Parasole’s newest arrival opened this week. Uptown Cafeteria and Support Group will be (according to the website) serving “the food we love to eat.” It’s the ninth restaurant from Minnesota’s largest independent restaurant group and it looks like there’s no end in sight. Mozza Mia, an Italian concept eatery serving wood-fired pizzas and showcasing a mozzarella bar, is also slated to open this year. Tack on the plans to open additional locations of Burger Jones and Good Earth, and it’s clear that Parasole has no plans to slow down. But might their recent growth spurt be hindering them from paying close attention to their already existing restaurants? And where is the line between being fresh and creative versus overly ambitious?
Take Salut, for example. Visit the website and you’re prompted to choose between English or French. Drive by a billboard and you’ll see le signature Frog, sporting a beret, taking a drag of a cigarette. Skim the menu and you’ll find it laden with steak frites, sauce boats, and Duck a l’Orange. Take a seat in the fenced-in courtyard in a wicker French bistro chair and you’ll hear “La Vie En Rose” oozing out of the speakers. You get the point. The restaurant has “bonjour” spilling out of it every which way.
However, a recent visit left this writer confused. The Escargot Rangoon touched it off. I was sold before ordering. I like escargot. I like crab rangoons. So what could go wrong if you replaced the crab with ze French snail? Upon review: Snails have no business being deep fried in wontons. My preference is still that they be served in garlicky butter that you can sop up with baguette, a classic dish for a French restaurant. But hey, that’s me. Regardless of the dish’s quality, it highlighted something. Salut is slowly adding menu items that are, in fact, not French. Doesn’t this go against the Parasole theme of opening concept-driven restaurants? (Though on Cafeteria’s website they’re quick to point out that the concept is, in fact, having no concept at all.)
What are Ricotta Hushpuppies doing in the hors d’oeuvre? Isn’t bolognese of Italian descent? Miso Red Snapper served with bok choy doesn’t sound very French to me. This didn’t make sense. Not from Parasole. Burger Jones serves… burgers. Plus the standard pairings: shakes, fries, and the works. Manny’s is renowned for its red meat and mammoth portions, and expected steakhouse sides like buttery hash browns and heaping plates of veggies. Good Earth’s menu is filled with dishes that are, well, good for your body. These restaurants have clear, concise concepts that are carried out in food, décor, and ambiance. But it seems that Salut has been quietly introducing non-French menu items without any explanation.
Salut doesn’t stand alone in its culture confusion. Il Gatto (the Italian restaurant that replaced the landmark Figlio and is one of now three Parasole restaurants in a one-block radius in Uptown) is serving french fries and hamburgers alongside linguini and salumi. There are certainly other local restaurants outside of the Parasole family that serve pizzas or chicken salad in addition to sushi. But then again, they’re not claiming to be Japanese. Perhaps Salut is exhibiting globalization or France has seen an increase in immigration. Or maybe I’m just bitter because I like my snails in butter and not a deep-fried wonton. (Next time, it’s off to Meritage to get my fix.)
Aside from restaurants straying away from concepts, I’ve heard many locals reminisce about two landmarks that used to be — the place that was formerly Figlio (mostly about the old happy hour — $2 gorgonzola fries and wine, anyone?) and the former Hyatt location of Manny’s (where they didn’t have cameras in the restaurant and the decibel level sometimes dropped below “passing freight train”). In both cases, was Parasole trying to fix something that wasn’t broken? One starts to wonder, what’s the rush to grow? There’s a fine line between quantity versus quality, and with all the money that continues to be invested in new openings, Parasole could risk being spread too thin.