Parallel 38: Back on the scene

Take a trip around the world right here in Charlottesville

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Parallel 38 has the vibe of the complete modern restaurant — suave, sophisticated and exciting.

Courtesy Parallel 38

Thanks to its always-growing restaurant and bar scene, Charlottesville has established itself as a known foodie city. However, its status may not be entirely coincidental. The City of Charlottesville lies on the 38th Parallel, a latitude line that runs through us as well as some of the food capitals of the world — Spain, Italy, Greece, Lebanon, Turkey and the Napa Valley to name a few. The 38th Parallel is a mild, temperate region across the globe that lends itself to the cultivation of fine food and wine. Some might say that Charlottesville’s connection to the line has contributed to the city’s food prowess. And in 2013, experienced sommelier and restaurateur Justin Ross decided to turn that idea into a restaurant of its own.

However, Parallel 38 is a restaurant we almost weren’t able to keep. After several years in Stonefield just past the Barracks, Parallel 38 closed its doors in January of this year — some thought for good. However, the restaurant had already won the hearts of Charlottesville, having won Best New Restaurant of 2014 from C-VILLE Weekly. Their closing was a hit to Charlottesville’s burgeoning food scene, and it seems they couldn’t keep their doors shut forever. As of just a few weeks ago, with a sleek new location on West Main just a step away from Grounds, Parallel 38 is ready to reclaim their spot on critics’ lists.

The restaurant combines Italian, Greek and Middle Eastern influences into a hip and modern tapas bar. Decorations are sleek and subtle, and the bar is lit only by tiny, individually placed spotlights. Walls are slate gray or jet black and often placed at sharp angles in the small, loft-like space of the interior. Soft, wordless funk beats play over the speakers and diners upstairs are lit by cool blue lights overhead. Parallel 38 has the vibe of the complete modern restaurant — suave, sophisticated and exciting.

But unlike the decor, the food takes us back to a more classical era. Some dishes stand out as modern twists, like beef tartare served with quinoa and molded into a perfect cylinder, but many of Parallel 38’s standout dishes are more traditional — cheesy Italian meatballs, hummus dip with homemade pita and garlic-sauteed shrimp and onions.

Classic fare at Parallel 38, however, still manages to stay exciting through bright flavor combinations and regional variety. Combining the small plates feels natural, like pairing the acidity of marinated artichokes with sweet, cool tzatziki dip or matching Italian risotto and calamari. Parallel 38 is not about a single dish, but the shared experience of consuming many.

I will say this idea of an overarching experience also meant that one dish did not manage to blow me away. The closest was crispy cauliflower thoroughly seasoned with Indian masala, but even that did not stand out as the shining star of the meal. Every dish I had I would absolutely eat again, yet there were none that I will be reminiscing about for days to come. Tapas at Parallel 38 work best in tandem rather than standing out as single dishes, complementing one another to create an overall dining experience.

However, if there’s one thing Parallel 38 can deliver, it’s experience. I am partial to tapas-style dining and the atmosphere it creates, but Parallel 38 goes far beyond just serving tiny portions and having an extensive menu.

Parallel 38 combines a killer theme, a fast-paced atmosphere and an assortment of worldly food to bring you around the globe and back again in one night. It’s perfect for joining a friend — or several — around a shared experience or taking family out to prove your hip restaurant taste and worldly palette. And with their opening happening just a few weeks ago, now is the perfect time to get in and get it while it’s hot.

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