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Restaurant Review: Park Place

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International Affairs

 

Three men in a culinary ménage à trois combine the cuisines of many nations and arrive at world peace on one plate    

 

By Jorge S. Arango

 

When I moved to New York, a young Cuban man in the Big City, I was amused to find lower Eighth Avenue littered with Chinese-Latino restaurants. But the incongruous meeting of these cuisines had a good explanation: at the turn of the century, Cuba’s railroads were built largely by laborers from China, so Latin and Chinese foods were served side by side in towns that dotted the track’s progress from the countryside toward Havana. In the 25 years since my arrival, we have lived through nouvelle, New American, and more recently, fusion cuisine, a broad term that describes innovative and thrilling combinations as often as it does culinary clashes.

 

Fortunately for us, no such confrontation occurs at Park Place in Goshen, Orange County. The business card of Joseph Cimino (co-owner of the restaurant with partner Bill Roche) describes it as serving fusion cuisine, but the formula here has a new twist. Usually, the term denotes classic French and American recipes that embrace Asian seasonings and cooking techniques. Here, the exchange travels from West to East as well. Sushi rolls combine tuna, avocado, scallion, and seared foie gras (Yamato Roll, $16) or soft shell crab, avocado, arugula, and eel sauce (Spider Man Roll, $12).

 

These combinations spring from a kind of multicultural ménage à trois. The menus (regular and sushi) are developed jointly by the Sicilian-born Cimino (who was general manager for Pino Luongo and helped open such revered city establishments as China Grill, Asia de Cuba, and Cocopazzo), home-grown Consulting Executive Chef Erik Johansen (who also runs the kitchen at Iron Forge Inn, his family’s restaurant in Bellvale, about 25 minutes down the road), and Japanese-Filipino Solomon Zamora (a sushi chef who trained under sushi king Nobu Matsuhita).

 

What emerges are concoctions that sound like they will ignite World War III in your stomach, but actually strike a sublime balance of international tastes. Take a Continental appetizer like Park Place mac and cheese ($9) — fusilli bathed in gorgonzola, rosemary, and truffle butter, then flecked with foie gras and duck confit. Okay, it sounds like a cholesterol-laden WMD. While I won’t say it’s diet fare, the perfectly sized portion delivers such a delicately calibrated mix of creaminess, tang, and earthy and game flavors that even gaining an ounce or two on the spot would be worth it.

 

Other appetizers were lighter, yet no less lapidary in concept. My seared scallops ($14) were a melting-pot version of surf ’n’ turf, topped as they were with Hudson Valley foie gras and served on a gingery carrot sauce with fennel that had been lightly pickled in rice vinegar, olive oil, and honey. Johansen uses a torch to sear peppercorn-crusted tuna, firming the cut so it’s easier to slice while leaving it perfectly rosy and raw inside, then lays it over shredded daikon and a seaweed salad tossed in sesame oil ($12). We also sampled the deliciously complex Park Place salad ($8) — mixed greens, radicchio, prosciutto, and hazelnuts in orange balsamic vinaigrette — an expert mix of bitter, salty, nutty, and citrus flavors.

 

With these we drank a surprisingly grassy 2003 Sonoma-Cutrer Chardonnay from the Russian River Valley, a mid-range wine ($38) on a well-chosen and fairly priced list. Most bottles are in the $30-$50 range, with only a few splurges rising into the stratosphere ($120-$145). As we waited for main courses, we took in the simply elegant surroundings — banquettes upholstered in brown-and-white striped fabric, a custom-made oak bar, and colorful paintings of jazz scenes. The restaurant is located in the circa 1912 Goshen Inn, which is perched over the oldest continuously operating trotter racetrack in the country (you can see it from the lounge). Another room for special events and corporate functions retains the Old-World charm of dark, coffered paneling; gold brocade curtains; and grand chandeliers.

 

Our calm and soft-spoken waiter eventually brought over our wine selection for the next course, a 2001 Forestville Napa Cabernet Sauvignon ($41), which started life outside the bottle like a petulant bowl of black cherries before maturing into a robust but subtle blend of berry and tannin. Soon after, our entrées arrived.

 

A New York strip steak ($24) was bathed in red wine and seasoned with Chinese five-spice (a mixture of fennel, anise, mace, black pepper, and ginger), which gave it an Asian air, but the accompanying potato cake was purely, heavenly American: soft and creamy beneath a paper-thin seared crust. A lacquered pork tenderloin and rib ($26) were moist and succulent and sat atop a coarse-grind polenta cake flecked with scallions. Weaving through the earthy Southern meat and corn flavors was a cleansing sweet-tart mango vinaigrette and lime cabbage slaw.

 

Hudson Valley Moulard duck breast ($24) was impeccably rare inside and swathed in just an eighth-inch layer of fat. I don’t think I’ve ever tasted a better-quality duck, certainly not one served with such a generous amount of grilled scallions. And the plum thyme chutney was a creative spin on the plum sauce of Peking duck. The only disappointment here was the pan-fried wasabi sweet potatoes, surprisingly flavorless considering the horseradish content. Lime and maple–glazed free-range chicken breast ($21), tender and moist, came with a much livelier starch — curried sweet potato purée — as well as a bundle of escarole stuffed with wild rice and shiitake mushrooms.

 

We sampled every dessert (the list is short), but the standout was a raspberry panna cotta, with hazelnut purée and chilled passion fruit soup ($7.50). Gazing out over the historic Goshen Race Track, I was struck by what a gamble this unusual restaurant could be in less experienced hands. But I’m laying my bets on the Cimino-Johansen-Zamora trifecta…and I know I’ll win.

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