Note: Click here for a more recent, more favorable, review of Park Avenue Spring.
When I heard about Park Avenue Summer, I didn’t know if the concept was ingenius or the world’s dumbest gimmick. Craig Koketsu is the chef, and I love what he’s done at Quality Meats. You figure the former chef de cuisine at Lespinasse can’t go too far wrong. AvroKO handled the décor, and they hit a home run just about every time (Quality Meats, Public, and many others).
Amuse-bouche: Watermelon topped with yogurtThe idea is that the restaurant will change its name four times a year. With mid-September approaching, the place will close any day now, and re-open as Park Avenue Autumn with a brand new menu.
The wall panels—right now a summery yellow, adorned with sea shells—are removable, and there are three other versions of them, so that the restaurant can re-invent itself with each change of the seasons. But many restaurants change their menu seasonally, or indeed more often. Is the seasonal makeover really necessary?
The menu is no bargain. Appetizers are $11–18, entrées $28–45 (most in the 30s), side dishes $4–12. At those prices the restaurant has to be more than merely ordinary, and alas, we weren’t impressed.
The amuse-bouche was one of the better tries: a square of watermelon with a swirl of yogurt on top. The kitchen also did right by Maine Sea Scallops ($15), garnished with peaches and almond granola. The scallops were nicely seared, and the ingredients worked well together. But my girlfriend’s ravioli ($14) really misfired. It was slightly cold and definitely under-cooked.
Maine Sea Scallops (left); John Dory (right)
John Dory ($34) came with summer truffles and a poached egg. The fish was competently done, but the truffles weren’t integrated into the dish. They seemed to be an afterthought, there to impart a faux elegance. My girlfriend ordered the Fire-Roasted Lamb Chops ($39), but she tasted no fire in them at all. There was no sear, and they tasted rather bland.
Heirloom tomato risottoThere was a printed specials menu with an heirloom tomato theme. We ordered a side of the heirloom tomato risotto, which we found to be the best thing that came out of Koketsu’s kitchen. It was a sign that better things are possible at Park Avenue Summer.
We weren’t much impressed with the AvroKO décor, which seemed cheesy—like something out of a cruise ship. The traffic pattern is awkward, with food runners frequently passing through the lobby area. Strangely, the bar has no seating. There is a small lounge with only a few seats, where (as the story goes) you get to mix your own drinks, but we didn’t investigate it further.
We found the wine list way over-priced, much like the rest of the restaurant, with few bottles of interest below $50. Service at the beginning of the meal was a bit rushed, as if they wanted us out of there, but at the end our server disappeared, and it was hard to find someone to bring us a check. The twenty-something hostesses seemed clueless.
Chef Craig KoketsuThe crowd was very Upper East Side, youngish, and 100% caucasian. So far, it’s a tough table to book, which may say something about the paucity of alternatives in that neighorhood.
The restaurant has been largely ignored by the major critics, perhaps an act of kindness. The closest thing to a mainstream review came from the always generous Randall Lane in Time Out New York, who awarded an inconceivable five stars out of six.
I have to think that Craig Koketsu is capable of doing better. But as of now, alas, Park Avenue Summer is the world’s dumbest gimmick. Save your money, and go elsewhere.
Park Avenue Summer (100 E. 63rd Street at Park Avenue, Upper East Side)
Ambiance: Cruise ship
Overall: Needs work