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Parker's Restaurant at the Omni Parker House in Boston - The Ideal Place to Get a Generous Side of History Served Up With a Marvelous Meal

A little over a year ago, I had the chance to stay in a Boston hotel that I'd had my heart set on for quite a few years - the beautiful and historic Omni Parker House which Harvey D. Parker introduced to Boston on October 8th, 1855 and which is located in one of the most ideal spots in Boston right on the Freedom Trail and within walking distance of many local attractions including Boston Common and Public Gardens, Faneuil Hall, the Massachusetts State House, and more.

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I wrote a post about that visit which you can find here if you've not found it already but as with all good things, one visit was simply not going to be enough and after taking the Omni Parker House off of the top of my "Bucket List of Places to Stay" which is made up of hotels that belong to the Historic Hotels of America as I can't help it - I'm a history nut! - I added it right back on to the list again with the promise that I'd get back there again someday.

School Street Entrance to Boston's Omni Parker House

Thankfully "someday" came a lot sooner this time than it did the first and recently I found myself returning to Boston and the Omni Parker House but this time I was bringing my oldest daughter and we were going to have dinner at Parker's Restaurant - a treat that I was most definitely looking forward to!  On my last visit, my youngest daughter and I enjoyed a morning meal in Parker's Restaurant where they introduce their guests to "The Art of Breakfast" and as it was so fantastic, I couldn't wait to see what dinner was going to be like!

Now ... before I share our fabulous meal with you, I had one unfinished piece of business from the last time that I was at the Omni Parker House which involved the scenic marker below that was placed in the sidewalk just outside of the hotel doors on the Tremont Street side of the building by the Boston Redevelopment Authority in 1960.

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Last time, I failed to turn around and spot the steeple of the North Church where two lanterns were hung on the night of April 18, 1775 sending Paul Revere on a mad dash through the Massachusetts countryside warning of the impending British landing but I promised to make sure that I amended that oversight on my next trip and that's exactly what I did!  When you turn around and look, the first thing you'll see is the Tremont Street entrance to the hotel but then if you look to the left you can see the slim steeple rising in the distance.

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Luckily for Paul Revere, the North Church tower was no doubt a lot more visible on that early April night than it is these days but, it's definitely still there!  It's too bad that Mr. Revere didn't have the Parker House to pop into for a warm libation before starting his ride but alas for him, at the time of his midnight ride, the property was occupied by a three-story brick mansion that had originally been built in 1704 by wealthy Boston merchant, John Mico. 

When Harvey D. Parker, a 27-year old former farm boy from Maine, bought the old Mico Mansion on April 22, 1854, he had been successfully operating Parker's Restaurant in a cellar café on Court Square since 1832, an establishment he had purchased for $432. Harvey's first restaurant was so successful with its excellent food and exemplary service, he was able to take on John F. Mills as a partner in 1847 and then in 1854 was ready to launch his plan to build a new, first-class hotel and restaurant.

Portrait of Harvey Parker in Parker's Restaurant at the Omni Parker HouseWanting his restaurant to stand head-and-shoulders above the rest, in 1855 Harvey Parker hired gourmet French Chef M. Sanzian, the first celebrity French Chef in America, and paid him the astonishing salary of $5,000 a year at a time when most good Boston cooks were only making about $416 a year. It was Chef Sanzian who is credited with creating the Official Dessert of the State of Massachusetts - Boston Cream Pie. As any good New Englander knows, Boston Cream Pie isn't a pie at all but a vanilla custard-filled sponge cake with chocolate icing that is most tasty! Chefs at the Parker House have been making it ever since 1855 and thankfully, they have no plans of ever stopping! Nor do they plan on no longer baking Parker House rolls, another of the delicious delights to emerge from Harvey Parker's kitchen and take their place in culinary history.

In addition to historic edible delights, over the years, Parker's Restaurant has been the launching pad for three other culinary greats - Emeril Lagasse, Lydia Shire and Jasper White - while two cultural icons also spent time on the Parker House staff:  Ho Chi Minh, who later went on to become the Prime Minister and President of the Democratic Republic of North Vietnam, served as a baker in the bakeshop from 1912-1913 and Malcolm X, a Muslim minister and human rights activist who was assassinated in 1965, was a busboy in the early 1940’s during the Pearl Harbor invasion.

Upholding the tradition of excellence set by the very first chef of Parker's Restaurant over 150 years ago, the current Executive Chef is a native Bostonian and graduate of Johnson & Wales University who worked in the kitchens of many fine hotels serving such notables as former United States President George Bush, Sr., former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, and Prince Albert of Monaco as well as serving as Personal Executive Chef to the President of Boston University before settling in at the Omni Parker House. An active member of the Boston Chapter of the American Culinary Federation and an award-winning chef who has worked alongside world-renowned French Chef Jacques Pepin, Gerard "Gerry" Tice has been with the Omni Parker House for over 13 years.

Recently Chef Tice was one of six chefs chosen out of a field of over 100 who participated in the latest Omni Hotels and Resorts' "Flavors of the World" promotion. Each year, a new chapter is introduced with the goal to provide guests with an authentic international experience; previous chapters were set in Spain, Chile, Italy, Argentina, and France. The most recent chapter, "Simply Street Foods", was presented with the support of the Global Alliance of Hotels and featured more than 100 chefs from Boston to Singapore who competed to create street-food inspired dishes made popular in their homelands.

With a Street Food that evokes comfort and the best of New England, a Short Rib & Vermont Cheddar Grilled Cheese Sandwich was Chef Tice's winning entry into the competition putting him alongside the other winning chefs from Pennsylvania, Texas, Abu Dhabi, Singapore, and Brazil. Though he has traveled globally, Chef Tice's cooking reflects his New England roots and this recipe was no exception having been inspired by the use of fresh New England products: Northeast family farms beef, Vermont cheddar cheese and freshly baked brioche along with locally-grown onions and arugula.


Even though Amanda and I wouldn't be trying Chef Tice's Short Rib and Vermont Cheddar Cheese Sandwich that evening, I knew that we'd be in for a treat at dinner as I was pretty confident that a restaurant that could have developed such mouth-watering delights as Boston Cream Pie and Parker House Rolls, and who had an award-winning Executive Chef on staff that firmly believed in using fresh, local ingredients, would certainly be able to serve up a delicious dinner no matter what we ordered.

Entry area for Parker's Restaurant

With dinner reservations set for 6:00 p.m., we presented ourselves to the restaurant's host desk right on time and were led into the beautiful dining room with its original hand-carved woodwork and Waterford crystal chandeliers which were installed in 1937 when the hotel made the switch from gas lamps to electric.

I should probably mention that the majority of the photos of the dining room itself were taken the next morning when there were fewer diners present for breakfast as I didn't think it polite to be snapping photos with my Nikon while people were trying to enjoy a nice peaceful meal.  All of the photos during dinner were taken using my iPhone so I'm afraid that the quality doesn't do the food justice due to the low lighting but I hope it gives you at least a good enough idea to want to dine there yourself!

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View of Parker's Restaurant from the landing of Parker's Bar on the mezzanine level.
Entrance of Parker's Bar overlooking Parker's Restaurant
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Walking into the dining room, it's very easy to picture literary greats Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, John Greenleaf Whittier, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, along with scientist Louis Agassiz and diplomat Charles Francis Adams, as well as Charles Dickens when he was in the country, enjoying a meal and discussing the issues of the day there on the last Saturday of each month when their "Saturday Club" would meet at the Parker House. The room is elegant but also incredibly comfortable and as you sit there and take it all in, you know you've landed someplace very special.  It isn't just about the food - it's about the history ... well, at least it is for me!

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Speaking of someplace special, that's exactly where Amanda and I were seated for the evening as we were led to a quiet corner of the dining room and Table #40 where on June 24, 1953, a young John F. Kennedy proposed to an equally young Jacqueline Bouvier. No matter what your political leanings are, you have to admit that's just pretty darned cool!

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Sitting there not only gives you an amazing sense of history but it also gives you a chance to look out at the rest of the room and the other diners so if you're a people-watcher, Table #40 is the place to be! 

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Following our drink order - iced tea for both of us - we were soon presented with a basket of famously delicious Parker House Rolls before the restaurant manager stopped by to share a bit of the room's past with us. It was easy to tell that he quite enjoyed his job and the fact that he was proud of where he worked as he enthusiastically described the locations of the former gas lamps and pointed out the beautiful crystal chandeliers overhead. When Harvey Parker built his hotel and restaurant in 1855, he spared no expense in creating an elegant, plush environment and that continues to this day in what has got to be the most beautiful dining room in Boston.

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Amanda seemed a bit overwhelmed by the whole experience initially but once she saw a couple of teenagers walk in with their family in obvious casual attire she relaxed a little bit and didn't worry quite so much about picking up the wrong fork!

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While perusing the menu trying to decide which appetizers and entrées to order, we were surprised when our server presented us with a dish "compliments of the chef."  Sous-chef Rob came to our table along with the manager and told us that the dish that he had created for us was a pan seared scallop accompanied by a wild mushroom and asparagus risotto topped with parsnip and sweet potato crisps. It was, in two words, simply amazing and a fantastic start to our meal!  With that as a starter, I knew we were going to be in for quite a meal!

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Even though everything on the menu sounded fantastic, we were finally able to make a decision on our orders.  For appetizers, Amanda chose the North End Calamari (from Point Judith) with vinegar peppers and a spicy pomodoro sauce while I opted for the Chilled Shrimp Cocktail (from the Louisiana Gulf) served with a horseradish chili sauce. A big fan of calamari, Amanda proclaimed it to be very good while I found the shrimp to be very meaty and flavorful. To be honest, I'm rather new to shrimp cocktail and really can't believe that I came to it so late in life - no wonder my Dad always said he'd eat ours if we didn't want it, I obviously had no idea what I was giving up!

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For her entrée, Amanda had been debating between the Iron Skillet Scallops and the Pan Seared Salmon but once she tasted the first scallop that the chef had presented, that decided it right there for her as that first scallop was just so good! Her Diver Scallops from the Bay of Fundy were served with a root vegetable mash topped by parsnip and sweet potato crisps with Meyer lemon butter sauce.  She loved how the dish was presented with the scallops arranged in a star formation though they didn't stay that way for long as she thoroughly enjoyed every single mouthful.  She told me that in Japan it's considered bad manners to eat everything on your plate but thankfully we weren't in Japan as she wasn't leaving any behind!

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For my own entrée, I had a hard time choosing between the Baked Boston Schrod (another Parker House first since 1906) and one of the three beef dishes offered on the menu but finally decided to treat myself to the Filet Mignon. The 8-oz 1855™ aged Black Angus tenderloin from Souderton, Pennsylvania was accompanied by buttermilk mashed potatoes, grilled asparagus, and winter vegetables along with my choice of either a Port Wine Demi-Glace or Sauce Béarnaise. I went with the Port Wine Demi-Glace and was quite glad that I did as it was truly one of the best-tasting steaks I have ever had. And tender - hokey smokes Bullwinkle, was it ever tender!  I could have cut it with my butter knife, never mind the steak knife I was given!

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Having just eaten like royalty, it was going to be pretty hard to figure out where to put dessert but as I had pre-purchased a voucher through TravelZoo for a 3-course dinner for two, dessert came along with the deal and we weren't about to pass up on it!  After all, Amanda had never sampled real Boston Cream Pie  whereas I've been fortunate to have it several times myself and thought perhaps I should try something different just to expand my horizons (and my waistline) a little. Amanda did briefly consider the Chocolate Trilogy Torte but then decided that after the food she'd just had, that might be a little too heavy to really enjoy.

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Once again though, as we perused the dessert menu trying to make a choice, we were surprised when our server brought another treat to our table - this time a selection of cheeses with crostinis and crackers along with a very tasty dessert wine.  What a lovely surprise!

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The marble platter held aged blue cheese, goat cheese rolled in ash, and Manchego which is from the La Mancha region of Spain and made from sheep's milk; each cheese was paired with a complimentary fruit.  Having never heard of goat cheese rolled in ash, we asked our server about it and she explained to us that during World War II when the Germans invaded the Loire Valley of France, they sprinkled the goat cheese in ash before they hid it as the dogs wouldn't be able to smell the cheese so it couldn't be found and confiscated. Once the Germans left and they were able to take the cheese out again, they found that the light coating of ash greatly enhanced the flavor of the cheese and so the tradition continues to this day.  Very interesting!  And very, very tasty!  Amanda pretty much claimed the goat's cheese as hers as she really liked it and though all three were very good, I would have to say that the Manchego was my favorite; it had a very buttery texture and very pleasant after-taste.

Now we were both really, really full and the idea of dessert was rather hard to comprehend though Amanda really did want to try the Boston Cream Pie as how could you not?  I mean, just look at that!

Boston Cream Pie which originated at the Parker House and which is delicious!

The photo above is actually a serving that I had on one of my previous visits to the Omni Parker House as Boston Cream Pie is a happy addition to their breakfast menu and of course you can order it for in-room dining also!  Instead, as neither one of us had room for dessert after all of the delicious food we had eaten earlier, our server asked us if we'd like to have it made up to go so that we could take it back up to our room with us and enjoy it later. Absolutely!

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Amanda was able to have her cake and eat it, too - just a little later on in the evening!  I ordered the Crème Caramel as I wanted something a bit lighter; I'm afraid it doesn't look like much in this photo and no doubt the presentation would be a lot more appealing if one were to have it in the dining room but regardless, it was yummy even after spending some time in the refrigerator in our room before I was able to eat it.

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Speaking of our room, even though this post is about Parker's Restaurant, I would be totally remiss if I didn't post a few photos of our beautiful room tucked away in a quiet corner on the Eleventh Floor.  It was the perfect place to retreat to and relax after such a sumptuous meal that was prepared and served in a truly exemplary manner.

Executive Room 1168 at the Omni Parker House
Executive Room 1168 at the Omni Parker House

To try to sum up our dinner experience in Parker's Restaurant I would have to say that it met and exceeded all of my expectations.  The portions were more than generous, the food was fresh and flavorful and presented with sauces that added a uniqueness to the foods that they were paired with; the service was very professional and attentive and at no time did we feel rushed or hurried but were allowed to enjoy our food and the atmosphere at a leisurely pace. Amanda was actually quite surprised to find that we had spent over two hours at dinner when all was said and done!

Sitting at Table #40 was also a real treat though I should mention that on occasion either myself or Amanda would feel a bit of a cold draft that felt like it was hovering in the corner behind us.  There didn't appear to be any vents nearby and the windows are covered in heavy curtains so I'm pretty sure there were no wayward breezes blowing through.  Perhaps instead it was the spirit of JFK or Jackie checking in to see how we liked their table or that of Harvey D. Parker still making sure that his guests were happy - after all, the Omni Parker House has collected more than a few ghost stories over the years!

In conclusion, if you want to experience fine dining in a restaurant that exudes the charm of a bygone era when dining was a true experience; a place where the classic New England menu items emphasize local and fresh ingredients prepared to please; and the service is professional and friendly then do yourself a favor and pay a visit to Parker's Restaurant either for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.  Hours of dining, current menus, and a link to on-line reservations can found on their website or if you've signed up to become an Omni Select Guest and are a member of their Loyalty Program, your Loyalty Ambassador can make reservations for you like Kate Casey, my terrific Ambassador whom I can't say enough good things about, did for us.

In a city seeped in more history than you can imagine, the Omni Parker House is a bit of it that you really shouldn't miss no matter whether you're there for a night or two or just a fantastic meal!

Comments

  1. What wonderful memories for you and Amanda. Just absolutely gorgeous building and tempting food photos!

    ReplyDelete

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