Park Avenue restaurant dresses for winter

By Patricia Cobe, Senior Editor

In tune with the seasons, Park Avenue restaurant in New York City completely changes its menu, décor and even its name four times a year. Park Avenue Winter is now in full swing, with the dining room decked out in winter finery and the kitchen turning out dishes based on seasonal seafood and produce and hearty grains and meats.

Executive chef Kevin Lasko gets especially excited about the seafood that’s available in these colder months. “Cod from Montauk [Long Island] and Cape Cod waters runs better in winter and there’s a good supply of local skate and scallops, too,” he notes. The chef cooks the cod sous vide to retain its natural flavor and juices, then tops it with an “everything bagel” mixture of onions, garlic, poppy seed and scallions. It’s served with a silky Kennebunk [Maine] potato puree.

King crab legs from Alaska are another favorite seasonal seafood. “It’s hard to get King crab that isn’t already cooked, but I’m able to source this great product that’s caught and frozen, fresh, right on board the boat,” Lasko explains. To highlight the crab’s flavor and texture, the chef keeps the preparation simple. He cooks the legs in court bouillon with a little butter and accompanies them with grilled garlic bread (heavy on the parsley!) and a Meyer lemon beurre blanc.

When it comes to produce, Lasko sources locally from the New York City Greenmarket as much as possible, currently purchasing kale, Swiss chard and other hardy greens as well as a variety of potatoes and root vegetables. But being a seasonally focused restaurant, he has to go further afield in winter, turning to Florida and California for citrus and similar warm growing areas for other fruits and vegetables. Spuds are prevalent on the menu, showing up in appetizers like a Bahamian-spiced chicken soup with tri-color potatoes (red, white and purple) and the seared scallop “sandwich” served with potatoes twice-fried in bacon fat and studded with jalapeños and bacon.

Braising and reductions are favored cooking techniques this time of year. “I like to serve more substantial sauces by reducing liquids to make them thicker and more intense,” he says. One example is the vinaigrette he menus with his kale salad; the liquid ingredients are reduced with chorizo drippings and chestnut honey for robust flavor.

Since winter food tends to be a little drab in color, Lasko employs a few culinary tricks to liven up menu items. One of his most effective is to chop up the stems on a bunch of rainbow Swiss chard and add them raw to salads and vegetables. “Many people discard the stems, but they add bright color and a welcome crunch to a number of dishes,” he contends.

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