by Susan on November 9, 2010

When you arrive at Riverpark at the end of a bizarre and barren Kips Bay enclave, you’ll find the restaurant’s illuminated signage. Riverpark is written in script and buoyed by the statement “A Tom Colicchio Restaurant,” displayed in the simple text that has become Colicchio’s signature. The sign spells out the restaurant’s feel with uncanny clarity. There are a few flourishes on Riverpark’s menu, which I’ll credit to chef Sisha Ortuzar. Everything else is classic Colicchio, who as of late seems less-man-more-machine.

Riverpark’s interior will give you a serious case of deja vu. The warm woods, the dark colors. You’ve seen it at Craft. You’ve lived it at Colicchio & Sons. It’s so safe it’s hard not to like, but it certainly doesn’t wow.

Riverpark’s outdoor seating areas and views of the East River are what will set it apart from its brother and sisters. Unfortunately, an open view of Queens is only available from a perch in no man’s land. Riverpark is tucked down a section of 29th Street you never knew existed in the midst of a growing office park. Perhaps if you pulled up in a Town Car or taxi it would feel secluded in a good way. But approaching Riverpark by foot affords no such romance.

There’s a bar area and a more formal dining room, but the two bleed into each other without boundaries. To add to the confusion, each area has its own menu, both of which are available throughout the entire restaurant. Between the wine list and two menus, planning your meal can be cumbersome.

The cafe menu is meant to be more casual and features bar snacks, charcuterie, a selection of raw shellfish, small plates, and a handful of entrees. Homemade potato chips and a gorgonzola dipping sauce were disappointing. The chips were thin and the gorgonzola sauce one dimensional. The Caesar Salad, which cleverly used hard boiled egg and white anchovies, was excellent.

The full dinner menu also has a selection of raw shellfish, followed by a list of first courses that range from salad to pasta, half a dozen main courses, and a few sides. As part of our first course we enjoyed perfectly al dente spaghetti generously swirled with calamari, lobster, and cockles and dressed with a flavorful and balanced sauce of tomato, black olive, and basil.

The main dishes have Colicchio written all over them. It’s American food, boastful of seasonal vegetables and lovingly raised meats. Similar to the familiar decor, it won’t bowl you over, but its solid.

The diver scallops were slightly overseasoned and overcooked, but they were paired with a trifecta of hen of the woods mushrooms, butternut squash, and a kale chutney I would have bought if they sold it in jar. The pork was cooked perfectly and flavorful in the way only very good pig can be. The accompaniments of brussels sprout apple-hash and parsnip puree were less exciting than they sounded. The doughnuts we had for dessert, on the other hand, were better than expected.

Colicchio’s brand and empire are growing, but is his signature strong enough to support the weight?

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