The menu at Parlour Restaurant and Lounge is stamped with the following disclaimer in bold, black ink: “NOT FROM NAPLES.”
No, obviously not. Their Yaletown pizza – strewn with a wild Californian-Mexican mix of albacore tuna, avocado, jalapenos, spicy aioli, red and green onion and a sprinkling of torn cilantro – would never meet the strict standards of a certified authentic Neapolitan pie. Still, it’s nice that the owners have made it clear that this is not an Italian restaurant.
But what is it, exactly?
To me, this new West Coast pizzeria looks like a typical Yaletown restaurant, with its exposed brick walls, wooden beams and pretty, glossy-haired hostesses perched at the front door.
It sounds like many a Yaletown lounge, especially on weekends when the DJ spins everything from old-school hip-hop to Chicago house, and the music thumps through the throng by the bar waiting upwards of 30 minutes for a table.
And sometimes – at least late at night, when clusters of young customers pile outside on the sidewalk under billowy clouds of cigarette smoke – it smells like a Yaletown nightclub.
But there is a difference. Unlike most of the large chain restaurants and corporate nightclubs that have taken over Yaletown in the past five years, Parlour is an independent.
“I think we’ve got that old vibe that Yaletown might have had before all the corporate restaurants moved in,” says owner Sean Holland, who describes himself as a “Yaletown guy” (whatever that means).
The Yaletown pizza, I can tell you, is much tastier than it sounds. I wouldn’t usually gravitate to a pizza that reads like a Baja taco. But when you work in this type of job, well, you don’t always get to order what you want. And sometimes, as in this case, you are pleasantly rewarded.
The toppings were all pristinely fresh. The tuna was sliced thin enough so the texture wasn’t gummy. The aioli, combined with the jalapeno, was spicy enough to stand up to the raw onions. And on Parlour’s crisp, golden bread dough (bubbled with big crunchy air pockets, but soft enough to chew), it all came together brilliantly.
The Dirty (meatballs, pepperoni, mozzarella, banana peppers) and the Standard (pepperoni, mushrooms, red pepper, onion, bacon, Kalamata olives) were also very good. Given how surprised I was by the Yaletown, I might even go back to try the truffle-oil-flecked Goldmember pizza, even though I really hate truffle oil.
“I wouldn’t have believed it either,” says Mr. Holland, explaining how he stumbled upon the Yaletown’s unlikely recipe. “My girlfriend and I were in Playa del Carmen, plastered on the beach one night. I went to the bathroom and when I came back, this is what she had ordered! We got into a massive fight. But then the pizza came and it blew me away. I literally ate my foot after that. I love telling this story to my guests.” (I guess that’s what you’d call a real “Yaletown guy.”)
In addition to its regular pizza dough, Parlour also offers light, gluten-free dough. It’s not celiac-friendly dough (as the menu also clearly states in bold, black ink) because there are traces of flour everywhere in the restaurant. It’s more a “fashionable, Yaletown dough” made of rice and tapioca flours, explains Mr. Holland, who obviously knows his market.
Both crusts stand up to delivery, a service that Parlour has only just launched to its Yaletown neighbourhours, with plans to expand this winter. Both are finished with a crunchy Maldon salt and olive-oil-slicked edges – a trick Mr. Holland learned from the Cactus Club Café.
Oh, yes. The Parlour isn’t a chain restaurant. But both Mr. Holland and his brother Chris, a co-owner, hail from the Cactus Restaurants Ltd. Sean worked with the company for 12 years, including four as head chef at the downtown Vancouver flagship in the Bentall Centre. Their partner, Paul Rivas, remains the executive chef and general manager of his family-owned restaurant, La Bodega.
I guess that explains the influences. Mr. Holland would never knock the Cactus Club Café restaurants. “Working there gave me the confidence to open my own restaurant,” he says sincerely. Yet he insists that surface appearance aside, the Parlour is different.
“Our servers are more playful,” he explains. “I’m not saying the Cactus Club isn’t playful. But they can have fun with the guests. They don’t fit into a mould. This is probably what the Cactus Club was like when it started out.”
I’m not sure if wife-beater tank tops, Ugg boots and panda costumes were trendy when the Cactus Club launched 25 years ago. But if that’s what Mr. Holland calls playful, well, okay. (A bartender called Teddy has apparently started a new tradition by coming out for last call dressed as a panda. I haven’t seen it.)
But if Mr. Holland really wants to one-up the Cactus Club, he might want to work on his wine service. The Parlour offers several wines on tap. But until a few weeks ago, he had a serious problem with temperature. The red wines were as warm as bathwater.
“That’s the problem with wine on tap,” one lovely server tried to tell me. Well, not really. It’s a problem with an establishment’s draught system. The temperature control has been fixed, but the wine list remains mediocre.
The three other dishes I tried, all appetizers, were adequate, hit and miss. The Caesar salad was a bit overdressed, but nicely texturized with chewy maple bacon and decently salted with anchovies. The meatball sliders were perfection. It’s hard to find properly moist meatballs that have been cooked in their sauce without falling apart. But these spicy babies served on toasted brioche are absolutely addictive.
The Burrata salad was the only letdown from the kitchen. This fresh Italian cheese made from mozzarella and cream should be served warm and soft. On this occasion, it was warm and chewy. But to give the restaurant credit, someone recognized the mistake and removed it from our bill.
I love Neapolitan pizza with its thin, droopy crust and minimalist toppings. And I’ve been thrilled to see the trend take off in Vancouver. But there is certainly room for other styles. And the Parlour, which makes very good pizza, has found its perfect niche in Yaletown.