasantly surprised with this creative take on the classic Vietnamese sandwich. Fresh baked soft, mushy buns hid a lovely basil pesto along with other, more traditional Banh Mi veggies. We had the pork and the beef, both excellent, but both sadly lacking a spread of pate.
I then ordered the Pho. Nervously, I admit, because I know many places to get good Pho in Denver, and with all the other interesting options on the menu, I was hoping not to make another "choke order". Of course it wasn't, and if I had remembered anything from that aforementioned Westword article about her proud Vietnamese heritage, I wouldn't have been surprised at how good it was. It was a wonderfully rich broth with tender beef that oozed comfort and home-cooked love. And as a bonus alongside the traditional Hoisin and Sarrachi sauces was, according to our server, a homemade "onion marmalade" made by Chef Ngyuen's mom.
I also tasted some of these perfectly poached eggs. On the left they are served over halves of buttermilk biscuits and topped with a chorizo gravy. On the right they are resting on top of salmon cakes and covered in a Thai basil hollandaise sauce. The chorizo gravy was hearty and the hollandaise sauce was bright and creamy. And both were as good as they sound. The home fries also had a nice deep-fried crisp to them. The only critique was the heavy hand with the salt on these two plates.
I didn't get a taste of these "tuna tacos" served over an avocado mousse, but look at the picture. There is no way that could be bad.
And then there was the Blueberry Stuffed French Toast. This dish was the group favorite, and with reason; it was a slice of blissful food erotica. The blueberry-stuffed thick-sliced bread was coated in walnuts and then-- here is the best part-- it was deep-fried. Or at least it tasted that way. It was crispy on the outside and sensually soft on the inside. It was topped with a tasty blueberry sauce, fresh whipped cream, a fried mint leaf and a five spice crème anglaise. By the end of the meal I think everyone ordered his or her own side of the stuff, as sharing this was really not an option... For a mere $4, it is a great brunch deal.
Chef Nguyen, in that same Westword interview said that her proudest moments as a chef are hearing from guests that they've had a great dining experience. Well, Chef, we had exactly that. It was a diverse and delicious brunch, and for what it's worth, the Asian crew approved (though for Pho, to be clear, would stick with South Federal's finest). Unfortunately, in the post-meal stupor that I often put myself in, I actually forgot to break out the DINR deck, so we didn't get our $10 discount. Fortunately, P-17 showed so much promise with its excellent brunch that is a great excuse to go back for dinner. Stay tuned.
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