Those who remember my last visit to the land up-over will recall that pickings were rather slim, the two parmas I tried were god awful not so great, and all they really accomplished was making want to jump on the next flying kangaroo back home and sink my teeth into some quality parmage.
A year and a half later wedding bells were ringing and I (with my brand new wife) was hopping a plane back to the land of the free and the home of the cheeseburger, spending our honeymoon trying to track down the best parma the USA had to offer (well, at this point I’d settle for decent, its all about expectation management).
Lets do it…
Lets start with Leonardo’s, as it was the first parma of the trip it kinda makes sense to start there.
Our first stop on our trip was to Hawaii, to the Island of Oahu and Turtle Bay Resort - Many of you would know Turtle Bay Resort as the place where the movie ‘Forgetting Sarah Marshall’ was shot, to be honest that is why we picked it, but before we left I made sure to check the resorts website and make sure a parma was available.
Rather than our usual ‘we decided where to go, loaded up the parma bus and headed to the pub’ system, this parma was more of a ‘we stopped drinking cocktails at the bar and walked ten meters to the restaurant’ affair, which we did. On arriving at Leonardo’s, something from the menu filled me with hope…
It was actually called a Chicken Parmigiana. Literally every other time I’ve had a parma in the states it has been referred to as a “Chicken Parmesan”, Leonardo’s menu got it right, could it be good?! had this slight change of spelling redeemed American parmas?…
Nah… it was shit.
Do I really need to explain more than the picture shows? The schnitzel was tiny and overcooked to the point of being burnt, there was barely any cheese and the tomato soup masquerading as napoli took over everything else.
Going low tech with this attempt as I didn’t have the ParmaCam tripod with me on the trip, back to the old cross section!
The ‘salad’ was a bunch of over-boiled vegetables tossed in oil that just tasted like oil, and, as per usual with American parmas, there were no chips and instead we had a plate of gnocchi with cream sauce - surprisingly this was the nicest part of the dish, and if I ever found myself in Leonardo’s again, I would probably order a plate of the gnocchi on its own.
Interesting thing about Hawaiian hamburgers - rather than serving them with chips (or ‘fries’) they are served with chips (as in potato chips… crisps) A change that I thought was odd at first, but after trying I am all for, its amazing how well chips work with a hamburger and its a change I have adopted and will bring back to future Melbourne-based BBQs.
After the parma I did this with our room’s daily fruit delivery.
My wife rolled her eyes, I giggled like a schoolgirl.
Romano’s Macaroni Grill, Ala Moana Shopping Center, Honolulu
On our last day in Hawaii we had the unfortunate task of having to fill a day in Honolulu after checking out of the hotel, as our flight wasn’t scheduled to leave until 11pm that night (first world problems, I know).
We wound up at Ala Moana Shopping Center - a massive complex devoted to coaxing greenbacks out of your wallet - and coax it did, after a few hours indulging in consumerism we were well and truly shopped out, so in an effort to escape the madness of the shopping mall and to kill a few hours, we found what looked like a decent Italian restaurant - And in America where there’s an Italian restaurant, there’s a parma.
We took our seats and checked the menu -
Success! lets just hope it was better than the last. we got some bread with olive oil and balsamic as a starter then waited the arrival of our parma, I’ve gotta say, expectations were low…
Surprisingly … it was good! Not one, but three separate parmas graced our plate, topped with two types of cheese and cherry tomatoes - the napoli, while on the plate and not on the parma itself, was tasty (albeit a tad oily) and the roasted cherry tomatoes added a sweetness to the dish that was a welcome addition. As usual, no chips or salad, but a bowl of pasta on the side did the job quite well.
We left Romano’s both full and happy. There was hope for America yet!
We left the shopping center and headed to the Airport, where we set up camp in the departure terminal for a few hours before boarding a plane to the bright lights of Las Vegas.
The first few days of Vegas were relatively parma-free, we were in the land of the all you can eat buffet and erection-inducing hot dogs.
Seriously… look at this thing.
Bacon chilli cheese dog with tomatoes, onions, ketchup and mustard … with onion rings.
However a few days in I was getting a familiar hankering, so we tracked down another Italian restaurant, this time it was “Maggiano’s”.
Once again we took our seats and checked the menu. The parma was not only on the menu, it was listed as one of the “Chef’s Favourites”. Bonus.
Over there they call napoli ‘Marinara’ for some reason… don’t worry, there was no seafood to be found!
We ordered our parmas, and on the recommendation of our server we tried a starter that was basically a coronary is a bowl - it was a pot of melted cheese, topped with Jalapeños, pepperoni and chilli, served with a side of crispy bread for dipping. It was amazing, and totally distracted us during the wait, so before I knew it our parmas were in front of us.
Once again we were presented with multiple schnitzels, and although only two this time. Not quite as good as the parmas at Romano’s, the Maggiano’s parma was at least better than the first. The schnitzel was well cooked and fresh, there was a little nudity but the napoli was tasty.
You will have noticed from the photo, however, that Maggiano’s needs to work on their plating up skills - it didn’t look attractive at all. However I’d prefer a parma that looked like shit and tasted great to a parma that looked fantastic yet tasted like a crumbed and fried monkey turd.
No chips or salad, and the pasta wasn’t great at all - I have a sneaking suspicion that Maggiano’s have one giant pot of spaghetti on the boil all day, taking from it as they need too, as the pasta tasted like overcooked mush with the same napoli as the parma spooned over the top.
Alas, we have come to the end of our adventure through the world of American parmas, The first one we tried was definitely the worst, the second was the best, and the third was the one with the hairy chest not bad, but not great. The cheese fondue was amazing though, worth the trip alone.
The honeymoon was over far too quickly, luckily I could put solace that I was flying back into Melbourne - the city that serves up the most amazing chicken parmigianas on the planet and if anything it added fuel to the fire of our mission to find this fair city’s very best.
The search continues…