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Park Bistro

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When founding chef Jean-Michel Diot left, Park Bistro listed into a slump. But now Philippe Roussel has claimed the spiffy little burgundy-and-white checkerboard kitchen, bringing with him his sunny herb greenery and the lush ways that won all those "Best Of" accolades for Chelsea Bistro & Bar.

Roussel gets flak from purists for wantonly scattering every dish with all those snippets of chervil and squiggles of rosemary, basil, and thyme. (Hey, we used to snipe at Jackson Pollock for the same sin.) Once the four of us have basked sufficiently in the beauty of the conceit, we simply weed our plates, setting discarded twigs aside. Flavors are intense, fish is properly cooked, and tonight's confit of duck, the chicken fricassee, my lamb navarin with tiny carrots and baby turnips, the hanger steak and top-notch fries, are knockouts in the mouth as well as in the beholding. There are baby vegetables everywhere, neither under- nor overcooked, hooray, and sweet molten nuggets of caramelized onion and garlic. Maybe I'd reduce the sauces a shade less or halve the butter. Roussel's shiny dark puddles are all different but have the same syrupy texture.

Having been around since the days when there was no hope of finding a seriously good tomato before July, I am thrilled to be still alive for the joy of tonight's special red-and-orange-tomato salad, an epiphany in June. And I recommend the cassolette of snails in a garlicky parsley butter, the upside-down herbed-goat-cheese tart with caramelized onions, a sparkling tartare of salmon in lime-soy dressing, and the wild-mushroom ravioli with or without summer truffles. Now that Roussel is in charge, count on the roast chicken's being crusty as well as moist on a nest of mashed potato with morels. But port makes an oversweet sauce for an otherwise exemplary roasted chunk of cod, its skin crisped, on the same delicious potato purée. The faux filet is full of flavor but tough to cut, tough to chew. There is still a three-course $24.50 prix fixe offered at lunch and again at dinner till 7 p.m., and appetizers are a prudent $7.50 to $9.50 except for the ravioli, with entrées ranging from $18.50 to $27, slightly less at lunch.

I'm not sure what makes Acacia and Julien brasseries and this a bistro except that Julien is brassy and Acacia wants to be. But Park Bistro, with its French movie posters, its French (love that accent) but not-too-French (no attitude) servers, and owner Max Bernard welcoming long habitués back to the fold, is still as Parisienne as I need it to be. If Bernard is smart, he'll do whatever he can to keep Roussel happy in his pocket-size kitchen.

Park Bistro, 414 Park Avenue South, between 28th and 29th Streets (689-1360). Lunch, Monday through Friday noon to 3 p.m.; dinner, Monday through Sunday 5:30 to 11 p.m. A.E., D.C., M.C., V.


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