falling for AUTUMN: Park Avenue Autumn

RER 10.5.12
TA 10.5.12
Just as the seasons change, so does the restaurant Park Avenue. New seasons bring new and different décor, as well as menus and featured drinks. This restaurant is a work of art, all the way from the transitive interior decoration to the intense thought and innovation behind the creation of a novel menu once the new season hits. It is a way of creating a unique atmosphere and dining experience that would change with the shortening or lengthening of the days, or the rising or falling of temperatures. The concept is intriguing as well as labor intensive, but in the end feels worth it, as the dining is exquisite and the ambiance feels like home.

The Park Avenue Autumn décor is dark and cozy, kind of like what a warm fall night would feel like, intimate and refined. The low lights make the body long for comfort and the spices of fall, that are eventually doled out through the intricate and complex meals. Large orbs of copper seem to stroll along the interior, reflecting the light and faces of the patrons, but also echoing the kind of sunshine that glows through the changing leaves, and daily patterns. Autumn plants like pussy willows and flowers bring the outdoors to the table without being overwhelming and tacky.

The fall season is home to spices and comfort. Imagine apple and pumpkin picking, hot apple cider spiced with fragrant cinnamon, and comfort foods that warm the insides first and make smiles glow. Somehow, Park Avenue Autumn is able to artfully encapsulate so many of the connotations and thoughts that dance with the season, not only through the décor but also the ingredients and techniques present on the menu.The ingredients in each of the menu items spoke to autumn and the season of comfort food, where pumpkin and sweet potato, earthy truffle or butternut squash reign. Even the drinks were laden with apple cider bases and pear accents. When it was not the ingredients, it was the pairings that are reminiscent of the great comfort foods of the fall.

The amuse bouche skillfully set up the season for the tongue, combining all the expectations of fall; tart crisp apples, drizzled with caramel, and dusted with rosemary and sage bread crumbs. The traditional pairing of caramel with apple adapted to a quick and festive, summary of the season. The sweetness of the caramel, brought alive the tartness of the apple, while the savory rosemary and sage crumbs, rounded out the fall feeling in the mouth. The bite represented the tantamount flavors of the season; spice, sweet and tart.

Even the bread basket, accompanied by a card with the description of each element, lived up to the flavors of fall. The first bread was a sweet pumpkin bread, topped with mildly caramelized sunflower seeds, with a hit of spice. It was soft and sweet on the inside, like a warm pumpkin muffin we all cannot wait for once the season turns. Moist and fragrant with the earthy flavors of the sunflower seeds at the top, adding crunch to the soft dessert like bread. The small loaf shaped bread boasted the fall seasonings that bring to mind pie fillings; cinnamon, clove, all spice. The next was an onion roll, that looked almost like a cinnamon roll, turning in on itself. This bread guised itself as a sweet, but in actuality the onion compote was a gentle mixture of sweet and savory, rolled into a dense dough, heavy enough to compete with the strong taste. The last was a flat bread, crunchy with quinoa and lentils. These thin bread stick like edibles completely contrasted the soft and airy appeal of the other two. Its spiciness reintroduced a kin of vigor that is also present in the seasonings and combinations that appear in autumn as well, like the spiciness of a zesty pumpkin soup, or the conglomeration of flavors that accentuate pumpkin and other winter squashes.

The sweet potato gnocchi with a browned butter sauce also encompassed the season of fall, lending to the combination of elements and ingredients. The almost crunchy sweet potato gnocchi were modestly drenched with a sweet citrusy browned butter sauce, studded with tart and tangy cranberries, as well as rich and dense chestnuts. The different textures of the ingredients evoked the variety of colors of falling leaves in autumn. The tang of the cranberries was welcome, as the sweet potato and chestnuts in the syrupy browned butter became heavy and rich. Each pillow of gnocchi had an almost sear on its exterior, creating a crisp crunch and contrast to the soft, smooth interior. Each chestnut felt new and disguised, the mealy consistency different and unexpected each time. Though the sauce was sweet, it was marinated with a light citrus, that along with the cranberries, brought a brightness do the dish, like the sun on a crisp autumn morning.

Sophisticated comfort food, like the quail and waffles or the free range chicken with pumpkin pie, echoed the thick cut bacon with quinoa and maple glaze. The bacon appetizer, was not a comfort teaser; think decadent rashers of bacon sat heavy atop a bed of browned quinoa, smothered in the fat and juices of the meat. The grill marks on the bacon added a level of aesthetics but also a flavor complexity that completely juxtaposed the sweetness applied with the maple glaze. Each bite was chewy and embraced maple notes, which paired well with the pork, but also the season. The quinoa, rustic and underplayed, was just a base, that absorbed every flavor that touched it; sweet, seared, and salty.

The entree featuring Halibut with black truffles also felt close to home with elegant comfort food. Though it was fish, which sometimes gets the reputation of being light, this dish combined the density of the truffles with a brioche encrusted poached egg. The earthy richness of the truffle aroma and taste, lingered like fall comfort foods, like soup and hot apple cider stick to the ribs. The dark truffles evoked an image of damp leaves on a forest floor and tree trunks covered with moss. Truffles also added a layer of decadence and heaviness that only come when the weather gets cooler, and banished when it is hot out. The intensity of the truffle was extremely well managed and controlled, like the severity of truffle should be, adding just a glimmer of luxury of it rather than weighing the meal down into the depths of overuse. Even the meaty halibut, was heavy enough to combat the potential of overpowering truffle, but also carry the dish into autumnal comfort. The breaded poached egg added another element of refinement, bringing something typical and mildly familiar into a dish in an extraordinary way. The warm creaminess of the yolk of the egg, married perfectly with the black truffle as well as the halibut, enhancing the heaviness. While the crunchy whites of the egg cut the heaviness, though was just as creamy and smooth. The brioche exterior was oddly the only crunch present in the dish, other than the slight sear on the fish. Though contrast in textures are welcomed, the kind of uniformity of the dish, made the solid food feel more like eating a warm stew, where all the elements blend in a cozy way. This kind of distortion really illustrated the mastery of the indigents, as well as some of the key connotations that align with this season.

On top of it all the desserts too were smothered in fall flavors and ingredients, like figs, pears, pumpkin. Each based on a simple element, like cake, tart, or creme brûlée, but elevating and maximizing the autumnal flavors. Even the ice cream and sorbets had fall tilts.

The whole atmosphere transports the patron to the fall season, even if it is a warming night outside. Not only is it the decor; the lighting, spatial arrangements and all the small details, but it is also the ingredients that pervade the fall season. The masterful combinations of high and low, familiar and refined, created a great autumn experience, through all of the senses...

** I apologize for the dearth of photos. Deffo check out the site for Park Avenue Autumn to see more!

RER 10.6.12

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