Le Parigo steps in where Mango left off
I was sad when Mango closed. I had a soft spot for it because it was one of the restaurants owned by the visionary Kenny Siao until his death two years ago and because a chef-owned restaurant is a rarity in Knoxville. So I’m happy that a restaurant is again occupying the space.
Early signs of life (a Help Wanted sign on the door, furniture being carried in and moved about) that piqued my interest were followed by “Have you heard…?” e-mail messages from friends around the time the distinctive sign appeared above the door. In the clever design, the letter “A” in Parigo is formed by a replica of the Eiffel Tower.
Since Le Parigo means “someone from Paris,” the restaurant is aptly named for its owner, Cedric Coant, a native of Paris. Vacationing here about seven years ago, Coant met and later married Nikki Zenk, who is co-owner of the restaurant. Having worked in some of the best kitchens in Knoxville, Coant has now realized his goal of restaurant ownership.
Sometimes I look at a menu and don’t see much that interests me. That was not the case when I perused the menu at Le Parigo. The restaurant’s menu is not extensive, but when there are three salads listed, and I wish I could order them all, that’s pretty impressive. Three soups are also offered (lobster bisque, French onion and cream of white asparagus), but I was in the mood for salad. I passed up romaine hearts dressed in balsamic vinaigrette with warm chevre and candied pistachios and also watercress and radish with vine-ripened tomatoes and toasted almonds for baby greens dressed in the house vinaigrette with prosciutto, gruyere and Granny Smith apples, three of my favorite things whether together or alone.
The list of hors d’oeuvres presented a similar predicament. All six sounded good to me. Five of them sounded good to my husband, who’s not a big fan of beef tartare. After much deliberation (escargot? shrimp and scallops?), we ordered the smoked red trout cake wrapped with smoked Irish salmon.
I did not have any trouble selecting my entrée: seared all-natural filet mignon over pomme salardaise and sautéed mushrooms finished with a truffle demi-glaze. It’s not that the other items—enticingly described preparations of chicken, duck, veal, salmon, skate, scallops and lobster as well as a roasted vegetable terrine—were not tempting, but I’ve developed the habit of ordering steak as a test. My thesis: If you can’t prepare this basic entrée well, chances are you’re going to be lacking in other areas too. As our other entrée we chose the pan-seared sea scallops with pommes Anna, spinach, prosciutto custard, carrot puree and buerre blanc.
Having been advised that the restaurant, which will ultimately carry a wide selection of French wines, does not yet have a liquor license, we brought our own bottle and sipped glasses of red wine as we nibbled on the excellent crusty bread.
First to arrive was the trout and salmon appetizer, which was beautifully presented. Both the smoked red trout cake and the salmon encircling it were fresh and tasty with the smoked salmon being especially flavorful. The lightly dressed salad that followed was a real treat. The fresh baby greens were topped with large shavings of gruyere, big pieces of prosciutto and small chunks of Granny Smith apples.
The perfectly cooked steak was served with diced potatoes and sliced mushrooms, with the truffle demi-glaze adding rich, savory flavor to every bite. The sliced potatoes Anna were a delicious accompaniment to the very large, tender, buttery scallops.
The dessert menu lists poached pear, fresh berry napoleon and tarte tatin, but I can rarely resist crème brulee, let alone three of them, so we ordered crème brulee ménage a trois. Cold and creamy vanilla, mocha and pistachio custards, garnished with a strawberry, blueberries and mint, were served in votive-candle sized cups. All were good, but the pistachio flavor was especially pleasing.
Le Parigo is an upscale French restaurant. While there is some variance in cost among the a la carte items ($5-6 for soup, $6-7 for a salad, $8-12 for an appetizer, $18-29 for an entrée and $7-10 for dessert), this is not the place to go when you’re economizing. It is the place to go when you want delicious, organic, fresh food expertly prepared and beautifully presented in an inviting atmosphere. It would be a great place to celebrate a special occasion, but simply dining there is a pretty special occasion in itself.