Park Avenue Autumn has just a few days left before the restaurant overhauls its look and menu for the winter. Waitress Andi Rankin came to New York from Colorado four years ago and joined the restaurant when it opened as Park Avenue Summer in 2007. Since she's been through several of AvroKO's seasonal redesigns, we asked her what to expect for the winter design on December 2, and what it feels like to work for a "hot chef."
Do you get people who hate the changes to the former Park Avenue restaurant?
We have old Park Avenue Caf folks who were very wary of the change. We have one patron who was determined not to like this place when he first came in, and now he's here every Sunday. It was classic, but for the most part it needed a face-lift. We still have the same Upper East Side crowd coming in.
Did you think redesigning every season was a strange gimmick when you started?
At first I wasnt really sure if it would go over or last for so many years. But people love seeing the changes; they're so dramatic and so beautiful.
How long do the transitions take?
It takes 48 hours. We're going to change [to Winter] on Sunday evening and reopen again on Tuesday for dinner service. We're here to help move tables, get things out of the way, for a tasting to help Craig Koketsu, and then to set up the dining room for service, so there's no time off. We may be working up to the point when customers are coming in.
Is the design for each season the same every year?
It's basically the same. Place mats may change or they may add more flower arrangements. It's what people saw [the first time around]. The ceiling comes down. Right now we have a wood ceiling with rope and a lot of brass, copper poles, and it will be replaced with kind of a French ceiling with glass chandeliers. The panels on the walls will flip. The table configuration will change; we add more tables [in Winter]. The colors of the seats will change. There will be white fur on the bar stools. The music changes. The wine wall will change. Everything, right down to the hand soap in the bathroom, changes. Everything will be white and silver.
How has chef Craig Koketsu adapted the menu from fall to winter?
Right now we have a lot of braised and roasted game and fruits and mushrooms, and it will change to richer dishes, heavy sauces warm comfort foods. In the winter, people are getting together, so he'll be having things that people share, like Chateaubriand with barnaise sauce and foie gras, a rack of lamb. And Richard Leach has his own take on desserts, with gingerbread cake and hot buttered rum.
Koketsu is also the executive chef at Quality Meats. Where does he spend the most time?
We see him more here because the menu is more complex. He's definitely here now because they're going through the winter menu.
He was a contestant in Eater's hot-chef contest. How does he react to attention put on his looks?
It's talked about here and we still tease him for it. Craig's a very shy guy. I think he likes it, but you can tell it embarrasses him. He'll run back down to the kitchen if anyone starts talking about it.