Address: 100 E. 63rd. St., at Park Ave.
Cuisine: Summer-inspired American
Scene: Mixed bag
Hours: Dinner, Sun-Thu, 5:30-11pm, Fri & Sat, 5:30-11:30pm; Lunch, Mon-Fri, 11:30am- 3pm; Brunch, Fri & Sat, 11am-3pm.
First Bite Impressions: Splendidly summer
Don’t Miss Dish: Soft shell crabs with strawberries, soy & avocado
Price: Appetizers, $16; Entrees, $32.
Reservations: Accepted & recommended for prime-time.
Park Avenue Cafe had fallen into the category of steadfast old-timers, wrestling with the demands of a new generation of diner, who eat as stylishly as they dress, while still trying to appease seasoned regulars. That is, until Alan Stillman’s son recently took over the restaurant’s reigns. Michael Stillman first tempted fate when he transformed the seafaring Manhattan Ocean Club into Quality Meats, a chic new steakhouse species.
At Park Avenue Summer, he’s again ventured out on a limb with a restaurant that takes the notion of the four seasons quite literally. Presently, Park Avenue embodies summer: the space wears sunny yellow-lacquered panels, dressed up with tortoise shells, white leather banquettes and beachy whitewashed wood boards. Park Avenue Summer will fall into autumn, then winter and spring; so will the menu and the decor. AvroKO has admirably broken out of their signature industrial chic rut, shaping a beachy, yet polished atmosphere that can be taken down and re-imagined four times a year. There’s the elephant in the room that begs the question: how financially viable could building a set for every season be? Time will soon tell. But one thing’s for sure…
There’s nothing more fashionable than being new, and that’s exactly what Michael Stillman is banking on: the perpetually virginal restaurant. As for the menu, Craig Koketsu, who will also maintain his position at Quality Meats, has devised an appropriately seafood-streaked menu with a generous sprinkling of summer’s best: sea scallops with peaches & granola, grilled langoustines and lamb chops paired with barbecued cherries.
Summer arrives in the crusty form of warm, sea salt-coated semolina rolls delightfully stocked wih fresh corn kernels. Man could live on bread and water alone here, but best not as the menu reveals Craig Koketsu at his best, arousing the most bewitching subtleties from creatures of the sea. Petals of fluke, simple and clean, sneak surprisingly potent blasts of flavor from dabs of intense plum & cilantro paste, each perfectly capped with a crispy wisp of sunchoke. A crunchy green & yellow bean salad terrifically benefits from chewy chunks of dried apricot & crushed almonds. Soft shell crab gets downright dreamy when flash-fried in a white soy-infused batter, brightened by the gentle sweetness of strawberries & passion fruit, then immediately mellowed by smooth avocado and peppery slivers of jicama.
You could easily drift among appetizers and find yourself perfectly content, but if you do venture into entrees, you’ll be richly rewarded with a juicy filet mignon sandwich; apricot becomes the perfect foil for intensely rich lamb tenderloin; and properly creamy lobster salad is polished off with a zesty kick of orange-lemon vinaigrette.
The only true disappointment I happened upon were bland medallions of yuzu-infused tuna, all but overwhelmed by gluey puddles of aioli. Amidst an exciting collection of inspired dishes, it fell remarkably flat.
Dessert redolently reeks of summer as well. Veteran pastry chef, Richard Leach, expertly executes on original interpretations of sweet classics. (He also engineers the perilously addictive bread basket). The most enticing of all, was a velvety blueberry ice cream that accompanied a fluffy semolina cake & silky-smooth panna cotta with aromatic undercurrents of lemongrass. Leach’s grown up riff on thin mint cookies arrives as a trio featuring an airy chocolate & peppermint custard, an ice cream pop robed in dark chocolate shell and a decadent chocolate bar. Leach makes it impossible to skip dessert and even more so, to pick just one when delivering fried corn pudding fritters draped in juicy in roasted peaches and an uncharacteristically light sweet corn panna cotta.
It’s pricey. But then again, you wouldn’t expect anything less when dining on Park Avenue.
Until we eat again,
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