Main bar. Photo: © 2011 FrankenyImages.com.
Deviled eggs. Photo: © 2011 FrankenyImages.com.
Petit “poulet rouge.” Photo: © 2011 FrankenyImages.com.
Ruby red grapefruit brûlée at brunch. Photo: © tablehopper.com.
Veal schnitzel with eggs at brunch. Photo: © tablehopper.com.
The front café area. Photo: © tablehopper.com.
It’s a pleasure to see how much vibrancy has returned to Washington Square Park, with Tony’s Pizza Napoletana, the recently reopened Original Joe’s, and ~PARK TAVERN~ all breathing new life into an area of town that was limping along for a while there. All three places are handsome restaurants, but one thing I especially like about Park Tavern is that you can sense a woman’s touch in the design, from the snazzy wallpaper at the entrance to the purse hooks in the ladies’ room (Weinberg worked with Kendra Nicholas Nash on the design). It’s spacious, too, with a buzzing crowd packing the row of comfortable stools at the marble bar and at a communal table—there are plenty of wines by the glass to keep them happily hovering there for hours. Plus, there’s the large dining room (I like the round tables for groups, and the corner banquettes for date night), and the more casual café-like area in the front that is reserved for walk-ins. Servers zip around in striped aprons and white shirts, with a jazzy soundtrack in the background.
Co-owners Anna Weinberg and chef Jennifer Puccio created a citywide allegiance to the burger and Brussels sprout chips at Marlowe in SoMa (their first partnership), which you will find on the menu at their new, popular American tavern. They have massively expanded their offerings to match the square footage, with a flexible menu that has all kinds of options, depending on how you want to dine. One night, I swung by with friends for just a drink and a bite, cruising our way through cocktail-friendly food like the housemade charcuterie plate ($13) and smoky apps like the wicked deviled eggs served on a slate slab with bacon, pickled jalapeño, salsa verde, and chives ($2 each, but they’re worth it).
A hearty dinner started lightly with market vegetables and green goddess dip ($8), featuring crisp carrots, cauliflower, and watermelon radish. The Waldorf salad ($12) skewed a bit too sweet for me (I wanted some bitter greens to counter the sweet candied walnuts) but my dining partner loved it. Much has been written about the petit “poulet rouge” ($25), a plump and juicy chicken that is served whole and upright on a bed of Bloomsdale spinach and potatoes, but you can ask the kitchen to cut it up for you (or in our case, halve it since we were sharing it). Wait until you taste the dark meat on this bird—it’s ridonkulous, and the level of spice is tuned perfectly.
For dessert: the “birthday cake” ($9) is a rotating slice of cake each month (one night it was a tall slice of carrot cake), and it comes to the table with a burning candle. It’s your un-birthday, yo, make a wish! And I was surprised to be more charmed with the Arnold Palmer ($9) than the Fernet in the boozy floats section: the black tea ice cream, lemon gelato, and St. Germain (complete with a metal straw) was a fab finish.
Recently the team launched weekend brunch, and the sunny space is built for it. A star on the menu is the ruby red grapefruit brûlée, with a swipe of crème fraîche and a chiffonade of mint ($6)—it actually makes me want to eat grapefruit for breakfast. The selection of toasts are clever, and I especially went nuts for the sourdough topped with Dungeness crab and green goddess dressing ($9). (I’ll be back for the sourdough rye with smoked salmon.)
The ladies are not afraid to hit you with some hearty entrées, like slices of country ham steak topped with poached eggs and hollandaise ($17), with savoy cabbage and fingerling potato slaw, and grainy mustard on the side—even though this dish is built to be an English muffin-less Benedict, request a side of toast. One of my favorite new brunch dishes in the city is the veal schnitzel ($18), with bacon fat-basted eggs (the best way to cook eggs, truly), marinated Spanish anchovies on top, and frisée aux lardons. Formidable!
If you had a rough night, the boozy smoothie ($10) will get you back in action, a healing combination of Bulleit bourbon, banana, and espresso. Kudos to beverage director Casey Doolin for coming up with that one, seriously. There are also a few pitchers o’ cocktails to choose from in case your table wants to be party central.
This is not to say everything on the extensive menus is perfect—each visit, I’ve experienced dishes that were overseasoned (all seafood, actually) or things were too heavy or oily, like the Bloomsdale spinach with the poulet. The atmosphere is a lively one but magically doesn’t get too loud, and as the starlet section in tablehopper can attest, Park Tavern has become quite the living room for the well-heeled and well-connected set. Ed Moose must be smiling to see his famed dining room so shiny once again.