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Posts from the ‘Midtown East’ Category

Shovel Time: Agern

threeshovelTwo-and-a-half hours after taking my seat at the counter, early Friday evening (the only one doing so until a Japanese guy with hint of a man bun arrived later and was seated way on the other side of the open prep space), I was glad I didn’t change my reservation for something cooler. My original instinct.


Sure, high-end dining is a little weird just a few steps down the 42nd Street ramp into Grand Central. More than a couple under-dressed walk-ins looked at at menu at the host stand before leaving But also, and maybe more so, do we need more Nordic-tinged food in NYC in 2016? I wouldn’t say I get excited about nasturtium leaves or nettles and especially not dill. You know there is going to be pine somewhere and pretty borage petals are going to make an appearance. (Sure enough, was seated facing the woman prepping the lavender flowers.) It keeps persisting. Cooler might’ve meant waiting a few days and trying the new Aska. I still haven’t been to Blanca or Semilla, though. No one is giving-up tables for one at Le Coucou or that would’ve been part of my Solo Birthday Dining week. Honestly, I chose Agern in part because I suspected it was good value for a tasting menu. And it really was. $145, service included, for the land and sea menu. With beverage pairings (surprisingly heavy on New York state wines) you’re right at $230. Pricey, obviously, but not to the degree of more established, possibly more luxurious, tastings in the city. You feel good about the time and money spent at the end of the meal.


The non-table-seated view of Friday rush hour bustle. I watched someone struggle with rolling their wheelchair up the ramp for far too long. I wasn’t staring, but it was in my line of vision and struggled myself to come up with an apt metaphor. There wasn’t one. Just a non-young lady willingly eating algae alone.

agern snacks

You don’t receive any silverware during the series of snacks involving cucumber, fluke, horseradish, pine, celeriac, dill, oyster, awesome fried potato bread, and sweetbread that tastes like a fancy chicken nugget, and ends with a steaming, soft-centered round of dense sourdough cut into four wedges and served with butter whipped with buttermilk, which took me a few to realize was intentional. Lemon balm and cucumber gets distilled into a broth poured into a vessel the size of a Chinese teacup from a French press. And then you are on your way.


Points given for full loaves for one. So nice that bread is back.


Oof, I can’t remember the details other than tomatoes that I thought tasted dangerously close to melon were involved, something creamy, roe too, and that it probably could’ve been one-third smaller and have had more impact. It was the first night they were serving this dish and it’s not currently on the menu.


Beef heart with green strawberries, tiny rounds of grassy asparagus, and dusted with a nettle powder was a stand-out. This was more vegetable than meat and tasted like the color green.

What’s the vibe? Well, kind of formal. There is a lot of staff. I appreciated that the front of house wasn’t hyper-white. My server had just moved from Puerto Rico to work at Agern and was jazzed about foraging and local ingredients but still happy to talk to me about alcapurrias and morcilla. Not the youngest crowd. A twee version of “Teenage Kicks” started playing in that Nouvelle Vague manner. It probably was Nouvelle Vague. (Yes, I wasn’t sure if they still existed.)

agern beets

Then it’s the salt and ash baked beet. It’s quite a production, cracked and carved and extras plated on the side. It’s a lot of beet for one person. The sweet vegetable, paired with huckleberries, is accompanied by a really great chewy rye bread.


This is when I started getting full and fuzzy. Monkfish and apple…


The pork neck was rich but a little tough, at least too tough for a butter knife to saw through, but also very bright and vegetal with pea shoots and green beans, plus seaweed crackers, more specifically made from a dulse called söl. This was just about right for the savories to wind down.


My worst nightmare of a dessert. Cantaloupe (ugh) and cucumber with frozen skyr, lemon balm, and there’s that boarage. Minus the melon (which I realize is my own personal Kryptonite), this was a perfectly nice and refreshing palate cleanser. And then I got worried that maybe it was the main event and not an interim course.


Phew. We’re still not talking caramel, chocolate, or nuts, but I can deal with strawberries, kombucha, and rose vinegar. Ok, who am I kidding? That’s not a dessert either.


Candies are more me, earthy or not. Little Play-doh doses of chocolate (Brooklyn chocolate) with anise hyssop, chamomile caramel, mint dusted with ivy powder (yes, ivy).

agern bread duo

You get sent off with a loaf of bread, more of that delicious butter, a tin of jam, which I want to say was apricot and it’s a shame my fruit palate isn’t fully developed. Not quite peachy. Best Saturday morning breakfast really.

Agern * 89 E. 42nd St., New York, NY 







Eaten, Barely Blogged: Pizza, Pizza, Sushi, Himalayan and Not

pizzeria sirenetta arugula & prosciutto pizza

Pizzeria Sirenetta This is type of place–pizzas, pastas, snacks, all under $20–just taken for granted in so many neighborhoods. (A little less so in this more-desolate-than-you’d-think pocket of the Upper West Side.) I mean, it’s kind of boring. Also, I would kill for one. There just isn’t anywhere to get skinny linguine creamy with meyer lemon-spiked ricotta and sprinkled with micro-croutons or what I’ve decided is my favorite pizza, the perfect bitter/rich/salty combo of arugula and prosciutto. Instead of the little chocolate pudding freebie offered at the end of the other Mermaid restaurant meals, you will receive a tiny panna cotta with a droplet of balsamic vinegar.

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International Intrigue: Uncle Sam’s Burgers

twoshovelClose to a year ago, Uncle Sam’s was being touted as a coming attraction. A burger chain rooted in Beijing? I was sold on concept yet not fully convinced since I couldn’t find any evidence of such a creature existing in China. It turns out, two did open in Beijing but not until six months after the announcement, which still makes me suspicious. (I would love it if the Australian rules footballs being used as a decor element in the Chinese shops instead of American pigskins was a brilliant faux-naive marketing ploy.) Would an impending NYC branch somehow make the restaurant seem more legit on its home turf?

uncle sam's duo

Uncle Sam’s opened to little fanfare in May, along a corridor of Fifth Avenue that’s home to other foreign imports like popular Korean fried chicken chain Bon Chon and lesser known Turkish cafe Simit Sarayi. It’s not particularly obvious that this isn’t a homegrown establishment. There are wacky Asian-tinged combinations like the 888 Burger (shumai patty, Canadian bacon, char-siu and Sriracha mayo) and K-Town (galbi beef, kimchi, white American cheese, spicy black bean mayo and pickled daikon) in the current more is more style, cold brew coffee from Kopi Trading Co., a kale side salad, and a soundtrack piping in Matt and Kim (followed by samba and reggae). This may as well be Brooklyn.

And that’s the genre it traffics in, at least from a price perspective. With the specialty burgers ranging from $7.95-$10.95, sides extra, it’s an expensive proposition for an unproven brand with beef of unknown origins. That said, it’s fun, and you can do worse in the tourist-heavy zone flanking the Empire State Building.

uncle sam's trio

I went with the relatively demure Signature, which is more or less a Swiss and mushroom burger with scallions and oyster sauce, because at 11:30am, still my breakfast time, and anything bolder seemed untoward. The burger was larger than a fast food version but still petite, and a total umami bomb with deep, concentrated double mushroom flavor and slight nuttiness from the soft blanket of melted cheese. You can spruce up as you like from the selection of Lee Kum Kee condiments, nearly all untouched, foil seals intact.

The Sichuan chili, pepper jack cheese, and sriracha mayo-topped tater tots and sesame miso caramel milkshakes will have to wait until a later hour.

Uncle Sam’s Burger * 307 Fifth Ave., New York, NY

Eaten, Barely Blogged: Salvo, Near-Suburban Tiki, Simits

bear quint

Bear Russian food, whether the time capsule Brighton Beach version or of the flashy Mari Vanna and Onegin persuasion, has never been in my wheelhouse. Of course, I didn’t say no to Queens’ answer to this genre on a chilly night practically crying out for dill martinis and substantial brown bread. The pickles, herring and potato salad, and salvo, described as lardo but much thicker and tougher to bite through, were fine drinking snacks, but portions are little overly precious. A lamb dumpling special (not pictured) that I’m remembering as priced in the high teens came three to a plate, more appropriate for dim sum than an entree. The layer cake, smetannik, was strangely gritty, which I’m now guessing was due to buckwheat, an intentional addition. There’s something off-kilter about the operation, and that may stem from Bear not knowing exactly what it wants to be. It’s a cozy place in a non-prime corner of Astoria that also happens to serve a $175 tasting menu, possibly a Queens record.

end of the century cocktails

End of the Century I’m not sold on Forest Hills’ stretch of Metropolitan Avenue being touted as “Michelin Road” (I mean, it is home to the one and only East Coast Sizzler, which has strong Michelin-negating powers). Forest Hills is a very different kind of Queens, though, still on the subway but  more suburban and upscale than most of the western half that non-residents associate with the borough. You will see lawn jockeys on the meandering walk from Queens Boulevard and definitely no other pedestrians. Some new bar openings are hyped. Others are not. End of the Century, tiki in mission but still looking a little like the pub that preceded it, has owners with pedigrees including PKNY, Maison Premiere and Dutch Kills, but on my visit its first week open the crowds were not there yet. The drinks like the above Dr. Funk and super gingery, honeyed and multi-rummed Kon-Tiki Mai Tai are crafted with purpose and well-priced at $10 (and may not stay that low indefinitely). I’m not convinced the concept is in line with the sleepier part of Forest Hills’ needs or expectations. I would be happy to see them succeed, however, especially since I need to try the scorpion bowl, the bar is only one express stop from me, and my neighborhood won’t be seeing any falernum or absinthe-filled atomizers any time soon.

buffalo wild wings da & night

For inexplicable reasons that hopefully will become apparent to me soon, I’ve not only walked past Forest Hills’ Buffalo Wild Wings twice in less than a week, I’ve also photographed it.

simit sarayi duo

Simit Sarayi is the latest foreign import in Manhattan, by way of Turkey. Simits are more or less sesame bagels with much larger holes, and they are going to be totally hot in 2015. Ok, probably not, but I had to get in one pseudo-end-of-year prediction. Clearly, I will need to sample more than just a cheese and tomato filled version to fully assess the situation. As far as authenticity, all I had to go on was the staff and clientele, who with the exception of my first and maybe my last (I say defeated-ly, not optimistically) Tinder date, appeared to be Turkish. Good riddance, 2014.

Eaten, Barely Blogged: Mexico, Spain, Brooklyn

Pampano quad

Pampano doesn't get the attention of other newer, cooler Mexican restaurants, but it remains popular, seemingly with early-stage dates, guys who appear businesslike, and older Spanish-speaking women with younger relatives who only speak English. I was there to sample a new summer menu spotlighting ingredients from La Paz in Baja California. (I've also been before of my own volition, so this isn't totally shilly. And yeah, Richard Sandoval rivals Ducasse with his international expansion efforts, but I'm still curious enough to try a tapa or two at Toro Toro when I'm in Dubai this weekend. Ha, that's sounds hilarious, as if I'm always off to glitzy places.) Supposedly, different regions in Mexico will be featured throughout the year. The full menu is here with details, but I can say that the bacon-wrapped shrimp (is there a bad bacon-wrapped shrimp?) with a chipotle sauce, grilled pineapple and melon ball-sized rounds of avocado was the standout with its sweet, creamy and salty components. And it didn't hurt that the presentation was so pretty. An all-seafood meal, there were also smoked clams, a tamarind mahi-mahi and a tuna tamalito. The guava pastry did not contain seafood, thankfully, just fruit and Damiana, an herbal liqueur said to have aphrodisiac properties (they're not boasting that claim on the menu, though maybe it's legit since even WebMD mentions that usage for the herb).

Tapeo29 trio

Tapeo29 I find myself coming back here with increasing frequency. The corner bar using open windows instead of air conditioning is more Madrid than Barcelona (though both cities would let you sweat in the summer) meaning traditional, not avant-garde (I don't know the Spanish for avant-garde–de vanguardia?). Chorizo al sidra, croquetas de bacalao and boquerones aren't surprising, but they are satisfying, and before 8pm on weeknights only $6 each (plus wine and cocktails for the same price). I always leave a little drunker than intended and just full enough.

Lavender lake aperol spritzLavender Lake I didn't try any food and, frankly, it's the kind of place I read about on blogs, or rather The Times Style Magazine, in this case, and decide that there's no need to rush over. Can I live without "Scandinavian  rustic" in Gowanus? (I also refuse to give pseudo-neighborhood, Gowanus, its own category–it's two blocks from the F train.) But I didn't realize it was located on the relaxing, over-the-canal route I occasionally take home when I feel like the F is going to crush my soul so I preemptively take the R all the way to Union Street and walk the mile-and-a-quarter to my apartment. So, I had an Aperol spritz, which is dangerously close to a white wine spritzer (in spirit, not taste) and awkwardly sat by myself on a folding chair too short to reach the bar-like ledge on the back patio. At 7pm there wasn't a free table in the entire yard, which is a common phenomena and I'm certain would've been the same even an hour earlier. I'm convinced no one in Carroll Gardens actually works, despite the crazy real estate prices. Regardless, it's a pretty place, all muted tones and reclaimed wood, like a physical Instagram.

Brooklyn Ice House I have far less to say about this Red Hook bar than Lavender Lake, and yet I like it more. Thai chile sauce wings served Buffalo style (blue cheese, carrots and celery) and a pint of Sixpoint Righteous Ale don't need rehashing. Neither bar has a website, which is distressing.


Tenpenny’s spring vegetables might well be the best (and possibly the only) elevated ranch dish since Park Avenue Autumn’s sweet potato fries with homemade dressing. It’s also quite pretty. Enough to counteract the unfounded ugly room criticism? I happen to like my spaces generic and spacious (surprisingly spacious on a Friday night, two days post-New York Times review) rather than cramped and twee.

Tenpenny spring vegetables

The hodgepodge of green peas, wax beans, tomatoes, corn, squash blossoms and one microscopic frond-topped carrot were surrounded by a sweet, crunchy sunchoke dirt that looked like Bac-O-Bits. The dusting of ranch was subtle, more of a perfume than omnipresent.

Tenpenny madison & negroni

Same for the root beer extract vermouth in The Madison, which along with Michter’s rye and a bourbon steeped cherry, smelled more like a soda and tasted more like an sweeter Manhattan. The Negroni (pictured) and The Landlady, a salt, cucumber, chile drink, also made an appearance, making up three of the four featured cocktails. The Unstrung Harp, Sam Sifton’s cocktail of the summer just didn’t appeal. I’d rather just have a glass of white wine, so I did. Albariño. Ok, mystery…the cocktail listed on Tenpenny's site contains white wine, not prosecco like recipe detailed on Diner's Journal. The sparkle might've changed my mind.

Tenpenny pretzel roll

Pretzel rolls come with horseradish-spiked mustard and an apple butter that’s flavored butter not jammy and made of fruit.

The next morning, there was some horrible infomercial being passed off on public broadcasting as an educational show. A doctor was telling an audience that they could break free of their food addictions, and there was lots of head-nodding and tearing-up. There was a lot of talk about salads and fruit, which I’m totally for and should be for, but I started getting depressed (or maybe I was just hungover from the cocktails) about having to live in an all lean protein world when pork belly tots exist.

Tenpenny pork belly tots

Sure, they’re coated in potato flakes and fried, but the Granny Smith slivers and green leafy shoots must count for something.

Tenpenny duck confit

You’d better like wax beans, such is the way of seasonal cooking. The burnished duck confit came in a skillet (more down home-style than Applebee’s affectation) atop a succotash with still-pliable croutons that appeared to have been soaked in chorizo oil. Just in time to snap me out of my Spain-vacation-is-a-fading-memory funk.

Tenpenny barely buzzed cheese Dessert wasn’t really necessary, but a small slab of “Barely Buzzed” had to be tried because I’d never eaten cheese from Utah, nor cheese rubbed in coffee and lavender. Firm and a little nutty, it was definitely dessert-like paired with fig jam and walnut bread.

Tenpenny * 16 E. 46th, New York, NY



No more Convivio or Alto. (3/4/2011)

One-day's notice won't have you dining at Marea or Scarpetta earlier than 10pm while Convivio will grant you 1,000 Open Table points during all hours not just at geriatric 6:45pm, the exact time I willingly paid a visit to the Tudor City restaurant, glowing warmly from afar on a snowy, otherwise lifeless block. The only other time I've been that far east on 42nd Street was to meet with a library recruiter (they exist) in the lobby of her coop. It’s that kind of neighborhood.

Beyond salumi, sharp cheese, crostini maybe with chicken liver or fava puree and little dishes of marinated vegetables eaten with inexpensive red wine, I never initiate an Italian meal. Something about the holidays and drop in temperature, though, demanded not just pasta but hearty Southern Italian, the same cuisine I avoid like landmines near my apartment.

The $62 prix fixe (two sfizi or one antipasti, pasta, meat or fish and dessert) is really a good deal and a substantial amount of food (which didn't hit me until I stood up and had to think twice about eggnog at The Campbell Apartment. It turned out that don’t serve it anyway so my system was spared the creamy beverage…temporarily. A glass of eggnog did end up in my hand at Waterfront Ale House later) and the wine list was also friendly to those with little interest in pricy mature reds. I chose a bottle of Occhipinti SP68, a Sicilian Nero D’Avola/Frappato blend ($55).

Convivio polipo; grilled octopus, chickpea panissa, olives, red peppers.CR2
polipo/grilled octopus, chickpea panissa, olives, red peppers

Both the chickpea cake and octopus legs were light; the cephalopod with just enough chew and the panissa especially flaky. I could see this being done with polenta, but that would bog the whole thing down.

Convivio rigatoni, marsala braised tripe, cannellini beans, spinach, pecorino grand cru
rigatoni/marsala braised tripe, cannellini beans, spinach, pecorino grand cru

Rarely a pasta-craver, rigatoni would never be an obvious choice to me because the fat tubes are a lot of noodle. It’s always about the accompaniments, though, and I’m glad that I didn’t shy away from what appeared to be the humblest of the ten available pastas offered. Gelatinous rectangles of honeycomb tripe—a cut I associate strictly with menudo or dim sum—definitely held up to the rigatoni. There was a lot of crunch from miniature cubes of celery and carrot, which worked against the softness of the cannellini beans.

Convivio scottadito di agnello; grilled lamb chops, salsa verde, escarole
scottadito di agnello/grilled lamb chops, salsa verde, escarole, beans

It’s hard not to love a medium-rare lamb chop ringed with a few bites of charred fat. The vinegary salsa verde cut a bit of the richness. Ack, but those cannellinis again. (Nothing against the beans—I just used them tonight along with canned tomatoes and frozen fish in a lowerbrow version of Eric Ripert's roasted cod with white beans, tomato and truffle oil. It was the best I could come up with since I haven't gone grocery shopping since before Christmas.) I mean, it did say beans in the description, I was just imagining a different legume from the rigatoni. And while I am loathe to admit food aversions (it makes you look narrow minded) cooked tomatoes, the main reason why I'm prejudiced against Italian-American food, ever excite me. I feel the same about Provençal dishes like ratatouille. I wouldn’t even see the movie with the same name. Ok, I’m a fussbudget.

So, the lamb was near perfect and the side and sauce were dull according to my biases. If you love tomato sauce and don’t order a starter with cannellinis, you’ll probably enjoy this greatly.

Convivio tartaletta di caramelle; valhrona chocolate ganache, salted caramel, vanilla gelato
tartaletta di caramelle/valhrona chocolate ganache, salted caramel, vanilla gelato

I was swayed by the salt and caramel, but this firm little tart was also very much about the thick chocolate layer. The gelato added an overall creaminess but the vanilla flavor was a little quiet. Would caramel gelato be overkill?

Chef Julian Medina was seated with a group in a nearby curved banquette and was the only person who seemed to notice when my camera came out (never with flash and always lightning fast—no attempts at professional quality are made). A mildly consternated expression crossed his face insinuating, "Eh, bloggers." I am the enemy.

Convivio * 45 Tudor City Pl., New York, NY

OBAO Preview

In 2006 I worked a block from where OBAO, Michael Huynh’s latest venture, is scheduled to open on Monday. The immediate area has shaped into a multi-culti lunching paradise (Güllüoglu, Barros Luco, Mantao Chinese Sandwiches) or maybe it just seems better in comparison to the Financial District blandness I’ve grown accustomed to. And I shouldn't complain so hard, we're getting a Baoguette down here.

Obao lamb, beef on sugarcane & pork belly

Based on the sampling at OBAO’s preview party, there is high promise. The grilled cubes of pork belly were a little sweet with nice char and good balance between the meaty and fatty bits. Lamb chops were coated in chopped lemongrass and tasted like they’d been marinated in coconut milk. Instead of shrimp paste, thin slices of beef were wrapped around sugarcane. Bacon too. Why had I never thought of that?

Obao satay & shrimp roll

Shrimp rolls and chicken satay were perfectly fine renditions, but couldn’t compete with the oomph of the pork, lamb and beef. Or maybe I just have a preference for the fatty.

Obao soup

I think this was a pho. It definitely was pho-like, but the poached egg threw me off.

The unknown element will be the noodles, which weren’t showcased at this event. I’m crazy for laksa and can’t decide if the non-traditional green tea soba noodles as they are touting will be a welcome tweak or just weird. Will the char kway teow also be an Asian hybrid? I’m sure I’ll get the answers soon enough.

Obao exterior
I imagine the signage will be complete and the garbage bin removed by opening day.

OBAO * 222 E. 53 St., New York NY

Le Relais de Venise

Le Relais de Venise is responsible for cutting my lunk-headed
attempt at banning sugar, starch and alcohol from my diet for the month
of August three weeks short. I am weak in the face of golden skinny
fries and inexpensive red wine. $20 bottles of drinkable Bordeaux? I

Relais de venise exterior

Locations already exist in London, Barcelona and Paris, where the restaurant originated. I can’t put my finger on why…well, maybe the maid outfits the all-female servers wear combined with a blind Francophila (I’ll never forget the story about Japanese tourists in France being so traumatized by rude treatment they had to go into therapy)
but I can see Japanese loving this place. And from what I understand
the no reservations policy creates line-ups in other cities. No such
thing on an early Friday evening in Midtown. This could be the result
of the office-heavy location, lack of awareness or possibly because New
Yorkers don’t like their steak soft and sauced.

Relais de venise salad

you will be ordering steak since that’s the only entrée on the menu.
The $24 prix fixe includes a salad with a mustardy tarragon dressing
and walnuts and steak frites in two portions. This quirk is intended to
keep the food warm; plates are kept at side stations atop little
flames. It could also induce panic to Americans accustomed to big fat
slabs of meat rather than a fan of rosy protein that could fit into the
palm of your hand.

I do prefer minerally beef with fatty rims
and charred exterior, pale pink inside, but I can appreciate non-aged
sirloin as well. I’d take this over Outback Steakhouse, you know, just
for chain comparison. Oddly, medium-rare is not a choice. Degrees of
doneness start at bleu, go up to rare then jump to medium (let's not
talk about well). We took a chance on the medium, banking that it would
be on the rare side. It was.

Relais de venise steak frites

sauce is butter rich, herby and possibly flavored with liver. That
sounds a little odd but there was an unmistakable offal funk in the
background. I actually preferred the sauce with the fries, which were
perfect in their golden yet still pliable form.

Relais de venise interior

is swift. Despite only a handful of the tables being occupied in the
spacious corner restaurant, courses came quickly. Our seconds were
brought before we had polished off our firsts. My barely eaten fries
were topped off and made equal to James’s pile that had a deeper dent.
Advice to fried potato gluttons: the more fries you initially eat, the
more will be replaced.

Relais de venise cheese plate

dessert list was surprisingly long. We opted for cheese since I was
still operating under the delusion that I was detoxing (though I’ve
gone soft on alcohol, bread and potatoes I do restrict my sugar) and
fat is preferable to me than sweets. Comte, brie and a blue of some
sort were a nice finish. For only a few bucks more you can get a glass
of port with your cheese but we still had wine to carry us through.

don’t have a good feeling about this location and the concept seemed to
confuse many who walked up to the window menu with only one meal
listed. But it’s definitely worth at least one try even if you’re not
in the immediate neighborhood.

Le Relais de Venise * 590 Lexington Ave., New York, NY

Park Avenue Autumn

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.

Park avenue autumn fig carpaccio

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.

Park avenue autumn kentucky fried quail, dips and biscuit Park avenue autumn kentuck fried quail

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.

Park avenue autumn sweet potato fries with ranch

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.

Park avenue autumn banana crepe

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.

* * *


Broccoli wtih cheetos

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