Monday, August 25, 2014

Parker House Wedding Catering

The Parker House is a hotel located in Boston, MA, right near Boston Commons.  It is a historic site, in existence since 1855, and has many interesting historical facts.  For history buffs, the connections to the Freedom Trail may be interesting.  For literary folks, the connections with Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne and Longfellow.  For sports fans, Babe Ruth and Ted Williams.  But the Parker House is famous for me as well, for two culinary inventions: Parker House Rolls (clearly, named after them) and Boston Cream Pie.  (Yes, they claim to have invented Boston Cream Pie).  The restaurant has some interesting historical trivia, like the fact that Ho Chi Minh and Malcolm X worked there, as a baker and busboy, respectively.  Oh, and don't forget about Emeril.

I was excited when I found out that a friend of mine was holding her wedding reception at the Parker House.  I'd get to try the famous Parker House Rolls and Boston Cream Pie at their birthplace!  When is the last time you were excited about the wedding catering?  Spoiler: It turns out, I shouldn't have been.

For the positive, it was a lovely venue for a wedding reception.  The decor is an elegant, colonial style, and the space was well set up for hosting large events.  The hotel is huge, and it was easy for all guests to stay on site (although I stayed next door at the Nine Zero, a modern, quirky Kimpton property that I adore).

The reception started with a selection of 5 passed appetizers.  I didn't get photos of the part of the event.  I skipped the first item, marinated grilled lamb chops with mint demi glace, since I dislike lamb, but they looked overcooked.  Others did like the demi glace to dip them into.  I also skipped the beef arepas with salsa picante, because I had my eye on the seafood selections.

The first seafood item to come around was Jonah crab cakes with red pepper aioli.  The mini crab cake was cute, but kinda fishy, lukewarm.  The aioli was a nice touch, except that it was flavorless.

Next came what was described as "tuna tartare with wasabi crème fraîche and micro greens".  Sounds great, but tartare?  Um, no.  It was a cracker with a slice of slightly seared tuna sitting on top.  The tuna was warm, it was limp, and ... it was a slice, not a tartare.  I wish I could have spit it out.  The texture, the temperature, everything was just off here.  The wasabi crème fraîche was good however, and gave a pop of flavor to the dish.

Scared off by the seafood, I decided to try the final appetizer, "kobe" beef sliders with caramelized onions and Vermont cheddar on a brioche roll.  Everyone loved these the first time they came around, and I'd passed originally.  Sadly, the one I received did not have any caramelized onion, which I was really looking forward to!  Mine also didn't really have any cheese, although I saw that others did have nicely melted cheese.  I believe this had the potential to be tasty, as it is hard to go wrong with caramelized onion and cheddar, but mine was missing these essential components.  The patty was hard as a rock, way overcooked.

A table was set up with a few buffet style cold appetizers as well, including bruschetta with tomato, basil, and fresh mozzarella on grilled bread and an antipasto platter featuring imported sweet abruzzi, hot soppressata, baby mortadella, capicola, cured beef bresaola, pecorino romano and provolone cheese, grilled vegetables, tomato mozzarella salad, bread.  I didn't try any of this, as it really didn't look good.  Everything looked super oily, and like it had been sitting for a very long time.

After an hour or so of socializing and drinks, we moved into the dining room for the main meal.  I'd like to say the food got better, but it did not.  However, I wasn't there for the food, even if I was excited to try some of the iconic items.  I was there to celebrate the wedding of one of a friend who I have known for years, and in that regard, the meal was a total success.  Who really cares about the food when you are surrounded by friends?  I didn't take notes at the event, so my review isn't as detailed as normal, but, I can't say that I'd actually recommend the Parker House for your wedding catering.
Lobster Bisque Laced with Cognac.
The service at the event was really quite bad.  To start, bowls of soup were just placed in front of us, not a word said.  No menus were ever shown.  What if someone was allergic to shellfish?  I only found out it was lobster bisque after I asked, after our full table had been served, everyone had started eating, and it was clear we'd never be told.  It looked like it could have just been tomato soup.

The bisque smelt good, but failed to deliver.  It was barely lukewarm.  It had very little flavor, but moreover, it had no lobster.  I know it was a bisque, but I expected at least a few chunks or ... something.  There were some lumps in mine, which I kept hoping might actually be lobster, but just turned out to be clumps of the soup itself.  It did have a slight booziness to it, which I thought was it just not being cooked off properly, until I read the description later, and saw that it was intentionally "laced with cognac".

Not very good, but sadly, the best dish of the meal.
Traditional Caesar Salad.
Next, this lovely dish was plopped down in front of us.  Caesar salad,  "traditional caesar salad featuring shaved asiago and Parker House roll croutons with creamy garlic caesar dressing".

It tasted exactly as awful as it looked.

It clearly had been plated way too far in advance.  The lettuce was beyond limp and soggy.  The dressing was actually decent, but most of my salad was totally undressed, the opposite problem from what I expected.  I had perhaps two croutons on my plate.

It was a mess, and it wasn't fresh.  Really poor job on their end, although I believe this could have been good if properly composed, and served fresh.
Roll with Butter.
Next, we were each given a roll.  Since the Parker House is famous for inventing these rolls, I was eager to try one.  I'm still not positive these actually were Parker House rolls ... I thought they were supposed to have a different shape, and a slightly glazed exterior?  But they wouldn't not serve us the Parker House Rolls right?  These have been a classic there since the 1880s!

The roll was the highlight of the meal.  Shocking, as I'm not normally a bread person, and I quickly gobbled down my roll.

Unfortunately, the rolls were not served hot.  Again, I feel like the kitchen was all off on the timing.  Lukewarm soup, salad that had been clearly plated hours in advance, cold rolls.  Come on folks!

Anyway, the roll was good.  It didn't look like much, just like a standard dinner roll.  But it was soft and fluffy, and had a nice sweetness to it.  The butter balls served alongside were unremarkable, but really did add to the roll.

Our table was later given a basket full of extra rolls.  After deciding that my entree was beyond horrible, I decided to go for a second roll to make sure I had enough food.  Sadly, that one wasn't nearly as good.  I'm really not sure why.  No consistency here, even in the rolls.
Seared filet mignon, golden chanterelle bordelaise sauce, roasted baby potato, fresh asparagus, baby carrots and sun burst squash.
For entrees, we had a choice of chicken or beef.  Both were served with veggies on the side.

Each plate had exactly two of each of the vegetables: asparagus, carrots, potatoes, squash.  Those who selected chicken had green beans instead of asparagus, but otherwise, the sides were the same.  I was amused that they even bothered switch a single veggie.  The vegetables were all flavorless, completely unseasoned, and, like everything lukewarm.  At least they weren't mushy, and did provide some color on the plate.

We pre-selected our entrees when we RSVPed, and no choice was given as to how we wanted the steak cooked.  I would normally go for medium-rare, but as far as I could tell, they all arrived well done.  There wasn't even a tiny hint of pink in my steak.  It wasn't moist, it wasn't tender, it was just way overcooked for my taste.  And it t didn't seem to be that high of quality to begin with, so maybe that was for the best.  It really had no flavor at all, and, like the veggies, didn't seem to be even minimally seasoned.

There was a sauce on the steak, apparently "golden chanterelle bordelaise sauce", but, like everything else on the plate, it was bland.  It added needed moisture to the otherwise dried out steak, but offered little else.

At least the portion was generous?
Vanilla Cake with Coconut Frosting. Tuxedo Dipped Strawberry.
Finally, the part I always look forward to ... dessert!

The cake had both chocolate and vanilla layers, but no choice was given as the servers unceremoniously plopped it down on tables.  Plates of cake were just plopped down at each seat while everyone was up dancing.  Amusingly, the plates were left at the table for what really seemed liked less than 10 minutes, before being cleared away.  Most people never got to even try the cake, as they were dancing when they were delivered, and I don't think anyone ever expected them to be taken away so quickly.  I really don't understand why they did that.

I of course had my priorities, and made sure I got my cake.  It was decent, not too dry although not very moist.  It was a classic layer cake, with frosting in-between the layers, on top, and down the sides.  The ratio of cake to frosting was a bit off (too much frosting, even for me, and I always like more frosting than most), but the frosting was quite tasty, loaded with coconut, which was unexpected, as I thought this was just going to be standard vanilla cake with vanilla frosting.  Definitely a great pick by the bride!

The slices were plated with tuxedo dipped strawberries, which were certainly the best looking component of the entire meal.  So cute!  Maybe *someone* in that kitchen does care about presentation?  The strawberries hiding under the chocolate layers however weren't ripe ... at all.  Mine was actually almost completely white.  But I liked the chocolate, I liked how adorable they were, so I forgave them for this.  Plus, it was November, in Boston.  I forgave them so much so that I took the strawberries from the plates of those neglecting theirs around me.  Besides the rolls, I think these were the highlight of my meal, particularly when paired with the coffee that was also not really offered to anyone but the handful of us who were actually not on the dance floor at the moment the cake came out.  No refills for the coffee were offered, as the staff really seemed to just want to be done with us.
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