1/2 Park Avenue Autumn turned out to be the opposite of Cambodian Cuisine, which was a pleasant surprise. I wasn’t expecting to like it as much as I did. I imagined a little upper midtown stodginess mixed with seasonal worship…and not even the right season (yes, I’m still stuck on the public’s refusal to acknowledge September as part of summer). But the food was great, service professional without veering uptight and the menu was on the quirky side.
Or should I say menus. There was a hefty main menu, a giant wine list that was all over the place with call out boxes with titles like “It’s Hunting Season.” I was sold on a Columbia Valley Merlot based on a section called “Merlot’s Great Comeback.” If they say it’s ok to order this shunned wine again, I’ll believe them. And then there was a tiny square pamphlet of a menu featuring Indian Summer specials.
Ah ha, at least they were acknowledging my current pet peeve. I picked Park Avenue Autumn partially for this very reason. (See, this was a ninth anniversary dinner [dating, not marriage. I’m officially a crazy person because nine years is a heck of a long time to still refer to your significant other as a boyfriend. It either makes you sound teenage or like you’re casually dating, which I guess I’m not. But you can’t say partner because straight people who use that term are creepiest of creepy]. Blue Hill was the original choice presented to me but as the partner/boyfriend/roommate always does things last minute, they only had 11pm availability on a Saturday. Perhaps it’s not proper etiquette to meddle in celebratory meal plans, but after nearly a decade there’s no stepping on toes by just making the damn reservation myself. I always have my own plan B.)
I wanted to embrace the wrongness of changing an entire restaurant’s décor and menu over Labor Day weekend when temperatures still hovered in the high 80s. It didn’t even feel gimmicky, though. There’s something smart and utilitarian about the unsnapping, Velcroing color scheme switch every three months.
The room was glorious in earth tones, all right. The bubbly copper lamps were like a lighting version of the Bloomindales’s font. Chic ‘70s. Rope and leather ornaments lent texture while cranberries in glass vessels and pear and cider flavored cocktails let you know it was fall inside these doors. I direct you to the photo on their site because I cannot do the room justice with my point-and-shoot camera. Attempting to capture even so-so shots of my candlelit food was difficult enough.
Fig carpaccio, hoja santa, goat cheese. This was the most boring thing I encountered all evening. James’ salmon tartare was much more impressive. I’m just not one who gets worked up over produce even when I try. The Mexican herb was a nice touch as well as the mild goat cheese and scattering of almonds I think what threw me off was how cold the fig slices were. I know that “carpaccio” doesn’t imply warm. It just didn’t come together for me.
Kentucky fried quail, pear slaw, warm biscuit. This exemplifies what I mean by fun food. Mini fried chicken-style quail legs are not only cute but flavorful, all dark meat with a high crust to flesh ratio. And the little bucket bearing their autumn logo was fitting. Two dips were included: honey and a honey mustard. I preferred the soul foodish plain honey, which wasn’t as cloying as it could’ve been since the diner controls the amount of sticky sweetness. The biscuit wasn’t nearly as good as the warm rolls presented at the beginning of the evening, but the bar had been set high by a cheesey spiral bun that was flecked with what I think was sage. Maybe I had a little too much Merlot but I kept thinking that the magenta-tinged pear slices were beet-dyed pickled eggs.
We were tempted by the broccoli with Cheetos. How could you not be? I saw the neon orange squiggles on the table next to us. But sweet potato cottage fries with ranch dip were perfect, non-greasy and crispy-edged. They weren’t too sweet like these starchy tubers sometimes can be. I only wish that there was more ranch for dunking.
Desserts came in yet another menu more like a catalog with glossy color photos, showcasing confections from seasons past. Luckily, I like looking at images of cakes and pastries.
Caramelized banana, frozen maple mousse & crunchy bacon crumbs. Played out or not, the dessert incorporating bacon was a must-order. The Blue Hill at Stone Barns banana fritters and pork cracklings dessert is lighter and cleaner. This trio was down and dirty, super porky, unrefined and kind of oily. And tasty, too.
Unbeknownst to me, while I was writing this James was recreating Park Avenue Autumn's broccoli with Cheetos dish based on a description he heard the waiter relaying to the couple who were sitting next to us. All I know is that it involves smoked gouda and parmesan. No, he didn't go so far as crafting his own puffed cheesy snacks from scratch. And neither of us have any idea if this concoction even approximates the original in taste (it does resemble the glimpse I caught) but it’s the thought that counts.
Park Avenue Autumn * 100 E. 63rd St., New York, NY