Entries in Park Avenue (Season) (5)


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.

Click to read more ...


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 Payoff: Park Avenue Autumn

Today, Frank Bruni is smitten with Park Avenue Autumn, turning in a quite enthusiastic two-star review.

It’s not often that I have the feeling that Bruni and I dined at different places. If I’ve dined there at around the same time, I usually feel like he’s describing the same experience as I had. When my rating is different, it’s because I weigh the value of that experience differently, not because I feel he’s describing something alien.

But today, Bruni’s enthusiasm for Park Avenue Autumn is truly unrecognizable in relation to the very mediocre meal we had there not long ago. I can only assume that we caught the restaurant on an off-night: such things can happen.

Unfortunately, it means I am a loser today, and Eater is a winner on our hypothetical one-dollar bets. Eater wins $4 at 4–1 odds, while I lose $1.

          Eater        NYJ
Bankroll $49.50   $53.67
Gain/Loss +4.00   –1.00
Total $53.50   $52.67
 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Won–Lost 21–5   19–7

Rolling the Dice: Park Avenue Autumn

Every week, we take our turn with Lady Luck on the BruniBetting odds as posted by Eater. Just for kicks, we track Eater’s bet too, and see who is better at guessing what the unpredictable Bruni will do. We track our sins with an imaginary $1 bet every week.

The Line: Tomorrow, Frank Bruni reviews Park Avenue Autumn, the only restaurant in town that changes its name four times a year. The Eater oddsmakers have set the action as follows (√√ denotes the Eater bet):

Zero Stars: 4-1
One Star: 3-1
Two Stars: 4-1
Three Stars: 750-1
Four Stars: 25,000-1

The Skinny: The Eater odds are a little funny sometimes. Frank Bruni gave zero stars last week to Wakiya, and he isn’t going to award a donut twice in a row, so the only outcomes truly in play here are one or two stars.

We weren’t impressed with Park Avenue Autumn’s summertime incarnation, awarding zero. Much as I disagree with Bruni sometimes, our ratings have seldom been more than one star apart. That alone would incline me to take the one-star bet.

On top of that, Bruni is seldom enthralled with “scene-y” places, which this unquestionably is. And he also tends to punish (as he should) high-priced restaurants with uneven performance, which I also think this is.

The Bet: We are betting that Frank Bruni will award one star to Park Avenue Autumn.


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