The Parlor Dim Sum is Chef Roger Li’s latest addition to the Pittsburgh Asian food scene. I was very excited to see him bring Cantonese food to the city, which is far more scarce than Sichuan or Taiwanese style, and see how he would mix up the traditional fare.
The din and interior design of Parlor felt like an Asian speakeasy out of the 1920s, full of neon signs and darkened glass, the furniture echoing the noise of the restaurant. My party and I sat down at our table, which was outfitted with a small lazy Susan, as our waiter pointed out what the restaurant really asks of their customers — to share. This kind of place is best visited with a group of five or more so that you can try a little bit of a lot of different dishes. Even some of their cocktails were made to be shareable.
What most excited me on the cocktail list was a drink using 白酒 baijiu, a colorless Chinese liquor that can be quite tricky to find. Many of the cocktails listed used a variety of Asian liquors with different fruits and spices. I tried the Butler Street Dynasty Highball, which was full of sweet, sour, and tangy flavors. While this drink was a bit strange for my liking, I would like to come back, especially to try some of their Sichuan pepper-infused drinks.
The food menu consisted of all the traditional 点心 dim sums, but I really wanted to try some of the larger entrees. Many of the entrees were slightly altered takes on traditional dishes. The Salt and Pepper Trio served shrimp, squid, and scallops in a style usually reserved only for shrimp. The scallops were so tender and juicy and matched well with the seasoning. It was by far my favorite dish, with a good level of spicy pepper. Our waiter informed us that this was the dish the staff often ate.
Another high point of the meal was the Cantonese BBQ. We tried a sampler of all their offerings, of which I favored the 叉燒 char siu pork. The pork was tender and packed with rich umami flavor.
The dim sum menu seemed quite traditional in comparison to the entrees, and it produced mixed reactions among the members of my dinner party. The 肠粉 cheung fun, or fun roll proved a bit disappointing, but the veggie dumplings were beyond excellent. The skins of the dumplings were of perfect thickness and texture, the corn-filling surprisingly flavorful.
However, we simply didn’t order that much dim sum since it felt weird to order it for dinner. My biggest complaint is that the restaurant isn’t open for dim sum hours, usually around brunch. The first time I tried to eat at Parlor, I arrived in Lawrenceville on a Sunday morning only to find the restaurant closed and only open in the evenings. I stood outside on Butler Street wondering what to do.
I look forward to returning and trying more dishes from Parlor's extensive menu. I hope that either the restaurant will open for Sunday brunch hours in the future or I'll overcome my bias that 粥 congee and dim sum are only morning foods. There’s nothing I wouldn’t give to have more Chinese brunch options in the city.
The Parlor Dim Sum. 4401 Butler St., Lawrenceville. theparlordimsum.com