11200 Beach Blvd.
Stanton, CA 90680
When I put my mind to visiting a restaurant in every city in OC, I had no doubts where I would be eating when we finally made it to Stanton. I have lived in OC all of my life, and yet I can not ever remember spending any significant time in this three square mile city. I am sure Stanton is a great city to live in, but I guess I have never had a reason to visit this land locked metropolis, until I had to pick a restaurant to eat at here. When people think restaurants in Stanton, Park Ave. is almost always mentioned near the top of their list, so we made the trek up the five freeway to see what all the fuss was about.
Park Ave has gotten a lot of acclaim throughout the years. They have been called the best restaurant in Orange County, by Orange Coast Magazine. They have received glowing reviews from both the LA Times and the Orange County Register. They are mentioned in the very condensed OC portion of the Zagat guide. In fact, on your way to the restroom at Park Ave, they have plastered their walls with tons of reviews for you to peruse. With all of this buildup, I was really looking forward to a great dinner.
We had seven o'clock dinner reservations the day before Thanksgiving. I had expected the restaurant to be dead, because when I called to make reservations they said they would be closing early because of the holiday, but there were plenty of people dining inside when we arrived, and well after we left. From the outside, this restaurant resembles a 70's style house that you could imagine the Brady kids living here. I checked for astro-turf in the backyard, but was surprised to have found none.
Once inside the restaurant, the vibe changes to, "rat pack" sleek. It would not be a stretch to think of Sammy, Frank and Dean eating here for dinner. The front dining room, where we were seated, had about fifteen tables or so, and is dominated by a large rock wall. The color scheme at Park Ave. is governed by browns and dark red booths. The lighting is low, but the noise level in the dining room was pretty high. Enough with the ambiance of this restaurant, let's get to the food.
Starting us off is the bread basket that was placed on our table after sitting down. The bread here was pretty good. Not anything that rocked our world, but a nice start to the meal, and because we were so hungry, this bread basket disappeared rather quickly.
I'm a sucker for avocados, so when I saw that they had Grilled Avocado ($10) on the menu, I knew we would be trying this appetizer. Avocado never disappoints, and it doesn't here either. This simple appetizer is seasoned with sea salt and extra virgin olive oil, then served alongside sourdough toast. The grilling of the avocado really brought out its creaminess. This would be a great, easy way to prepare avocados at home. The sourdough went well with this, but the avocado was so big we definitely could have used more crisps to go along with this.
I am really picky about macaroni and cheese, so I usually do not try it in restaurants. Both Katie and I could not resist trying the Spicy Lobster Mac N Cheese ($15) at Park Avenue though. This mac and cheese was topped with bread crumbs, toasted red peppers, and made with three cheeses. We did not get the spiciness that I thought we would, but that was made up for by the abundance of lobster in this cup. Every spoonful of mac and cheese contained a very generous amount of lobster as well. The mac and cheese was very comforting, but could not out shine the lobster here. This was a small portion, but very rich in flavor.
Wedge salads are a lot of trouble to eat, but they are hard for me not to order. This Iceberg Wedge ($8) was prepared simply, with only peppered bacon, a few tomatoes, and a blue cheese dressing. The dressing here must have been homemade. It had a great thick texture to it, with a great blue cheese kick. The bacon was crisp and the pepper really showed up here as well. The iceberg is grown in their garden, and was very fresh. One of the better wedge salads I have had.
As much as I love wedge salads, Katie's, "go to", salad seems to be the Heirloom Tomatoes ($12). Park Ave's version of a Caprese salad came with fresh buffalo mozzarella, basil, and a balsamic vinaigrette. She called this salad, "one of the best I have had". All of the ingredients were so fresh that it was hard for her to say anything bad about this dish. The tomatoes had a great freshness about them that really brought out their sweetness.
We might as well stick with what Katie ordered for dinner, the special of the night, the Wild Swordfish ($30). This swordfish was topped with a mound of arugula and lemon juice. Katie had not had swordfish before, so she was a little taken back by the steak like feel of the fish. She did end up liking this though. She liked that the dish came together by having the bitter tasting arugula, with the sourness from the lemons and the sweetness of the fingerling potatoes. Really made this a balanced plate. She's not sure she would get this again, but was glad to have tried it on this visit.
Before I started this blog three years ago, I had never had a short rib. I know, sheltered right? Now I can not get enough of them. The Bone In Short Rib ($30) was so tender it just fell off the bone when I lifted up my fork to cut it. This short rib was like a giant piece of the most tender stew meat you have ever had. Not over seasoned, it let the natural meat flavors rule the roost. This was served with a braised celery, which added a nice texture to the dish, but not much else, and a horseradish whipped potato. The promise of horseradish was diminished after my first few bites of these potatoes. I liked the smooth texture of the potato, but the flavor was pretty pedestrian. I would get this again though, because the short rib was so good.
Dessert time at Park Ave and Katie got to choose first. She had the Macintosh and Golden Delicious Apple Turnover ($8). This turnover was topped with a brown sugar and bourbon ice cream. All of the ice creams at Park Ave are made in house by Head Baker, Alice Castro. Not the best tart she has had, but what made this dessert for her was the brown sugar bourbon ice cream. It really kicked this dessert up a few notches.
Since I saw that they make their own ice cream here, and that they have a Peanut Butter Ice Cream Sundae ($7), I decided to splurge with my own dessert as well. This sundae was pretty good sized, with three scoops of peanut butter ice cream as the base. The ice cream was very smooth, with a nice consistency. I really got the peanut butter flavor from the ice cream. The sundae was complimented with mini chocolate chips and a marshmallow cream that was nicely toasted on top. I am not too big of a fan of marshmallow, but this one was pretty good. I would have liked more chocolate on this sundae, but that is just because I am a chocolate and peanut butter fiend. Not a bad end to this meal though.
Park Ave. was a very solid place to have dinner. I think a lot of the hype around this restaurant stems from the fact that it is not in a place that you would expect to get this kind of meal. This is the kind of restaurant that could exist easily in other areas of OC though. The food was all pretty good, with very few exceptions. I thought some of the portion sizes were a little on the small side for the price being paid, but all of the food here is very fresh. They have their own large garden in the back, where they grow many of their own herbs, fruits, and vegetables. This extra effort really shows up in the quality of the food they serve. The service on the night we were here was very good. Rachel kept great tabs on us all night, and kept things moving along at a very gentle pace. After finishing up our meal, we were invited to stroll through the gardens in the back. Like many bloggers and print media people before me have said, it was hard to believe we were in Stanton. We were, and I can now say that I have spent some considerable time in the city of Stanton.
Out of five birds of paradise, (because this is the official flower of the city of Stanton), five being best to zero being worst, Park Ave gets 3.5 birds of paradise.
For more information on Park Ave, click here: http://www.parkavedining.com/index.htm