Cuisine: New American
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A NIGHT OF DRINKING (AND DINING) AT PARK BLUEReview By: Andrea Strong
Midtown has no shortage of spots to go for drinks after work—but most fall into the “martini-toting suits piled in shoulder to shoulder” category. Few offer a place where conversation can occur, where wine (good wine) can be poured, where cocktails are made with care and served in Reidel stemware, where the food is both decent (and really quite fun to eat) and reasonably priced, all in a setting that is both sexy and civilized. If you have been itching for a bar like this, but have been drinking at sardine-cans like PJ Clarks, China Grill, or Zarella’s (Note: I haven’t worked in midtown forever, so I have no idea where people go for “happy hour” anymore, but that’s where I used to go back in the time when Dinosaurs roamed the earth and I was a corporate lawyer at Shearman & Sterling), allow me to introduce you to Park Blue, a wine, tapas, and cocktail lounge owned by Fonda Tsironis, a big sweetheart of a guy—think a more refined Tony Soprano with more hair, and dressed in Valentino—a veteran front of the house guy.
Park Blue has a gentle softness to it—warm amber lighting, lamps cloaked in chocolate brown ostrich feathers, cozy bar couches built for two—but at the same time has a masculinity to it—suit fabric walls, navy banquettes, and sconces fashioned from what appear to be cattle horns—that makes it equally a man’s bar and a cocktail-seeking woman’s lounge.
Aside from the super-fine setting, the hook at Park Blue is the wine list, which comes in at just under 100 half bottles from around the world—Alsace, Oregon, the Loire Valley, Pomerol, Provence, Piedmont, Rioja, Rias Baixas, New Zealand, and more—along with a list of classic cocktails, an extensive selection of beers (including one of my all time favorites, the Hitachino Pale Ale from Japan—it’s got that cartoon owl on the label), and a globe-trotting menu of smartly designed small plates by chef Eric Simeon, a bohemian guy with a mess of dark curls who most recently worked at Aquavit with Marcus Samuelsson.
I stopped by last week with a few friends to check it out and attempt to shake off the effects of the hundred-degree heat. It’s amazing how a few half bottles of white—a Gruner Veltliner, a Pinot Gris, and a Sancerre—can take you from hot and bothered to cool and content in no time. As we settled into the room and worked through several half bottles of wine (average price about $35), we decided we needed a nosh or two. (If you can drink without eating, you are a better person than me.)
Eric’s small plates menu reminds me of a more paired down version of The Stanton Social’s. But rather than some 45 (delicious) plates like at the Social, Simeon takes you around the world in about 20 grazing sized dishes that nicely play with flavors, textures and taste buds.
Representing the good old U-S-of-A, Simeon offers a killer cheeseburger. I love Shake Shack’s burger, but this mini-pup, snuggled inside a puffy golden brioche bun, was a sensational runner up—rich and meaty with lots of savory juices dripping into the bun and onto my chin—topped with cheese ($6), which I paired with an order of long and lean fries, nicely golden and dusted in smoked paprika so they have a slight burnt sienna tint and a bit of a kick ($5). Skewered cubes of grilled lamb, a nod to Turkey, are served with a cool yogurt dipping sauce ($12). Codfish croquettes lean towards Spain, with a creamy alioli sharpened with capers ($6). Not sure where we are being escorted with the sautéed calamari ($8), but wherever it is, it’s a good place to be. The tender braised ringlets bob around in an outgoing sauce made from sour orange and ginger—a fresh departure from the standard fried calamari that is often served at bars. But the grilled octopus ($9) are an even better choice. Eric has sourced baby octopus that are quite tiny, tender, and delicious, and he grills then until the little tentacled creatures are charred and slightly crispy. They are nuzzled into a puree of potatoes and chipotle that was textured and at the same time creamy, and tasted me tasted like a sort of chickpea hummus. Tied for best plate with the baby octopus were a bowl of adorable little veal meatballs ($8), each one the size of a kumquat, that are spiced up just enough to give you a slight glow of heat in your mouth but not too much to overpower and send you rushing for a glass of water (or wine). They are served lightly smothered in a fresh tomato sauce and bedded on polenta. Simeon also offers some entrée-styled dishes, like a roasted pork chip with black bean sauce ($12) and an amazing crispy skinned sautéed sea bass, done panzanella style, topped with a bread salad that had the zippy flavors of a Basque piperade. It’s all quite impressive for bar food.
The strange thing about Park Blue is that while it offers pretty much everything you might be looking for in a high-end after work watering hole, it has not yet caught on with the happy hour crowd. Instead has become a late night haunt for chefs, sommeliers and servers who work nearby at the Time Warner Center collection of restaurants—Per Se and Café Gray, because it stays open until 4am, and serves its menu into the small hours of the morning. In fact, after 11pm, Simeon starts making breakfast—lobster eggs benedict ($12), and fried oyster omelets ($10). So, I guess if you are interested in meeting a chef, you might make a point of stopping by on the later side. And if you are just interested in a swanky spot to unwind and chill after work, or a cool place to meet a first date, have a party, a hip business drink, or even a not-so-pricey pre-theater dinner, Park Blue is a sure thing. It’s one of those places I can see coming to rely on as my “go-to” spot for all sorts of occasions. From where I sit, Midtown just got a lot more appealing.
Neighborhood: West 50s
Chef: Eric Simeon
Entree Price: $10-15
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