Fresh Take: Small Plates, Big Show at PARA in South End
When restaurants promote globally-inspired small plates, it’s hard to know what they mean. Tapas? Fusion? Multi-course? From farm to table? “Globally inspired small plates” have become the industry catch-all for Instagrammable food with a variety of influences. The menu can include ostrich fillets, purple yams, edible flowers, or vegan curry, and waiters encourage you to order a bit of everything for the table.
Shareable dishes defy logic during a pandemic, but they’re still going strong. Here’s why it works: diners can try new dishes without too much commitment, and chefs can demonstrate their range because they’re not limited to one cuisine. Operators can charge entry prices for appetizer-sized dishes made with fresh sashimi and premium wagyu beef, and most customers need to order two or three plates to feel satisfied. When servers are properly masked and bring fresh utensils with each course, as they do at PARA, the “shareable” component feels safer. Add a “creative cocktail program” and patio seating, and you’ve got a lively new restaurant.
PARA is short for “imparable”, French for “imparable”. It opened in late January—during that dark time of winter when New Year’s resolutions get dropped and $15 cocktails seem like a great idea—in the former Zeppelin space. A custom mural by local artist Dustin Moates, co-founder of the Southern Tiger Collective, spans the building’s exterior, and live moss by Torrie Savage flanks the 12-seat bar. The 55-seat dining room features green epoxy floors, tufted brown leather banquettes and an array of pendant lights suspended from the industrial ceiling.
Yashira “Yoshi” Mejia leads the cocktail program, which includes three non-spirit alternatives. If you prefer something stronger, try a Berry Nice ($15), a refreshing but not too sweet cocktail, or a Japanese ($16), made with alcohol, hazelnut and cognac. The drinks menu also includes wine by the glass or bottle.
Executive chef Alex Verica honed his skills at The Dot Dot Dot and The Stanley, where he worked with his father, two-time James Beard semi-finalist Paul Verica. Here, the 26-year-old has built a menu rich in seafood with Asian influences. Highlights include Deviled Eggs ($13), topped with miso, shrimp, salmon roe and chives; Lobster Toast ($16), a slice of crispy milk bread topped with chunks of lobster, chive aioli, caviar and radish; and Sashimi ($18) with ponzu shaved ice, hot peppers, and radishes. Although the presentation is impeccable, the portions are small, so three plates won’t satisfy a party of two.
For round two, try the Tempura ($12), a cylinder of broccoli salad topped with crispy oyster mushrooms, radishes and a tangy togarashi aioli. The Crab Rangoon ($16) comes with four steamed fried buns and ginger miso sauce for dipping. Short Rib Dumplings ($16) are savory meat-filled packets topped with radishes and cilantro, but at just three per plate, they quickly disappear.
The most surprising dish: the “Tuna” Crudo ($12), a plate of thinly sliced watermelon disguised as ahi tuna, topped with jalapeño, lime, avocado, chili and radish. The joker, Milk Bread PB&J ($15), combines peanut butter, berry jam and foie gras. It is registered as salty at first, but is just sweet enough to keep at the end of your meal. If that doesn’t satisfy your sugar craving, PARA also offers three traditional Japanese desserts ($9 each) made with shaved ice. Toppings include cold brew, watermelon, pistachio, and matcha.
Verica’s small plates are a visual feast, but don’t come hungry and expect to leave stuffed. If you prefer simple entrees that you don’t have to share, stick to a steakhouse. But if you’re not afraid to order dishes with ingredients you don’t recognize and like to linger and take pictures of your food, PARA is worth a visit.