NYCRW: Park Avenue Summer

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Summer loving happened so fast. A prix fixe lunch at Park Avenue Summer for New York City Restaurant Week moved more quickly than desired on the sticky summer’s day, contrary to the languished sighs of summer and the current theme of the space.

There was hardly time to soak in all of the curated details of the restaurant space, which are meant to transport the diner to the summer season: bright yellow walls emulating sunshine, foliage appearing wilted with oppressive summer humidity, and white casts of turtle shells.  Like the menu, with each season the space is transformed to represent the appropriate time of year, and at this moment Park Avenue Summer felt like the dog days of summer, hot and sticky, sweltering with a feeling of lusty temptation.
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Cornbread, bright like the walls of the eatery, radiated fresh warmth and summer corn sweetness. The puffy cornbread bites initially looked like Madeleines, all ruffles and butter, but there was a hint of savory heightened by the spicy brick-red marbled compound butter. The cornbread spoke of lazy days at the end of summer, a familiar feeling even in the City’s unique heat.
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A sole orb of bursting burrata rested on top of a smear of salsa verde, which was bright but not quite right. The creamy cheese oozed from the firm outer skin, melting into the thick tangy salsa verde, colliding with the summer sweetness of peaches and moments of savory basil. Crunchy panzanella added a jolt to reality, bringing a firm texture to the appetizer, like the return trip from a mixed vacation.
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Despite their slightly crunchy exterior, the gnocchi were soft and heavy on the inside, the potato flavor pronounced. Black truffles were shaved on the spot, falling, forming soft peaks, another layer to the appetizer.  Creamy corn with studs of fresh corn surrounded potato pillows. The moat was sweet with an underlying zing that was bright relief from the decadence. This appetizer was a balancing act of light and heavy, sweet and tart, a mix of sun and clouds like an early August day.
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The branzino dish was architectural as two slender steaks of fish were stacked on one another and crispy skin maintained structure. Whimsical disks of firm summer squash echoed fat dots of saffron aioli, a contrast of density and flavors as well. A shallow pool of stewed vegetable ratatouille gave warmth without an expected heaviness. It was an odd but accurate encapsulation of summer.
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Again, corn came to play, but this time with four succulent scallops and tiny pickled peppers. The corn felt raw and tasted green, much like the pretty peppers toasty and slit lengthwise. The dish was a mix of shapes like modern art, while there was more toothy bite from the golden corn and little heat from thin wheels of peppers.  Salt clung to the sweet scallops, like warmth when the sun sets and lingers, mixing with the melodies of the other seasonal ingredients.
Cool and refreshing like the blushing pink frozĂ©, the peach basil sorbet dessert, tickled sweet and savory notes. The basil made the disappointing honey poached peaches sweeter and more refined. However, the poached peaches were reminiscent of those in canned pie filling— saccharine to excess with the constitution of the summer stone fruit compromised.

The fruit tart was pretty as a picture, a collection of summer’s berry bounty. Deep velvet red cherries, striking strawberries, royal blueberries, and gem-like raspberries were looked painted, like glossy jewels on top of the thick short crust and tangy passion-fruit flavors. It tasted like summer should.
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Like the seasons, the dishes and pace were imbalanced. There was not time for constants and stability, subtly or depth. Flavors were intense and at times abrasive much like the celebrated season. The meal mimicked unpredictable and contradictory summer days, with harsh, hot, sun casting a golden glow in one instant, and glowering clouds clinging heavy but ushering cool refreshing raindrops.



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