Craig LaBan review: Paramour
If there’s ever a need for a restaurant set to someday film The Real Housewives of the Main Line, there would probably be no better candidate than a swanky new destination in Wayne called Paramour. Webster’s, not a dictionary to mince connotations, defines the name as saucy enough for TV: “a lover or a mistress, the illicit sexual partner of a married man or woman.”
That, of course, is probably not quite the sense that owner Steve Bajus had in mind when he spent several million dollars to renovate the restaurant for his Wayne Hotel. But judging from the lavish makeover to the plush dining room and bar — the former Taquet’s clubby white-linen formality replaced with polished granite bar tops, a glassed-in wine wall, modern fabrics, and a chef’s counter fronting the shiny open kitchen — it’s clear this ambitious newcomer has been primped and primed for serious high-end wooing.
Are you so over Savona? Tired of trysting at Georges'? Getting a little too familiar with the locally sourced characters crowding the White Dog’s martini bar? Look out, old standbys. Paramour seems poised to make its move on your dining faithful.
Except for one key detail: Beneath its sleek Lexus-like good looks, this Casanova’s kitchen engine sputtered from one poorly executed dish to the next, wasting a well-stocked bar and wine list and an otherwise appealing New American menu built on prime ingredients, with prices to match.
The lobster and shrimp cocktail sounded grand until it arrived, an underwhelming handful of tiny lobster nuggets — for $19 — ringing a single over-poached shrimp with a scoop of too-sweet blood-orange sorbet. The appealing raw-bar section brought some other high-quality fish in a number of tartare and crudo variations. But they were presented in more or less predictable poses (like tuna with an Asian marinade) whose delicacy was too easily drowned out by an overzealous infatuation with the gee-whiz accent of black salt (both the torched scallops in tangerine oil, and the tuna with avocado aioli were salty). I would have liked the tartare trio, especially the salmon with grain mustard-cucumber vinaigrette, but the exotic chips on the side (tarot, plantain, yuca) were all shining with grease.
A $36 rack of wild boar was so overroasted I had to lean on my fork just to pierce the chop. It’s a pity, since the meat was flavorful. I give Paramour’s pleasant staff credit for noticing the mostly uneaten entree and taking it off the bill, despite being overwhelmed by the Friday crowd, with only one frazzled server responsible for all the orders in a crowded 70-seat dining room.
They obviously recognize that a slip of that kind is inexcusable at these prices. Unfortunately, it was hardly the only gaffe. As a result, I couldn’t imagine going for a whole branzino at $50(!?), an unheard-of price for a common Mediterranean sea bass sold in most local restaurants for less than $30.
Executive chef Michael Giampa and his chef de cuisine, Kyle Johnson, both have the pedigrees to handle the luxe-dining genre, having spent considerable time in the worlds of casinos and cruise ships. And there were glimmers of that potential on my first scouting visit to Paramour in the fall.
Earthy ravioli made with dough from chestnut flour came beneath shreds of duck confit and wild mushrooms. Silky creamed cauliflower soup was dolloped with morsels of tender lobster and the pop of sweet corn.
It was odd, then, to find those cool-weather seasonal items still on the menu in mid-April, and carelessly prepared: The cauliflower soup just barely hot; the chestnut ravioli far too chewy around the edges; the duck confit crisped to dry oblivion. (They’ve since been taken off the menu.)
One of my favorite dishes here was unexpectedly down-home given the high-toned vibe, an appetizer of crisply fried pork cheeks over creamy polenta with tangy onion jam — a welcome nod, perhaps, to Giampa’s four-year stint in Biloxi, Miss. Was that Southern inspiration the impetus for pairing candied bacon with sticky buns and ice cream for dessert? I’ll give credit for that relative success to pastry chef Amelia Dietrich’s gift for upscaling homey flavors, whether it’s the fresh beignets (even if the sauces should’ve been less gelatinous), or the deep crock of satisfyingly rich butterscotch pot de crème.
The savory kitchen, though, just kept missing the mark when it needed finesse, from the gesture of its complimentary amuse-bouches (chewy raw fluke was sliced too thick, then dabbed with a coconut emulsion that tasted like piña colada; the next night a crouton topped with seared beef, supposedly corned and smoked, was virtually tasteless) to the luxury seafood entrees. Some beautiful scallops were oddly seared to such a deep and tacky-textured brown, their caramelized crusts literally stuck between my teeth. A thick brick of gorgeous sea bass had a nice pairing with creamed corn and beans, but was underseasoned and overcooked.
A perfectly cooked bone-in rib-eye with rich red-wine butter proved they were perfectly capable of nailing a big-time steak house slab (18 ounces for $39) from the “primal cuts” section of the menu. I’m just not sure what anyone’s supposed to do with a garnish as ridiculous as a single half of a brussels sprout. A rich and gamy cut of culotte steak, paired with house-made frites and an herbaceous smudge of chimichurri, wasn’t perfect, but it was generously portioned, and a good example of the slightly more affordable, bistro-style plates being served in Paramour’s expansive bar, where Kobe sliders, flatbreads, and chopped entree salads are served to a room fitted with a cozy row of cloistered half-moon booths that could become a coveted destination for an intimate bite with a “friend.”
For those not shying from public view, the hotel’s gracious porch remains the gem it’s always been, a prime perch over Lancaster Avenue for breezy dining and dishing. Along with the extensive cellar and bar — a sipper’s paradise — this setting may still be Paramour’s best asset.