Park Avenue Summer + Solace
Two new restaurants represent the best, and worst, of the Upper East Side.
Wed Aug 15 2007
Time Out Ratings<strong>Rating: </strong>5/5
Time Out Ratings<strong>Rating: </strong>2/5
Photo: Cinzia Reale-Castello
The ascent of Tenth Avenue in Chelsea, Park Slope’s Fifth Avenue and other burgeoning dining scenes has made the East 60s, home to gourmet warhorses like Daniel, JoJo and Aureole, feel as superseded as a restaurant row can get. An opening, Solace, and a relaunch, the metamorphosis of Park Avenue Café into Park Avenue Summer, aim to bring sexy back to an area whose limited luster has always been burnished by superior restaurants.
The Smith and Wollensky Restaurant Group recently handed the always good, never great Park Avenue Café over to the team—manager Michael Stillman, chef Craig Koketsu and design firm AvroKO—that turned the staid Manhattan Ocean Club into the industrial-chic Quality Meats. With Park Avenue Summer, they’ve conceived an ode to the legendary Four Seasons, except that the design, the uniforms and the very name (yes, beginning in September, it will be Park Avenue Autumn) will rotate along with the menu.
“Summer” means sunny wall panels and ample clusters of flowers to go with the warm weather foods. Appetizers showcase produce (baby beet salad, corn soup) and seafood (peekytoe crab salad, fluke sashimi), often mixing both with winning results. Seared scallops sit on a bed of diced peaches and sweet pickled onions thickened with tapioca, a deft study in sweetness and texture. Coconut cream cools plump shrimp, crusted with Turkish pepper.
It’s no surprise that Koketsu nails the steak, a perfect filet mignon that adheres to the seasonality with a side of raspberry-festooned arugula salad. But even more head-turning is a seared John Dory fillet, the fish’s clean taste brought to life by an audaciously rich combo of truffles (both slices and oil) and egg (poached with a fried brioche crust).
John Dory with truffles and eggat Park Avenue Summer
Photo: Cinzia Reale-Castello
Holdover pastry chef Richard Leach, a James Beard Award winner, dazzles with a sweet corn panna cotta, complemented by roasted peaches and adorned with a first in my dining experience: Corn Pops. His very adult signature, moist chocolate cake and whipped mascarpone, suggests that Leach is as serious about sophistication as he is about play.
Solace, per its name, is far less revolutionary. It’s a quiet study in cream and yellow, with two small dining rooms and an intimate garden. But things aren’t as they should be. The manager, Joe Scalice, a partner at the recently shuttered Nish, is best known for wine. Yet two months in, Solace doesn’t have its liquor license. Service bordered on the inept: There were long waits for ordering and receiving food, even when the joint was nearly empty, and a stack of plates sat on my table for no reason for most of the meal.
Like at Park Avenue Summer, the emphasis is American seasonal, but Solace lacks the progressive spirit of the Summer menu. Chef David Regueiro (Aureole) peddles poorly executed standards. Tuna tartare was bland and bitter; a shrimp risotto appetizer had the gluey consistency of mac and cheese.
The entrées were possibly worse: A “bourbon and honey lacquered” duck breast was devoid of sticky sweetness, and an accompanying confit tasted like dry, bad barbecue. A fish-sticklike, phyllo-crusted cod was yet another rich fish with acrid flavor. The only thing I liked: an almond chocolate cake that still paled next to Leach’s confections.
Both of these places are expensive—this is the Silk Stocking District, after all—but I got something exceptional for my money at Park Avenue Summer. The only solace I took from Solace was that next time I’m in the neighborhood, I don’t have to go there.