First Bite: Parish Café South End

parishEighteen years after Parish Café —that neighborhood purveyor of celebrity chef-created sandwiches—opened its doors in the Back Bay and became a fixture for area residents starved for casual-chic options, the venerable restaurant has finally moved itself into another neighborhood: the South End, an area with no lack of midrange dining choices.

It’s clear owner Gordon Wilcox didn’t stray too far from the formula for this outpost: The cozy space feels at once homey yet refined, and the well-priced, crowd-pleasing menu of apps, salads, sandwiches, and a small collection of entrées is the same as at the original location. What we found on a recent visit, though, was that the kitchen still has a few kinks to work out.

On the starter side, the generously portioned sautéed vegetarian pot stickers were the perfect bite served with a side of sticky rice and two Asian dipping sauces, and “The Harrington,” essentially a Greek salad tossed with piquant lemon-olive oil dressing and piled atop grilled Syrian bread, was a refreshing choice. The sandwiches, curiously, were Parish’s weak point: Created by Susan Regis of UpStairs on the Square, the “Regal Regis,” a combination of (slightly chewy) flank steak and portobello mushrooms in soy, scallion, and balsamic marinade had a meaty but muddled flavor that would have benefited from a tangy spread or melted cheese. The “burger” conceived by O Ya’s Tim Cushman didn’t fare much better: A patty of finely chopped sashimi grade yellowfin tuna topped with spicy mayo, pickled ginger, scallions, mixed greens, roma tomatoes, toasted sesame seeds, and kabayaki sauce was plenty moist but odd when paired with a plain-Jane bun, the pickled ginger a strange textural contrast.

Yet the baked mac and cheese, topped with a slab of gruyere and Ritz cracker crumbs, was super-rich and simply divine, and the white chocolate bread pudding made for a delightfully dense, gooey dessert. With a little work on the sandwiches, this little spot will be on its way to honest-to-goodness neighborhood haunt.

493 Massachusetts Ave., Boston, 617-391-0501, parishcafe.com.

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