Romanian Cuisine Is Front And Center At Highland Park's Parsnip

Parsnip, a Romanian restaurant by Lemon Poppy Kitchen's Anca Caliman, has opened in the former Antojitos Guerrero space on York Boulevard in Highland Park.

Caliman is a Romanian immigrant, having moved to the States at age 12. She learned to cook at home, whipping up Romanian food from recipes passed down over generations. The country's cuisine centers around lamb and beef, root vegetables, and plenty of polenta. Romanian food is "the food I grew up with, but took for granted."

"Lemon Poppy is not traditional Romanian food," Caliman told LAist. The cafe "does not have a lot of Romanian stuff going on." More recently, though, it was the embrace of her national cuisine that seeded the idea for Caliman's latest restaurant, Parsnip. "I wanted to do something more Romanian-centric."

The interior of Parsnip is small—holding only two tables and four chairs total—but intimate. Caliman and Aracelly Flores cook in the kitchen, just steps behind the front counter, while—at least during a recent visit—Romanian folk music fills the air.

Flores has cooked with Caliman for years. "I trust her palate," Caliman noted. "She makes delicious food." In fact, it was Flores who found Parsnip's location one day while visiting her hair salon next door.

And much like Parsnip's space itself, the menu is tight but well-curated.

For starters, order the vinete—an eggplant dip with a smokey, complex flavor and a delicious zest. The dip comes with the same flatbread used for the plachintas, and, as the day progresses, "the flatbreads get funkier, more sourdough-y," Caliman explains. A delicious transformation sampled during our visit.

Off the dumplings section of the menu, the bulz are recommended. The exterior has a chunky polenta texture, while the filling is a fresh mix of red peppers, sauerkraut, pico verde, and cheese (depending on whether you order them vegan or not).

The feta and dill plachinta may be one of the most remarkable highlights on the menu: perfectly salty, and balanced by both the dill and the flatbread's own doughy flavors.

For an entree, try the sarmale, or stuffed cabbage. The dish has a heartiness that feels homey, and will no doubt comfort when winter returns. Cutting open the cabbage, the steam (and aroma) of the meat filling escapes. The taste is rich, with a subtle tang that lingers.

"There is a controversy in Romanian cooking over whether Sarmale should be made with a sweet cabbage leaf, or a more sour pickled leaf," Caliman says. "I like both, so I use a fresh leaf with some sauerkraut to give it a tang."

Parsnip is located at 5623 York Blvd. in Highland Park. 323.739.0240 Open Wednesday through Friday, 11:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., and weekends 3:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.