October 3, 2007 | BITE: My Journal

Autumn Falls on Park Avenue, Summer Lingers at BLT Market

Some details are weird but Park Avenue Autumn has a cozy copper glow.
Some details are weird but Park Avenue Autumn has a cozy copper glow.

            The Farmer’s Almanac will note that fall came to Park Avenue Autumn September 23rd when it was still late summer at BLT Market and Indian summer at Grayz.  But autumn came first to the Four Seasons on September the 22nd tra la la. And no surprise… They’ve been at this clever seasonal rotation game for years in this Philip Johnson landmark space.

            It was an expensive game dreamed up by Joe Baum, the 20th century master of restaurant showbiz. “Costumes, accessories, flora and fauna would change with the season,” I wrote in New York, winter of 1970.  “Four stylized trees would be the graphic symbol: peach-blossomed in spring, leafy green in summer, aflame in autumn, stripped brown in winter.  Cummerbunds, matchbooks, cocktail napkins, even cloakroom checks, service plates, page-boy uniforms -- the whole magnificent megillah -- changing with the seasons.”

            Shifting seasons has gotten less demanding even at the Four Seasons now.  Still, in contrast to the majesty of that space, there is definitely a slightly Home Depot feel to the AvroKO switch on Park Avenue:  the screw-on wall panels, the tacky little leatherette placemats, the bizarre rope nooses overhead grasping wooden poles, the reversible chair backs’ upholstery reversed, the uncushioned wooden seats.

            Even so.  I love it anyway.  I love the forests of bittersweet everywhere, love the way copper globes and amber gels cast warm, flattering light and I’m amused by how proud the still quirkily ingenuous servers are with their new brown aprons. I am as happy with Chef Craig Koketsu’s luscious venison chops as I was with his lamb of summer.  The venison doesn’t need its shower of pomegranate and pumpkin seeds but I sympathize with his need to shout, Autumn!  Indeed, I’ve got pomegranate seeds coming and going – even in my crispy cabbage haystack salad where cleanly fried shrimp are hiding.  It’s a small thing, pomegranate seeds, but I suppose our server, Little Miss Muffet, with her high squeaky voice could have warned me. (My hard-hearted dinner companion makes her move five feet away from his ear to his wife’s side of the table.  Nobody ever said he is the chivalrous sort.)

            I give management points for straight forward menu talk. Mostly. Everyone is allowed a few florid moments – the house has every right to be proud that someone named Mark MacNamera “in the heart of the Hudson Valley” shot their quince-glazed wild quail, marvelously tender and juicy, served with quince salad. It’s not easy to make a choice with so many tempting lures:  Diver scallops with cauliflower coconut cream and citrus zest. Brown butter and sage agnolotti in Poire William sauce. The obligatory poached egg, brioche-crusted on John Dory with black truffles.  Wild Alaskan salmon “Waldorf” with celery root puree, grapes and walnuts.  Local grapes, to be sure.

            Roasted chicken with a savory “pumpkin pie” would tickle me more if the white meat were not quite so boring. The dark meat is luscious enough.  And any gourmand could be happy with just vegetables: crackling crisp potato latkes, pumpkin risotto, haricots verts with chanterelles, marvelous miso-glazed Brussel sprouts with nuggets of bacon. 

Warm pumpkin and molasses cake by pastry master Richard Leach.

Superstar pastry chef Richard Leach does an admittedly knockout bread basket though I’d prefer his sweet onion honey roll and harvest pumpkin bread for brunch – let me take these home for breakfast and I’ll nibble at his aristocratic crackers and cakelike dark bread. It goes without trumpets blaring that autumn is definitely here in his desserts: Warm pumpkin and molasses cake. Bartlett pear confit. Concord grapes with tangy orange yogurt. Tonight’s cranberry and almond cake with cranberry brulée is cozy but sophisticated, just like Park Avenue Autumn. And tonight’s well-heeled crowd, late boomers and their older brothers and sisters are as local as the grapes. Entrees priced from $26 to $48 won’t dent their budgets.

            Book if you want to catch the season. You know how elusive autumn is in New York…how fleeting those wondrous cool and sunny days that quickly fade into humid heat then frost into serious chills. The Stillman clan in charge here won’t wait till December 22, when the calendar says it’s winter. “The plan is to morph after Thanksgiving just the way New York City does,” Michael Stillman told New York this week. We can expect the autumnal glow to fade into a blizzard of white, he promised.

100 East 63rd Street off Park 212 644 1900


The Last Strawberry of September

On Sunday sunflowers still said summer at BLT Market. Photo: Steven Richter

            It says fall on the paper placemats at the newly informal BLT Market at the Ritz Carlton but executive chef Laurent Tournadel was not giving up summer just yet. And why should he, with the harvest still looking good? Maybe he should be embarrassed about pushing watermelon in the heirloom tomato salad.  Indeed, not much had changed this past Sunday on the menu since I first stopped by in late August. It was one of those heady spring-like autumn nights where you just know anything is possible.

            So it said pumpkin and salsify and chestnuts on the paper mat, but the kitchen under Chef de Cuisine David Malbequi was still dishing up corn, fabulous zucchini blossoms and lamb with minted fava bean puree.  Granted, McIntosh apple has been tossed into the season field greens.

            My fussiest French friend isn’t easily impressed, but from the California proscuitto (“Better than any ham of Parma” she volunteered) to the mini orange-glazed donut at the end, she was bowled over. She doesn’t eat anything white.  Ever.  And had just come from three hours in the gym.  I eat everything white and one hour is just a down payment.  Warm garlic bread in a bag seduced me. 

            The two of us tasted and shared, as starters, splendid prosciutto-wrapped figs with Vermont goat cheese slicked in a Port reduction, and warm leeks vinaigrette with cinnamon caramelized walnuts, Jasper Hill Bartlett bleu cheese and crisped thins of boar. Then since it was us, both known to the house, out came an extra, not on the menu: sensational garlicky frog’s legs stuffed with truffles Provençale, drizzled with its cooking butter and beef jus, garlic chips on top. (Hopefully it will land on the new menu).

            At that point even I could have skipped my cod – perfect when it arrived but quickly overcooking in its deep-covered pot - while I ate the curried eggplant and tasted basmati rice pancakes as well as mon amie’s five-spice glazed duck, tender and rare, with foie gras and a ginger apple compote.

            We skipped dessert. She always skips dessert. I thought I’d see what deprivation felt like. Virtue is its own reward I suppose, but not as rewarding as Maine blueberries with lemon curd. 

            I don’t like to spend $180 of my own money for dinner (we each had a glass of wine), but I am sure we’ll be back before November. It’s quite a game, this seasonal market invention.

THIS JUST IN: I just got off the phone with Chef Malbequi.  It seems fall begins today… October’s menu offers sunchoke soup with brioche téte and black truffle emulsion and hamachi with cilantro-avocado puree, McIntosh apple dressing and butter cucumber pickles.  And the steak au poivre will come with rustic potatoes fried in duck fat with caramelized onion, garlic and parsley.  I could see he was as thrilled about that duck fat as I.

1430 Sixth Avenue at 59th Street, or 50 Central Park South, The Ritz Carlton
212 521 6125   





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