Park Avenue Autumn

by Susan on October 21, 2008

[Food:4/5]

This past June I was impressed by the whimsical elegance of Park Avenue Summer’s food and atmosphere. (You can read my review here.) The dining experience was so enjoyable that I left looking forward to returning when the seasonally themed restaurant turned to Autumn. A couple of weeks ago, with guests visiting from Seattle, I got my chance.

Maybe it’s the economy, maybe it’s the upcoming election, or maybe Autumn is just more serious in nature than Summer: vacation is over, the sun disappears earlier, our shoes are closed-toe. Park Avenue Autumn captures these changes with a menu and interior design that are less whimsical than its balmier predecessor. And while I loved Summer in all its fancifulness, Autumn felt just right.

Walnut tones and copper have transformed the space into an earthy enclave while Autumn’s harvest has transformed the menu into a mushroom and fruit laden bounty.

Unfortunately, the genial service of Summer was also replaced – with a cooler kind. Perhaps Summer was better for everyone; or maybe the veteran servers are finding the changing of seasons less exciting.

The menu’s dish descriptions remain just as cryptic as they were during Summer – a feature I really enjoy. Ingredients are listed in detail, but the preparation notes are vague. You’re wooed by the elements, but their compilation holds a surprise or two. You’re staking some trust in the chef, but at Park Avenue, that’s a solid bet.

Stacks of Hamachi and Shaved Shitake were equally balanced in taste and physical appearance. Though the distinct flavors of apples and jalapenos were imparted on the dish, they were kept masterfully in check, never disrupting its subtlety.

Plump scallops waded in a sense-awakening Lemongrass broth, creating something delicate and ethereal.

Parcels of duck confit wrapped in cabbage leaves formed savory and sweet parcels.

The sumptuous Venison Chops were the best I’ve had inside New York City limits. The rich meat, sprinkled with eye-popping pomegranate and pumpkin seeds, was the most tantalizing main dish at the table.

Arctic Char (which, after a hard-fought battle, has overthrown salmon’s reign at the top of my favorite fish list) had a crispy skin and medium rare inside. Bitter swiss chard was foiled by maple soy brown butter.

The only mediocre dish was the Kentucky Fried Quail. Though it arrives in a playful silver bucket (a la the Ipswich Clams of Summer), it was lackluster. It’s Autumn – birds should be stuffed, roasted or grilled.

The table devoured sides of Miso Glazed Brussel Sprouts (so good that I’m looking for its recipe equivalent) and Crispy Cauliflower. A cellophane bag containing a melange of mushrooms arrived at the table and was snipped open with much fanfare. But once the aroma had wafted to the next table, all that was left were salty mushrooms.

The desserts were too precious and finicky. They tasted (and looked) like the wrong conclusion to our hearty Autumn-fest. The meal warranted a piece of tart or pie, but instead we were presented with deconstructed and fussy versions of the tried-and-true.

After this visit, Park Avenue Autumn has proven that this restaurant’s consistency and reliability are far from seasonal.

Park Avenue Autumn
http://www.parkavenyc.com
100 East 63rd Street
New York, NY 10021
212.644.1900

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