Park Avenue Grill: surprised by the talent of the chef
Park Avenue Grill is located at One Park Avenue in downtown Oklahoma City (map). They are open for breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week with brunch on Saturday and Sunday. Full details can be found on their website.
I have to admit, I have a bias against fancy-schmancy hotel restaurants. It just seems like all too often they are trying to be fancy for fancy’s sake because the upscale hotel needs a fine-dining establishment downstairs to cater to their high-end guests. The prices are always off the charts and the food is typically generic. So, it was with low expectations that I gave the Park Avenue Grill a try. Fortunately, I was pleasantly surprised by the talent of their chef.
Park Avenue Grill resides on the ground floor of the fabulously renovated Skirvin Hotel in downtown Oklahoma City. It definitely has location going for it with this beautiful, historic structure to call home. The antique tile floors and majestic wooden columns throughout the spacious restaurant interior are a joy to see.
But as I looked past the fine atmosphere to the offerings on the dinner menu, my bias got the best of me. I saw mostly what I expected — generic, fancy-schmancy dishes including steaks, fish, chops … etc. I immediately began to lose hope. “Here we go again,” I thought. It’s not that I worried the food would be bad. I mean, I figured these guys knew how to cook. It’s just that I wasn’t seeing anything particularly creative to strike my interest.
Then my eyes caught a glimpse of the chef’s five course tasting menu. There, in the lower left-hand corner, I found details of a complete five course meal offered for $50 per person. Now, $50 is a lot of money, but I recalled my experience at Deep Fork Grill, where I thoroughly enjoyed the chef’s five course meal that now sells for around $70. “If these guys can pull off a great tasting meal for $50, this could be a lower-priced alternative to the Deep Fork experience,” I thought. This, plus the fact that the courses looked quite interesting, convinced me to give it a try.
The results were very encouraging. Each course was a beautiful balance of complex flavors with simple yet interesting presentations. Not only that, but Park Avenue Grill nails the issue that was my main complaint about Deep Fork — portion sizes. At Deep Fork, they charge higher prices but serve you so much food that you can’t possibly finish it all in one sitting. At Park Avenue, the price is lower and portions of each course are appropriate to where you can comfortably finish the entire meal. To me, Park Avenue’s solution is better. I want to enjoy the entirety of my meal without feeling overly stuffed or having to carry home bags of food that will never taste as good reheated.
It wasn’t just the portions that impressed me. The chef’s talent expressed through the quality of the flavors surprised me. Here I was allowing my hotel restaurant bias to convince me that I wouldn’t find anything interesting when, in reality, everything we tried was surprisingly a cut above the standard you might expect.
Take the jumbo lump crab cakes, for example ($12). My wife and I split this appetizer and found it to be unusually delicate, filled with almost nothing other than tender crab meat, seasoned and lightly breaded. The lack of fillers or other ingredients to distract from the crab was refreshing, and the poblano tartar sauce added just the needed kick. It’s a standard dish done better than you will find most places.
Similar pleasant surprises awaited me throughout my five courses. First came the smoked butternut squash soup with cappuccino cream and a warm hush puppy stuffed with braised squash and herb scented gnocchi. Yeah, that’s a lot of ingredients, but the result was surprisingly simple. I thought the hush puppy was dry and a bit unnecessary, but otherwise this was a big win.
The following courses were equally as interesting — duck confit salad with warm bacon vinaigrette; Maine sea scallops seared in uni butter sauce with carrot puree, onions and edamame (scallops are becoming one of my favorites); and pan-seared stockyard filet with pistachio foie gras sauce. Sure, the descriptions are overly verbose, but each selection was expertly cooked, nicely seasoned, and elegantly presented.
There is also a dessert course. We got to taste two things. First, their own secret-recipe carrot cake was very good. It was extremely moist and had a very dark, rich flavor. The key lime pie, on the other hand, wasn’t the best in my opinion. It was more sweet than tart, almost like a lime cheesecake and not what I look for in key lime pie (for excellent key lime pie, you can see our review on Iguana Mexican Grill).
There is only one major thing I would recommend regarding the chef’s tasting menu. I think they should borrow from Deep Fork and throw some surprise into it. Park Avenue has the whole thing printed up in the menu, which makes it seem less custom-made. I’d rather not know exactly what I’m going to get. Vary it up and let the waitstaff provide full descriptions upon presenting each course. To me, that makes for an even better experience and it would keep me coming back if I knew I could experience something new each time.
My only other complaint with Park Avenue was the ambient music. It was quite loud and consisted of what I like to call “fake jazz,” that elevator-style monotony that makes me want to gnaw off my own arm. I admit, I’m a bit picky when it comes to music, being a jazz musician myself, but I have yet to meet someone who really likes this musical style. Perhaps they’ve done their research and find that this is the best musical option, but my recommendation would be to find something else and turn it down. Classical is nice or, for a more lively feel, try real, acoustic jazz. Of course, my wife always favors no music, also a good option.
Music aside, the Park Avenue Grill is, in my opinion, offering more than what I tend to expect from a fancy hotel restaurant. Everything we tasted possessed that little something extra. This really made it a worthwhile experience. Plus, the $50 five-course menu is a great way to taste a wide range of interesting creations for a reasonable cost.
Do you have an experience at Park Avenue Grill to share? Let us hear it in the comments.