What's Cookin' Behind the Curtain - Darling I Love You But Give Me Park Ave.
Every Friday, LAist is taking you on a trip down to Orange County to uncover the unique dining experiences that await adventurous eaters willing to explore beyond the county line.
Saying the name ‘Park Avenue’ evokes images of wealth, of tony living, of elegance and class (or of crappy Buicks if you’re into cars). Kinda like Rodeo Drive. It’s the antithesis of the working class, the regular everyday lifestyle that most of us experience. Which makes this week’s restaurant strangely appropriate, since Park Ave. in Stanton delivers a regal dining experience for a working class crowd.
My dad likes to joke about the perception that Laguna Beach or Newport Harbor is somehow representative of “the real Orange County,” and that someone looking to experience real “real Orange County” should go visit Stanton. Like most communities in north Orange County, Stanton is firmly middle class, with a diverse population and a significantly lower amount of plastic and silicon per capita than certain other “real” neighborhoods. Thus, it is surprising to find a place like Park Ave. within the Stanton city limits since the whole theme of the restaurant harkens back to upper-class 1950s living, a stark contrast to the nudie bar located a block away.
Picture this: a dimly lit dining room, with a mahogany wood base design and retro fabric adorning the seats and curtains; an elegant bar with old Rat Pack standards playing in the background; an all-black clad wait staff offering up seasonal selections from the menu; a googie-style logo displayed in the neon roadsign all the way down to the embossing in the faux-gator leather billholder. From what I could see, every last detail was covered to convey the theme.
That is, except for the food. Although the restaurant motif is pure 1950s, the food has a decidedly 21st century feel to it. Park Ave. and executive chef David Slay offer a variety of steaks, chops, and seafood with a modern twist (think of the Elks Lodge challenge from Top Chef 3). My dining companions and I interrogated our server, trying to cover as much ground as possible, but she was a good sport, leading us to some of her favorites on the menu. Undoubtedly, in the back of her mind she thought we were a little eccentric, a la the Finer Things Club in last night’s The Office episode.
We started our meal by sampling both the spinach salad and the creamy tomato soup. The spinach salad, tossed tableside, mixed in bacon and cheese and a warm apple cider-based vinaigrette, which provided both the sweet and sour to the dish. Although the warmth of the dressing wasn’t universally approved of, I liked how it gave my belly a little heat prior to the main course while still maintaining the lightness that a salad is intended to bring. The soup, served in a fun Park Ave. mug, was a slightly chunky mix of tomatoes, cream, cheese, and minced onions. The temperature was perfect, hot enough to taste all of the commingling flavors but cool enough that it didn’t burn the tongue. It was great on its own, but it could have easily made an excellent sauce for a lobster ravioli dish as well.
For my main dish, I ordered the antelope medallions. I will almost always order a game dish if I see it on a menu, as I love the sharper taste of the meat. The antelope was served with wild rice and spaghetti squash. I found my meat to be tasty but slightly overcooked (I asked for medium rare, but it came out closer to medium than rare) which, when coupled with the toughness of the meat, made it more firm than desired. However, the port wine sauce that accompanied the antelope was terrific, bringing a slight sweetness that accentuated the flavor of the meat. The rice and squash made nice accompaniments that helped complement the antelope from both a flavor profile and a textural contrast standpoint, not to mention adding color to the plate.
My food buddies ordered the filet mignon medallions and the stuffed chicken. The filet was a great cut of meat, super tender and flavorful. The meat was topped with a shiitake mushroom sauce that I thought overpowered the flavor of the meat slightly, and served with roasted potatoes. If I were to concoct the perfect dish, I would have mixed the port wine sauce with the filet mignon steak. That would have been spectacular. Meanwhile, the stuffed chicken was a boneless chicken filled with spinach and whipped potatoes. The dish was extremely hearty (my friend didn’t even finish half of it), but the flavors of each of the components remained intact. The chicken stayed moist despite the ingredients stuffed inside, allowing the natural juices to come out with each bite.
Park Ave. also has a healthy dessert menu, featuring homemade ice cream and sundaes. We opted to split a warm berry crumble and substituted out the usual vanilla ice cream for peanut butter ice cream. The combination of the berry sauce and peanut butter ice cream definitely made the dessert taste like peanut butter and jelly (and if you don’t like PB&J, you need to get yourself checked out). I particularly liked the inclusion of cranberries, in addition to the blueberries and raspberries that I’m accustomed to seeing in a mixed berry dessert, with their acidic taste providing some tartness against the rest of the sweet items. The crumble was a chewy, sugary topping that added much needed thickness. Other favorites from our server included the molten chocolate cake and the bread pudding.
Ordinarily, I’m accustomed to paying a hefty tab for a solid three-course meal such as this one, particularly given the solid service and general ambience. But we were able to get out for under $35/head, tax and tip included. The reasonable prices make Park Ave. a very accessible gourmet dining experience; in short, an upper-class meal at middle-class prices.
11200 Beach Blvd.
Stanton, CA 90680
All photos by Amy Yang for LAist, as well as the reminder of the Green Acres theme song for the title of this post