By David Nelson / Photos by Sara Norris
Downtown's new Parq Restaurant & Nightclub shows what imagination (and no shortage of bucks) can create. At every turn, this place confirms the sky's the limit, including in the main dining room, where stars twinkle through an open ceiling.
Erected in 1926 by Finest City kingpin of yore John D. Spreckels, the building that houses Parq is also the former home of downtown mega-club On Broadway. Today, on the Sixth Avenue side of the property, roll-up glass doors give way to a reception area designed to emulate a posh hotel lobby.
"So you're not out on the curb, waiting to get in," says proprietor Carlos Becerra, who entrusted Parq's jaw-dropping interior design to Costa Mesa-based Davis Ink, the firm responsible for designing FLUXX, Stingaree and Bar West, among many other sparkling San Diego venues.
To elevate the caliber of food at Parq to the level of its interior surroundings, Becerra hired celebrity chef Errol LeBlanc, who took First Place in Food Network's popular TV show Chef Wanted with Anne Burrell. LeBlanc calls his cuisine "Progressive American," which could well describe the chef himself, a California native who came of age in Las Vegas, where he cut his teeth cooking at swanky outposts like Charlie Palmer's Aureole, and then left to polish away rough edges at a culinary arts school in Pasadena. Before being recruited to Parq, he spent a year as Executive Chef at the Gaslamp's celebrated Cafe Sevilla.
"We'll definitely change the menu with the seasons," says LeBlanc. "I don't like it when a menu always stays the same, 365 days of the year."
As Parq's first season of diners take their seats beneath sculptured trees festooned with thousands of glass flowers (each with a tiny light bulb that can be programmed to flash in sync with music to create a dazzling effect), LeBlanc will treat them to what he describes as "ingredient-driven" offerings.
For starters, his unusual take on Caprese salad features housemade burrata (the buttery heart of fresh mozzarella), which he serves warm and adorned with flavor highlights like baby tomatoes, garlic and white balsamic vinegar. Lacquered with a honey-ginger-chipotle glaze, his ultra-meaty slow-braised pork belly promises to satisfy even the most ravenous carnivores, while fish fans are sure to get hooked on the Monterey Bay Crispy Bass, which headlines "The Sea" category on LeBlanc's opening menu.
While the menu notes that most entrees can be "created in a vegan or vegetarian style by the kitchen team," Parq specializes in luxuries like rack of lamb served with black Mission fig-Bartlett pear chutney, and Maine lobster rellenos with pasilla chile salsa. "
The dish I put the most effort and love into is the 24 Hour Short Rib," says LeBlanc. He prepares the dish sous-vide - in a vacuum-sealed pouch that allows slow, low-temperature cooking to create butter-tender meats. The garnishes are crisply finished wild mushrooms and LeBlanc's "velvet potatoes," which he describes as "super-smooth with just salt, cream and butter added. It's awesome."
LeBlanc wrote the dessert list with the same eye for variety, and it's fun. The maple bacon bread pudding is sweetly trendy, while the tempura banana split, rich in details like Luxardo cherries and candied nuts, is more exciting than any given sundae.
After dinner, follow the twisting stone tunnel from the restaurant to the other side of Parq, the immense, Vegas-meets- Hollywood nightclub with an indoor babbling brook, unrivaled sound and visual effects... and the power to make the lights come back on Broadway.
Parq Restaurant & Nightclub
615 Broadway, Gaslamp