Park Avenue Summer
100 East 63rd Street, near Park Avenue, Upper East Side
Getting There: 4,5,6 to 59th Street; N,R,W to 59th Street – Fifth Avenue; F to Lexington Avenue – 63rd Street
Restaurant Review: Park Avenue Summer
As each New York City season changes, so do the tastes of its local restaurants. Previously sought after hearty dishes associated with big bold wines are replaced by lighter, often colder fare indicative of the uptick in temperature. The change in season is perhaps no better reflected than at the Upper East Side’s Park Avenue Summer, whose decor, menu, and even name undergo a complete overhaul with the dawning of each new season. With just a few short weeks left to soak up the sun, we made our way into the transformative restaurant before the crisp air of autumn wafted its way toward East 63rd Street.
Park Avenue Summer is laid out exactly the way you would imagine it, just by understanding the place’s distinctive concept and location. Everything about the restaurant is first class, from its inviting canary yellow awning on an otherwise nondescript residential block to its unassuming clean white interior. There is nothing overly pretentious about the place upon your arrival, but something about the atmosphere inside requires you to make sure you bring your A-game to match the well-dressed clientele that surrounds you.
The front door opens up to a tasteful half-circle bar area, sandwiched by the restaurant’s two main dining rooms. One is decorated like a traditional summer home in the country, outfitted attractively with restored rustic barn wood cabinetry and summery green leaf plants that outline the room’s ceiling border. The other is a more modern, more communal room, but stylish in its own way, illuminated by ornate lamps hanging overhead. A tall grassy row of greens divides much of the room down the middle as cast iron tortoise shells fastened to square yellow panels line the surrounding walls behind patrons. And everything from the egg shell white table tops to the light yellow shirts worn by the wait staff has been meticulously selected to pair with the restaurant’s overarching ambiance.
Admittedly, what had attracted us most to Park Avenue Summer- in addition to the positive word of mouth buzz we’d been hearing for some time- was a Restaurant Week menu which had us excited. Fortunately the dishes being offered are also available on their regular dinner menu as well, crafted excellently by Executive Chef Kevin Lasko, who enjoys the creative license in working to create innovative dishes on the restaurant’s ever-changing menu. The fare being served defies any true label. Instead, it is an eclectic collaboration of styles perhaps best described as American-noveau created with seasonal ingredients.
The “Tomato & Watermelon Gazpacho” ($14) immediately set the tone for the evening. The cool red soup was inventively served in a thick clear glass bowl showing off the chunks of fresh watermelon bulbously poking out from the sweet broth. The dish exuded an indefinable summertime feel, while also delivering the savory, almost oily finish, of a traditional gazpacho. As we lapped up every drop of the cold dish, we couldn’t look away from the heaping portion of “Mussels & Squid Ink Pasta” ($18) placed in front of us. The perfectly cooked shellfish was surrounded by a collection of dark tagliatelle strands and doused with a rich red curry fra diavolo sauce that was neither overwhelming nor overly spicy and proved to be an outstanding collaboration of delicious flavors.
Speaking of delicious, Park Avenue Summer’s “Potato Gnocchi” ($18) ranks up there with some of the finest that we’ve ever tasted. The foamy dish served with sweet bits of fresh corn and summer truffles was exceptionally plated, making us take pause before ruining the presentation before us. But the soft savory pillows demanded our fork’s attention as we devoured every morsel in the bowl, which was surprisingly much lighter than we had anticipated. Closing out our dining experience, we opted for a more traditional main course, the “Grilled Rainbow Trout” ($29), served seared over a smear of creamy lemon aioli. Paired with salty white anchovies and a tasty bed of kale, the sizable mild fish had a well seasoned crispy layer of skin which added to each tender bite of the dish.
With a relative dearth of decent dining options nearby, Park Avenue Summer stands high atop the list of the Upper East Side’s finest dining establishments. The refined décor and subsequent superb cuisine change over quarterly, forcing the restaurant to have their finger on the collective (and constantly shifting) palette of some of New York City’s most finicky diners. But the eatery manages to tie all of these intricate elements together seamlessly, creating a setting unlike any other in Manhattan. And if the past five years have been any indication, the place has a clear idea of what they’re doing and where they’re headed. It just depends on which way the seasonal winds blow.
Rundown of the Meal
Tomato & Watermelon Gazpacho ($14)
Mussels & Squid Ink Pasta ($18)*
Potato Gnocchi ($18)*
Grilled Rainbow Trout ($26)