Park Avenue Summer

Honoring the four seasons, Park Avenue goes beyond the usual restaurant's typical menu update, it completely changes its menus, interiors, and graphic design down to the last detail. The concept of the restaurant is that with seasonal change comes reinvention and reinterpretation. It's a concept that works through and through in this establishment and is best represented by the menu created by chef Craig Koketsu. My recent visit just last week was my first, but from the moment I set foot inside, its charm and ambiance made me feel very much at ease. The overall look of the restaurant every season is simple and modern with telltale signs that signify the current season, in this case the bright yellow summer.

Designed by the same firm, AvroKo, that designed the hip Double Crown in the Bowery, Park Avenue is a well-thought-out space. Making room for each season is a difficult undertaking, but the interior has been designed in such a way as to make rotation four times a year an easy task. Walls are lined with interchangeable panels, seat backs can be easily updated too, and architectural trim and lighting is changed to create the appropriate seasonal mood. For this summer, the walls are bright lacquered yellow mounted with ceramic casts of tortoise shells. The theme is loosely based on Captain James Cook's travel and exploration. Some walls are trimmed in white-washed reclaimed wood. Lighting is airy and simple. The only colors that are consistent throughout the year are the warm wood tones of the tables and chairs. The minutiae are not forgotten. Menus feature details from maps by Captain Cook. All these things but together create a very sleek and thoughtful look that's symbolic of the current season without being overtly so.

We were at the restaurant to partake of Restaurant Week, which gave us an opportunity to have a three-course meal at a great price of $24. A special price for wine was also offered as part of Restaurant Week so that we were able to order $6 glasses of wine. I ordered a wine from that menu, but it ended up not being available. So I was served a 2005 Robin K. Cabernet from Sonoma, CA that was slightly more tannic than I expected but had nice dark fruit notes, making an excellent pairing for my main dish to come. My friend, Maritza, had a 2007 Santa Julia Chardonnay from Chile, which turned out to be crisp and fruity. It made a nice accompaniment to her appetizer of salmon tartare with tomatoes and basil, a very refreshing dish that captured the essence of summer. I ordered the Caprese ravioli with yellow tomato coulis, which is basically a Caprese salad turned outside in. The ravioli are stuffed with tomatoes and mozzarella and served atop a flavorful coulis. The waitress had recommended these two dishes with a thorough knowledge about them. Her opinions turned out to be very trustworthy as these appetizers whetted our appetites perfectly.

It was without a doubt that when I saw Dr. Pepper baby back ribs with peach slaw on the menu, I was going to order it. Dr. Pepper, a unique soft drink for sure, was one of my favorites growing up. The barbecue sauce on these ribs was sweet, but it was hard to get a taste of Dr. Pepper. The ribs could have been a bit more tender as I prefer the meat falling off the bone. Otherwise I was very surprised by the peach slaw, a combination of unripe peaches, cabbage, and pickled red onions. The slaw was slightly sweet and tart making it a perfect match for the ribs. With all this and my glass of wine, I was completely satisfied and getting very full at this point. Maritza lovingly enjoyed the crispy roasted chicken prepared under a brick served with peach salad. The chicken was unbelievably moist and tender with crackling skin. I must say that ordering chicken at a restaurant is usually a toss up and I was not sure if this was going to be a good choice, but the chicken turned out to be a successful dish. I always say ordering chicken is a good way to gauge the merits of the chef or cook, but there is a fifty-fifty chance of success or failure.

Moving onto dessert was almost impossible as we were both overindulged to the brim, but dessert is a requirement in a seasonally focused restaurant. My friend thoroughly enjoyed the banana parfait with banana butterscotch purée and chocolate crumbs, mixing it all together to create a cohesive whole where not one crumb was left dry. The ratio of crumbs made the dessert unbalanced, but by mixing it together, she achieved a very well distributed concoction. The couple at the table next to ours commented that it looked to be a better choice of dessert than mine. But I had to disagree. My peach panna cotta with basil foam was exceptional. Panna cotta, one of my favorite desserts, is one of those dishes that I find incredibly cooling especially on a hot summer day. The peach component of this dessert was a gelatin formed on top of the panna cotta, making it interesting to break into. I was skeptical about the basil foam, but it along with a bit of each element on the spoon made the combination truly ethereal. The only part of the dessert that failed for me were the lemon cake sticks, which were grainy and ultimately weighed down the dessert.

Neither of us could remember a last time we felt so sated, delighted, and full after a meal. Park Avenue Summer is truly a delightful restaurant right from the start. Its many different spaces from large to more intimate, friendly and knowledgeable staff, and wonderful menu stand out in the crowd of many seasonal restaurants. If I could choose only one seasonally focused restaurant to go back to again and again it would be this one. I am ready and preparing to explore the next season.

Park Avenue
100 East 63rd Street, at Park Avenue
New York, NY 10021
Open daily for lunch, 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.; for dinner Monday through Thursday 5:30 to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday 5:30 to 11 p.m., and Sunday 5:30 to 9 p.m.; and for brunch, Saturday and Sunday 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Prices range from $28 to $39.