Sunday, February 7, 2010

Restaurant Week Dinner: Winter

February 4th 2010

Amuse Bouche: Parmesan Ball w. Preserved Lemon
1st: Porcini Ravioli, Swiss Chard, Gorgonzola Cream
2nd: Stout Braised Lamb Shank, Aged Cheddar Polenta, & Green Apples- Paired w. Chalone Pinot Noir
3rd: Winter Spice Cake, Apple puree, Cranberry, & Goat Cheese

As the hub of fashion, Park Avenue is known for its constant evolution in style. As such, it only seems reasonable that the FOOD would do the same! That's where Park Avenue- Spring, Summer, Fall, or Winter comes into play. The restaurant is redesigned every 3 months, the doors close for a 48 hour renovation and when they reopen- they match the season both in decor and menu. The ordeal of redesigning an entire restaurants menu is daunting enough- but to redesign the interior? That seems ludicrous. That is, until you see how the visual environment contributes to the experience. This place is on my "exorbitantly expensive, yet probably worth it" list, but luckily, Park Avenue Winter is part of restaurant week.

I would like to mention that the wait staff was INCREDIBLY helpful- our waiter was well informed, enthusiastic, and considerate. In fact, I felt welcome as soon as I entered. I was the first of my party to arrive- and I was JUST on time- yet they seated me without my complete party! This is a VERY rare courtesy to find in NYC, so they were automatically in my good graces.

THEN to make matters even better, they served an Amuse Bouche that was delicious and the perfect little beginning chord to the meal. The waiter presented to us what they called a Parmesan Ball with Preserved Lemon. The Mild sweetness of the Parmesan was contrasted beautifully by the sour notes of the lemon. Nice, simple, and to the point. Our culinary journey was about to begin!

For my first course, I had Porcini Ravioli with swiss chard, and gorgonzola cream. The Ravioli was perfectly al dente, the porcini filling was earthy and comforting, and the gorgonzola cream tossed it over the edge of reason. The dish was VERY rich, and it probably would've been OK to only have 2 ravioli instead of 3. Also, there were pecans and pine nuts in it. I loved both, and felt that they added a little more style and depth to the dish, but I think it was a strange move to have them in there and not be mentioned on the menu. The same can be said for the Meatball Slider that some people at my table ordered. We had NO clue what was in there, and albeit delicious and again VERY rich, it was a little off-putting to not know what we were consuming.

For my second course, I ordered the Stout Braised Lamb Shank with Aged Cheddar Polenta, & Green Apples, Paired with Chalone Pinot Noir. Start to finish, this was one of the most decadent main entrees I've ever consumed. The meat was so tender it practically fell off the bone just by looking at it! This dish has met some controversy- with a lot of people either loving it, or completely despising it. I was really shocked to see this restaurant as one of the "worst" places to eat for restaurant week... but I think I figured out why. When you braise a meat in anything it's going to be rich, it can turn a person off if their palate prefers lighter fare. Braising a rich meat like LAMB in STOUT is on the edge of insanity. It's a decadence that goes beyond comparison. I like my food to make me swoon. I like a piece of meat to compete with dessert but be savory all the same. Rich, complex, almost tasting like a wine reduction with sugar, this lamb shank braised in stout was the centerpiece of the evening for me but I can see why some would feel it was too much. It was a VERY large serving, and for lack of a better word, the richness of it made it hard to finish. In my opinion, the apples brought it up from the inferno of opulent sin, but then was instantly thrown back into the pits with the cheddar polenta. I ate every last bite... but I can't say that I didn't feel a little ashamed and heavy afterwards.

The third course, dessert was very surprising. I could barely move or breathe from the last course, but alas, I always look forward to dessert. THEN what looked like an egg roll perched on top of sausage links with questionable pools of sauce came out and was placed in front of me. So, this was Winter Spice Cake, Apple puree, Cranberry, & Goat Cheese? After the beauty of presentation for the last two courses, this was disappointing. Regardless, I grabbed my fork, tapped firmly on the exterior crispy shell (which I discovered held very finely whipped goat cheese) and added a portion of each element on the dish to the fork. The crunch of the shell, the creaminess of the goat cheese, the tartness of the cranberry, the sweetness of the apple, and the moist spiciness of the cake made me forgive how silly it looked on the plate. This was a mature, sensible dessert that was perfectly indicative of the season, Winter.

I like the concept of Park Avenue and its seasonal incarnations. Despite feeling like a gluttonous animal, I will undoubtedly return and recommend it to others.

It's one more reason to look forward to the changing seasons.

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