Entries in AvroKO (15)


Park Avenue Autumn

As a general rule, I don’t believe restaurant spaces are “cursed”. Consecutive failures at the same address are usually attributable to explainable human errors, and not any supernatural intervention.

I might just have to revise my view if Park Avenue Autumn (and its three seasonal cousins) fails in its new home, which has seen four restaurant concepts in four years, all from the same ownership group, Alan and Michael Stillman’s Fourth Wall Restaurants. The company has a strong record of populist success (Smith & Wollensky, Quality Meats, Quality Italian), everywhere but here.

In its original home, almost forty blocks north, this restaurant lasted twenty-two years, first as Park Avenue Café, and starting in 2007, as Park Avenue what-have-you, with the name, signage, décor, servers’ uniforms, and menu changing with the season every three months. That lasted six years, before losing its lease at the end of 2013.

After General Assembly quickly flopped earlier this year, the Stillmans decided to re-launch “a more casual, accessible version” of their Park Avenue concept. Design firm AvroKO is on hand once again with a modular décor, which evokes the current season with pitch-perfect precision, but within a matter of days, can be swapped out for the next. It might be too Disney-fied for some tastes.

By the end of its run uptown, Park Avenue Season had matured into a solid two-star place: I liked my second visit (in 2011) quite a bit better than the first (2007). The restaurant was usually full at prime times. But that was in a much smaller space, and in a neighborhood where the locals don’t wince at entrées averaging in the mid-$30s.

Located at a comparatively dead spot on Park Avenue South, the massive floor plan worked to the disadvantage of Hurricane Club, Hurricane Steak, and General Assembly, the first three concepts the Stillmans tried here. In this cavernous labrynth of connected rooms, the charm of the original Park Avenue hasn’t quite survived. Meanwhile, the promise of a supposedly “more casual, accessible” restaurant does not apply to the bill: it’s as expensive as ever. (The online menu is posted without prices—a strictly low-class move.)

Zene Flinn and Benkai O’Sullivan are co-executive chefs. Flinn was with the team uptown, and the menu here is very much in the same spirit as the original, with most of the dishes inspired by the season. It might almost be called old-fashioned, with appetizers $15–19, entrées $19–38 (almost all over $30), and side dishes $10. The downtown crowd might be disoriented in a restaurant with no sharing plates, “large format” dishes, or tasting menus.

The ten-page wine list (available online with prices—such a concept!) doesn’t offer many bargains, but it is not unfairly priced in relation to the food. The 2004 Château Berliquet was $76, a shade over two times retail, and the sommelier decanted it—always a nice touch.

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The Burger at Saxon + Parole

Earlier this year, AvroKO Hospitality Group and chef Brad Farmerie decided to close their three-year-old Asian-themed restaurant, Double Crown. Farmerie told The Times, “I want to take a fresh approach, innovate on familiar dishes with touches of North Africa and the Mediterranean.”

If there is anything fresh or innovative about its replacement, Saxon + Parole, it is lost on me. The menu offers the likes of seafood towers, a beet and feta cheese salad, a foie gras terrine, steaks, chops, lobster, chicken, a whole branzino, and so forth. It’s a generic upscale suburban restaurant, transplanted to the Bowery, with the kind of easily replicated fare that can be churned out on auto-pilot while Farmerie tends to his Michelin-starred flagship, Public.

The design department at AvroKO, which was once hailed for innovative designs at Public and Park Avenue, has fallen pray to repetition. This exact idea (named for two nineteenth-century race horses) hasn’t been used before, but there is nothing clever in its realization. The firm has become a world-class accumulator of tchotchkes.

In a one-star review earlier this week, Eric Asimov of The Times praised the burger ($17), so I ordered that. It gets a wonderful kick from a gooey fried egg, Havarti cheese, and maple bacon. The beef has a strong fatty flavor, but probably wouldn’t hold up on its own without all of the extra toppings. The fries ($6 if ordered separately) come with two dipping sauces, chili ketchup and blue cheese mayo. To my taste they were too greasy, but perhaps some people like them that way.

I dined at the bar, where getting a server’s attention was a chore. Whatever you may want—to get a menu, to order, to get a check—you’ll be waving your arms wildly before you’re noticed.

They do a brisk bar business here. I had two tequila-based drinks, the Bowery Fx and the Beetnik (both $14). The tables appeared to be about half full at 7:00 p.m., but that’s early by East Village standards. With tables spaced fairly close together and plenty of hard, exposed surfaces, it’ll get loud later on. I didn’t stick around to find out.

In a neighborhood chock full of restaurants with personality, I’m hard press to see the point of Saxon + Parole, which seems to revel in its very ordinariness. I suppose another AvroKO creation will replace it in a few years.

Saxon + Parole (316 Bowery at Bleecker Street, East Village)


Double Crown

Note: Double Crown closed in August 2011. It was replaced by Saxon & Parole with the same chef (Brad Farmerie), focusing on game and domestic meats.


This has happened to all of us: you get to the restaurant, and the host asks you to wait at the bar until your party is complete.

What happened last night at Double Crown took arrogance and audacity to new heights. When I arrived, the host said:

Your guest is here. She went to the ladies’ room. When she gets back, I’ll take you to your table. Feel free to wait at the bar.

This was in a practically empty dining room.

In a busy, casual restaurant, I respect the policy of not seating incomplete parties. Why should the host keep someone else waiting, while I sit at a half-empty table, waiting for guests who may never show up, or who could be considerably delayed?

But Double Crown wasn’t busy, and my date had arrived. Asking me to wait at the bar in that situation is beyond absurd.

Beyond that was a loud sound track that made pleasant conversation difficult; a hackneyed faux Asian décor phoned in by the folks of AvroKO, who’ve done better work elsewhere; and a Vongerichten lite fusion menu that seems to have lost its focus since Frank Bruni awarded two grade-inflated stars in 2008.

The website claims that, “Double Crown explores the aesthetic and culinary dualities arising from the British Empire’s forays into Southeast Asia.” The British influences have disappeared, assuming they existed in the first place. What we have now is pan-Asian miscellany, filtered through an East Village twenty-something comfort food lens.

At least it is not terribly expensive. Most appetizers are $13 or less, most entrées $27 or less. Cocktails were $12, including a great chipotle sour made with three kinds of whisky. That passes for a bargain in Manhattan these days. Bread service (below left) was pretty good too, with two kinds of rolls and soft butter.

A whole braised short rib for two, served on the bone ($44; above right), and coated with an unspecified spice mix, was tender and flavorful, but short rib is hard to mess up if you braise it long enough. I realize that braised meats are prepared long in advance, but this came out literally five minutes after we ordered it—before the wine was poured, in fact. It came with a decent Asian mushroom salad.

The wine list, printed on the back of the menu, is a grab bag with no particular focus. There’s an ample selection of inexpensive bottles, or you can go into the triple digits for bottles that I couldn’t imagine drinking with this food. A 2007 Weninger Zweigelt at $36 was one of the more enjoyable inexpensive bottles I’ve seen in quite some time.

The server kept the wine on a counter away from the table, and I wondered if she’d be attentive enough to keep our glasses charged. Surprisingly, she was. But after the wine was finished, and we wanted our bill, she was nowhere to be seen.

When Double Crown opened, the Bowery was just beginning to sow its oats as a dining destination. Nowadays, if you’re in the area, Pulino’s, DBGB, or Peels are all better bets. And if you have a hankering for Chef Brad Farmerie’s best work, Michelin-starred Public and The Monday Room aren’t far away.

Those are all better options than Double Crown.

Double Crown (316 Bowery at Bleecker Street, NoLIta/East VIllage)

Food: Satisfactory
Service: Uneven
Ambiance: Loud and Hackneyed
Overall: No Stars


Park Avenue Spring

Note: Park Avenue ______ lost its lease at the end of 2013. A new restaurant from Chef Michael White’s Altamarea Group was expected to replace it. The restaurant has re-located to 360 Park Avenue, site of two failed projects from the same owners, Hurricane Club and General Assembly.


There is a fine line between gimmick and inspiration. When Park Avenue Summer opened on the Upper East Side three years ago, I was inclined to think it was the former. The time has come to revise that view.

The restaurant’s conceit remains the same: four times a year, it closes for a couple of days and completely re-does its décor, signage, menu, website—everything. Design firm AvroKO configured the space with removable wall panels and seat cushions, which permits a total make-over every three months.

But what seemed like an overwrought ode to seasonality has withstood the test of time. Despite stratospheric prices, the restaurant is perpetually packed, no matter the time of year. On a recent Saturday evening, the food was much improved since my visit in 2008, when I gave it no stars.

With opening chef Craig Koketsu now splitting his time among three restaurants, the kitchen is in the hands of executive chef Kevin Lasko, who has worked at the space since it was called Park Avenue Café. The menu is spackled with vegetables and fish in season, though most of the proteins (steak tartare, filet mignon) could be served without apology all year long.

I had long suspected that Park Avenue _____ was worthy of a revisit, ever since Frank Bruni awarded two stars, a rating that had surprised me. Prices are a significant deterrent. With appetizers averaging $16, entrées $35, and desserts $15, you’re unlikely to get out for less than $100 per head, unless you drink water. Our bill was $175 before tax and tip, and that was with a shared appetizer and dessert comped.

Even when the place opened, there was nothing novel about its seasonal approach to cuisine. For about the same price, you can dine at Blue Hill in Greenwich Village, where the cuisine, service, and atmosphere are all better. ABC Kitchen in Chelsea is roughly similar, and slightly less expensive. Which restaurant you prefer may come down to a neighborhood preference or your mood on a given day.

For many diners, the price point will remain a turn-off, when every Brooklyn neighborhood has a much less expensive, come-as-you-are, rustic chic restaurant that doesn’t take reservations, with a farm in the back yard, and some long-bearded guy in the kitchen. If you’re in the mood for the haute barnyard motif in more upscale (but yet not formal) surroundings, Park Avenue _____ might be the place for you.

The amuse bouche (above left) of root vegetables and yogurt was served in a witty bird-sculpture vessel. This came with a basket of house-made bread: a spring herb roll, a red pepper and jack cheese cornbread, and a flat bread with red lentil, bulgur wheet, and quinoa.

As it was late, we shared an appetizer: a crab cake ($18; above right) with raspberries and avocado. There was nothing special about the crab itself, but such an unusual combination of ingredients made a curiously effective impact.

A pork chop ($29; above left) and filet mignon ($42; above middle) were served with appropriate vegetables of the season. Taken on their own, the proteins were as well executed as they should be at a restaurant as expensive as this, but otherwise unmemorable. A side dish of peas and carrots ($9; above right) was excellent.

Dessert was comped, either because I was recognized, or to make up for a minor service snafu before we were seated. After a small chocolate crumble (above left) came the Chocolate Cube (normally $15; above right), which the server said is so popular that it is served all year long. One of the most remarkable desserts I have had in a long time, a thick hard chocolate cube gives way to a remarkably moist custard, with a texture between cake and panna cotta. If the rest of pastry chef Kevin Leach’s desserts are as good as this, he deserves to be far better known.

It is not the restaurant’s fault that it is popular. We arrived fifteen minutes before our 9:30 p.m. reservation, to find that we could not be seated early, and there were no seats available at the bar. We milled around the crowded vestibule and put in a drinks order, which took a while to come. The dining room is on the loud side when full, and at some two-tops, including ours, you’ll be very nearly in your neighbors’ laps. You’ll admire the pretty space, but you’ll be a bit frustrated that there is nowhere to put down the wine list. Service is courteous and professional.

Park Avenue _____ doesn’t get much press any more. The Upper East Side crowd it predominantly caters to is happy, and its quarterly revamp ensures that the restaurant always seems new.

Park Avenue Spring (100 E. 63rd Street at Park Avenue, Upper East Side)

Food: **
Service: **
Ambiance: *½
Overall: **


The Hurricane Club

Note: The wind blew Hurricane Club out of town. It closed in late 2013, having been previously re-branded Hurricane Steak and Sushi. General Assembly, a “market-driven grill” (yawn) from the same owners, replaced it in 2014. This too quickly failed. Next up in the space is the transfer of Park Avenue [Season] from its original address, where they owners lost their lease.


Resistance is futile. That was my immediate reaction to The Hurricane Club, the new Polynesian-themed restaurant from the Quality Meats/Park Avenue Autumn team.

It is pointless to wish it were something else, to wonder why, or to belittle the concept. Just submit to its charms, or don’t go.

Apparently, these places were once popular in Manhattan. Sometimes called “tiki bars,” one of them even had three stars. By the 1990s, the genre once exemplified by Trader Vic’s at the Plaza, was practically dead.

This year, restaurateurs are banking on a revival, with three tiki joints set to open. Hurricane Club is probably the most elaborate of these.

To call it “Polynesian” isn’t quite accurate. It’s about as authentic as Fantasy Island, lacking only for Ricardo Montalbán and Hervé Villachaize screaming, “The plane! The plane!”

There is a protective gauze over all of the windows, and the doors are covered top-to-bottom, so that nobody outside can catch a glimpse of the space. Once inside, it’s an AvroKO playland, a South Pacific dreamscape that would make Club Med jealous.

The enormous 250-seat space has 20-foot ceilings, about six dining rooms and lounges, and a wrap-around bar with a life-size Buddha draped in pearls.

It’s hard to tell if you’re in a restaurant or on a cruise ship. Servers are dapper in their all-white, crisply pressed dinner jackets. Cocktail waitresses sport barely-there thin black dresses.

The cocktail list in ten categories is so long that you order by number. I practically never order frozen drinks, but here…why not? The #37 (left; $11) with cucumber and mint was pretty good. Most of the choices are $12 or less, which these days is pretty reasonable.

The liquor program goes well beyond cliché, with a list of about a hundred rums: they don’t come cheap, with prices ranging from $39 to $1,999. The five-page wine list emphasizes the Pacific Rim. It was hard to find bargains there, either.

In the lounge and at the tables, there’s a gimmicky “Pu Pu” menu, listing a dozen items—all finger food, $12 each, with 3 or 4 pieces. With the little pencils provided, you’re to write down how many of each thing you want; or, you can just order the Pu Pu Platter ($28/$58) and get a large sampler.

I didn’t bother to write anything down, and just asked the server for an order of the Peking Duck Tea Sandwiches ($3; below left), which tasted exactly as you would imagine.

The two-page dinner menu offers items in seven categories, none labeled “appetizer” or “entrée.” The starter-like substances are $9–17, the mains (or apparent mains) $17–44. Yes, that is a wide range. Portions seem to be very large, and there is a danger of over-ordering.

Rice Paper Shrimp Rolls ($14; above right) spent too little time in the deep fryer, and came out slightly mushy.

The server correctly advised that Crispy Peking Pig ($44; above), although listed as a single entrée, would be more than enough for two people. Basically, it’s a pig prepared in the style of Peking Duck, with the traditional accompaniments and pork buns to wrap it with. This was the best suckling pig preparation we have had in quite a while, but it came out not quite warm enough.

The pig is listed in its own box, a feat of menu engineering designed to make it Hurricane Club’s most often-ordered dish. Based on our observations, it seemed to have worked: we saw orders of the pig flying out of the kitchen. It is not a bad deal for two or three people, but if you order much else you’re liable to leave part of it unfinished—as we did.

Of course, to claim that this is the cuisine of any recognizable Polynesian nation is nonsense, but it is a very good dish, and who cares where it comes from? Chef Craig Koketsu (Quality Meats, Park Avenue [name your season]) is a proven talent, who will probably get more right than wrong.

The attentive service is excellent, bringing an air of seriousness to a place that could easily devolve into a tourist trap. Despite the hokey concept, there appears to be a legitimate attempt to do it right—whatever that might mean for a tiki bar (I am frankly not sure).

Hurricane Club won’t be for everybody. We suspect it will attract a lot of big groups, tour buses, families taking in a matinée, and so forth. There certainly are questions whether quality can be maintained in a 250-seat place: those soggy shrimp rolls are an early warning sign. Inevitably, some meals will seem mass-produced.

If you buy into the concept, just get on the boat, and enjoy the ride for what it is. There is some fun to be had.

Hurricane Club (360 Park Avenue South at 26th Street, Gramercy/Flatiron)

Food: *½
Service: **
Ambiance: **
Overall: *½


Plein Sud

Note: Plein Sud closed in August 2013. This is a review under chef Ed Cotton, who left the restaurant in October 2011. Reviews were mostly unfavorable, but Cotton lasted for quite a while afterward, so there may have been other reasons for the split.


Hotel Restaurants have rules all their own. Practically all hotels must have a restaurant, so they bring in an established operator, who can be guaranteed—at least, as much as anything in this business can be—to run a reliable operation.

The operator gets a subsidy, which limits his downside risk. In exchange, he must offer room service and serve three meals a day. The menu can’t be anything so terribly challenging that guests will find it off-putting. Of course, what works in the Four Seasons would fail in the Holiday Inn, but the principle remains the same.

The Thompson Hotels, a boutique chain with five New York City properties, offer an eclectic mix of restaurants: Kittichai at 60 Thompson, Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar & Grill at 6 Columbus Circle, The Libertine at Gild Hall, Shang at the Thompson LES, and now Plein Sud at the Smythe. I suspect that at least two of the five (Shang and The Libertine) would be doomed as stand-alone restaurants.

Plein Sud adheres to the pattern of the other Thompson hotels, in that it has an operator with established credentials: Frederick Lesort of the now-shuttered Frederick’s Madison; along with a chef, Ed Cotton, who worked at (and was fired from) three-star Veritas.

The South-of-France cuisine seems calculated to meet the hotel’s requirements, with safe choices that won’t offend any guest. Even those who didn’t take French in high school will guess the contents of Le Burger Royale au Fromage, Coq au Vin, and Pasta Printemps. The menu does not stray far beyond these brasserie standards.

Over the course of half-a-dozen visits (the first chronicled here) I’ve found the cooking always at least competent, though singularly lacking in ambition. One wants to think that Cotton, who has worked at much better places (and is a current contestent on Top Chef), is not content to stop at this.

There’s a range of appetizers in various categories to satisfy bar grazers. On another visit, I tried the Tart Flambé, an oven-baked flatbread with smoked bacon, onion, and cheese. It’s a perfect snack, though better for sharing, as it wears out its welcome. (Gael Greene has a photo on her blog.)

We tried the large charcuterie board ($21; left), which allows you to choose five of the six meats on the menu. They were all just fine, though served with not enough bread. Dozens of places in town offer the same.

We wondered: if all you have are six selections, why not just give slightly less of each, and serve all six? Figuring out which one to leave out—we chose the air-dryed Wagyu beef—seemed odd. (There is also a small charcuterie board that offers three of six for $15.)

Steak au Poivre ($32; above left) was clearly better than the average non-steakhouse New York Strip, though well short of Minetta Tavern level. The fries were perfect. Pasta ($21; above right) with Merguez sausage and goat cheese was another solid effort.

Over the course of my visits, I’ve found a mixture of considerate and clueless service—never offensive, just sometimes aimless. Having now seen the AvroKO décor from every angle, I am inclined to be less charitable than before. Like everything else at Plein Sud, it won’t offend anyone, but it seems to be a retread of ideas the firm has used before, with filament bulbs hauled in from the company store room.

What we have here is a solid and reasonably priced neighborhood restaurant that seldom disappoints but never wows. I freely admit to a bias in favor of this type of cuisine. Most of the New York City critics will be bored by such a place. Do the owner and the chef aspire to anything more? Or are they happy to serve hotel guests and curiosity-seekers who happen to just wander by? That’s an open question.

Plein Sud (89 West Broadway at Chambers Street, TriBeCa)

Food: *
Service: *
Ambiance: *
Overall: *

Plein Sud on Urbanspoon


First Look: Plein Sud

Plein Sud is the new Southern French-themed brasserie in Southern Tribeca, in the swanky Smythe Hotel. It has top-drawer names behind it, including restauranteur Frederick Lesort (who previously ran the now-shuttered Frederick’s Madison mini-chain) and design firm AvroKO.

The chef here, Ed Cotton, has a blue-chip background, with stints at Veritas and BLT Market on his resume. He’s also a competitor on the coming season of Top Chef. If he survives deep into the season, Plein Sud could start to get a lot of attention.

The restaurant has been open since May, but it only received its liquor license yesterday. In honor of that event, they were offering wine on the house. Where the alcohol is free, New York Journal is on the case, so I dropped in. Service at the bar was a bit inattentive, but considering that they didn’t even have a bar until yesterday, it is too soon to reach any judgment.

The space is easy on the eyes, as you’d expect from an AvroKO production. The only food I sampled was an excellent Duck and Foie Gras Terrine that could withstand comparison to anything served at Bar Boulud, the city’s charcuterie capital. The young lady seated next to me at the bar offered me a taste of her Loup de Mer entrée, which had a nice crisp skin and a medley of roasted vegetables.

This is a take-no-risks menu, but if you love French classics, you’ll like Plein Sud. There are more pâtés and terrines to be tried, charcuterie, and baked flatbreads, along with the usual appetizers and entrées. It’s the kind of focused menu that David Bouley’s failed Secession, nearby, should have had.

Cotton was fired at Veritas, probably because he was serving two-star food in a three-star restaurant. Plein Sud doesn’t aspire to three stars (and won’t get them), but it doesn’t have Veritas’ high prix fixe. That terrine was just eight dollars, and most entrées are in the twenties. If he can keep serving food this good, he’ll do just fine. If he wins Top Chef, he’ll do even better.

Plein Sud (89 West Broadway at Chambers Street, TriBeCa)


The Monday Room


Note: The Monday Room closed in March 2012. A cocktail lounge, The Daisy, is set to replace it.


The Monday Room is a wine bar/small-plates room adjoined to the NoLIta restaurant Public. It has its own website and is separately reservable, but you enter through the same door as Public, and the food is prepared in the Public kitchen, by the same chef.

The space was used, at various times, as a gallery, as a retail shop, and as a private dining room. A shade over two years ago, it was converted permanently into a dining/bar room. The AvroKO décor features plush chairs, throw rugs, and dark wood paneling.

It is normally a much quieter space than Public, or so we understand. Unfortunately, a large party who’d had far too much to drink was carrying on in one of the big booths. We thought they should have been asked to leave, but it’s a tough call when a group is too loud, but hasn’t actually broken any rules yet. The staff were clearly getting annoyed, but when we left the party was still there, and had just ordered another round.

Fortunately, the food offered recompense in plenty. This comes as a surprise, as both of our visits to Public (1 2) left us underwhelmed. In fact, I will probably never eat there again, unless someone else insists. But in the Monday Room, chef Brad Farmerie hits one home run after another. If you didn’t know otherwise, you would doubt it was the same guy.

The menu, which changes frequently, consists entirely of small places ($6–19), which you’re encouraged to share. We ordered five of these, which was about right. There wasn’t a dud among them.

Sea Trout ($11.50; above left) was lovely. It came with a “three-slice pile-up” (above right), an order of bread so addictive that it ought to be served on its own.

Dashi Custerd ($9.50; above left) came topped with a salad of lobster, lime and caviar. We ordered two of these, as we were advised that it wasn’t suitable for sharing. Besides, who would want to share such a sublime dish.

Monday Meats ($15; above right) is a recent addition to the menu, including house-cured wild boar, a chicken mousse brûlée, and a chicken liver foie gras terrine, along with the usual accompaniments.

Pan-seared foie gras ($19; above left) was an excellent preparation, with french toast, maple glaze, pineapple chutney, and a slice of crisp bacon. Grilled venison mini-burgers ($7; above right) had a wonderful funky taste that wasn’t at all gamey, along with a tomato chili jam and shallot rings.

The mostly-European wine list offers ample variety by the half-glass, glass, half-bottle, or bottle. We spent $48 total on two half-bottles (one Spanish, the other Italian), enjoying a flexibility not available at most places.

Service was excellent, with fresh serving utensils brought for every course. All of the staff we interacted with were knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the food and the wine. Their ordering advice can be trusted.

We had heard that the Monday Room was better than Public, but we weren’t prepared for just how much better it is. Actually, it is remarkable.


Public (210 Elizabeth St. between Spring St. & Prince St., NoLIta)

Food: **½
Service: **
Overall: **



The Stanton Social


OpenTable.com has a list of the Top 10 Booked Restaurants in New York. For a long time, the Stanton Social was on that list. It isn’t any longer, but I’m sure it’s not far off the pace. I almost pinched myself a few weeks ago, when I saw a 7:00 p.m. two-top on a Friday evening, and grabbed it.

If there’s a popularity checklist in the restaurant industry, the Stanton Social ticks all of the boxes. Its inexpensive tapas-style menu covers all the popular cuisines. Check. Kobe beef and foie gras are on hand to contribute an haute cuisine flourish or two. Check. Lower East Side vibe. Check. Eye-popping AvroKO décor. Check. An ear-thumping sound track. Check.

I arrived early, so I headed upstairs to try a few of the house cocktails. Black Magic ($10), a simple mixture of Guinness and Brut Champagne, was a complete failure. The bartender later admitted he hates it too: “Guinness and champagne can be good friends outside of work, but they don’t belong together at work.”

The Social Tea ($12), with Stoli Citros, green tea and orange-honey marmelade was appealing in a generically sweet way. But the best of the three I tried was the bartender’s recommendation, the Blood Orange Jalapeño Margarita ($12), with a house tequila that marinates in jalapeño peppers for about two weeks.

stantonsocial01.jpgThe menu, as noted, is entirely tapas-style: “Rather than offering individual starters and main courses, The Stanton Social serves dishes that are designed for sharing and are brought to the table steadily and continuously throughout the meal.”

Awarding one star in the Times, Frank Bruni commended chef Chris Santos’s “determination to find readily divisible finger food where no chef has found it before.”

Our server advised 5–6 dishes as being about right for two people. That was pretty reasonable advice. We chose five (out of a menu offering nearly fifty), including all three that she recommended. While we waited for our food, the kitchen brought out crisp bread with chipotle garlic butter (above right). We would easily have eaten more than one slice apiece, had there been more.

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Duck Confit Empanadas and Potato & Goat Cheese Pierogies (left); French Onion Soup Dumplings (right)

It’s safe to assume that the kitchen’s greatest hits are mostly pre-assembled, as our first two plates came out after only five minutes or so. We loved Duck Confit Empanadas ($9), which had a nice tang, the blood orange dipping sauce offering a sweet-sour contrast. Potato and Goat Cheese Pierogies ($8) were less interesting, and my girlfriend (who’s half-Polish) felt that these deep-fried dumpling-like creatures weren’t pierogies at all. [Sorry about the washed-out photo.]

We also wondered why, on a menu designed for sharing, the kitchen would send out three empanadas and three pierogies. Most of the parties at the Stanton Social are even numbers of people. Would it have been that hard to create dishes in twos or fours, rather than threes?

French Onion Soup Dumplings ($11) admirably show off the chef’s talent for going where sharable plates have never gone before. Served in an escargot dish, there are six dumplings, each on a skewer with its own crouton, a hot onion soup center, and Gruyère slathered on top. Even more admirably, there are six of them.

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Kobe Beef Sliders and Fries (left); Braised Short Rib Soft Tacos (right)

Kobe Beef Sliders are one of the few dishes not designed for sharing: they’re $7 apiece, and a wonderful tender gooey mess. The server recommended a bowl of fries ($6) to go with them. They were hot and not greasy, but over-salted. Beef Short Rib Soft Tacos ($19) weren’t very flavorful, and seemed somewhat “flat” compared to everything else we tasted. Once again, there were three of them—an odd design in more ways than one.

Tapas-style restaurants usually send out plates when the kitchen is ready, no matter what the customer may want. I don’t know if we got lucky, or if the Stanton Social is more enlightened, but the pace of our meal was just about right. Plates were delivered, cleared, and delivered anew on schedule, without us having to deal with mountains of food we weren’t ready to eat.

Of course, that “schedule” needs to be construed in the terms of a restaurant designed to turn over the tables quickly, and where no food item is meant to be lingered over: we were in and out in under 75 minutes. Given the din of the sound system, we weren’t eager to spend any more time there than necessary.

Although we snagged a 7:00 p.m. table, no one should conclude that the Stanton Social is losing its popularity: the place was packed. The small-plates format is still a winning one, and there are many clever choices to tempt you. If one or two are less successful, you’ll still have several others to enjoy. A larger group could very well try most of the menu.

We weren’t quite impressed enough, however, to endure again the crowds, the noise, and the difficulty of getting a reservation.

The Stanton Social (90 Stanton Street between Orchard & Ludlow Streets, Lower East Side)

Food: *
Service: *
Ambiance: *
Overall: *


Park Avenue Summer


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 yogurt
The 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. 

parkavesummer02a.jpg parkavesummer02b.jpg
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 risotto
There 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 Koketsu
The 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)

Food: Uneven
Service: Average
Ambiance: Cruise ship
Overall: Needs work