Ava MediterrAgean

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It’s certainly the most atmospheric restaurant around.

Ava MediterrAegean, the new Park Avenue restaurant from Miami’s Mila Group, didn’t just take over the Luma On Park space, it transformed it. The design, by Olya Volkova of OV & Co., features massive archways of sunwashed Venetian plaster, geometric wall sculptures, wood slats over the still-open kitchen, and upholstered furniture and table lamps that invoke a homey feeling.

ava bar

ava wall

ava column

The bar that used to be confined to the front of the space has doubled in size and flows to the front of the main dining area. The liquor cage over the bar is steadied with a weave of rough nautical rope. You’ll also find wharf-like ropes used decoratively as velvet cordons. And that load-bearing column that bisected the old bar? Volkova had the perfect solution: If you can’t get rid of it – and you can’t if you don’t want the upper floors to come crashing down – make it bigger. And she finally got rid of the plywood-like ceiling panels that looked so chintzy. It is, simply, a drop-dead gorgeous restaurant.

If all you want is a place to people watch and be watched, to sip a cocktail or three and commune, you’ll be very happy.

And if you’re looking for a restaurant with food that can live up to the atmosphere, you’ll be happy, too.

The food is under the supervision of Keith Bombaugh, whose resume includes a stint at Grant Achatz’s Alinea in Chicago. Thankfully, Bombaugh’s menu doesn’t dwell in the world of micro gastronomy but rather pays homage to the cuisine of the restaurant’s portmanteaunic name.

ava potato

My dinner companion and I started with the potato millefeuille, which wasn’t anything like I thought it would be but was ultimately more enjoyable than what I had been expecting. The potatoes may very well have started out as thin layers (even if not the thousand that the name suggests) but they had melded in the cooking. They were cut into batons, fried and served upright, looking like wood shims. While the exterior had a crispness, the inside was soft with creamy potatoes and cheese.

ava bouillabaisse

For my entree I chose the bouillabaisse, which had all the elements that you’d expect from one in Marseille but presented differently. The seafood – clams, mussels, scallops, branzino – were served separate from the broth, which is why the fish was able to have a wonderfully crisped skin (and also explains why the shrimp were a tad cool). The tomato and fish stock broth was poured over the seafood by the server. It was all delicious, and I especially liked the scallops, which were like sashimi. The dish was accompanied by sourdough crostini and saffron rouille.

ava steak

My friend had the prime flank steak, cooked to a beautiful medium rare, sliced and fanned over a pulpy harissa, garnished with eggplant caviar and a reduction sauce.

There were enough servers to make the area’s staff-starved restaurants jealous and all seemed to be well trained and had good menu knowledge. Note that an 18 percent gratuity is added to the check. (The way the check is presented makes it look as though the tax is calculated after the gratuity is added but it is not; only the food and beverages are taxed.)

ava cocktail

The list of wine by the glass is a bit anemic; you’ll have more fun with the list of cocktails. I can recommend the Poire Française, a vodka and St. Germain drink with pear juice and tarragon served in a coupe.

Be on notice that with all the hard surfaces a full restaurant can be quite loud. At times I could only make out the pulsing bass of whatever music was playing. Members of the management walk about wearing ear pieces, which I at first thought was to make it look Miami clubbish, but it may be the only way they could hear each other. You may want to consider headsets for you and your dining companions.

Ava MediterrAgean is at 290 S. Park Ave., Winter Park (map). It is open for dinner daily and brunch Sunday; 407-794-9896.

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