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davidburke & donatella

Note: Click here for a more recent review of this restaurant, which has been renamed David Burke Townhouse.

The restaurant davidburke & donatella is the creation of chef David Burke and colleague Donatella Arpaia, who minds the front-of-house. Burke made his name cooking in other people’s restaurants (Park Avenue Cafe) before opening this restaurant with his friend Donatella late last year. A friend and I visited on Saturday night. It is the best two-star restaurant I’ve been to, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it gunning for three if a re-review comes along.

It’s a beautiful space, decorated with the kind of wit that you find in Burke’s inventive menu. There are two dining rooms, and we were seated in the larger of the two. It seems the owners were determined to use every inch of available space, as there was barely room to navigate between the closely-spaced tables. It was hard to hear over the din.

When we sat down, a folded paper menu was on our plates. This was the day’s tasting menu — five courses, $75. It was a typeset menu, on top of which Burke had scribbled additional daily specials and witty artwork. I was tempted, but my friend was not, so we moved onto the main menu, which our server came by and handed out.

Bread arrives — cooked in its own copper casserole, and steaming hot. The butter comes as a modern art sculpture that you almost regret cutting into. There wasn’t quite enough time to appreciate this before the amuse-bouche, a small confection of salmon ribbons.

To start, I ordered the foie gras and lobster appetizer. It came in two hollowed-out egg shells, each with its own tiny little spoon. My friend had the gazpacho, which came with a shrimp profiterole and a mound of guacamole.

I had read about the origins of Burke’s “Bronx” veal chop on eGullet (it’s a cut Burke invented), and I had to give that a try. The difficulty with this dish is that the chop itself is an awkward shape, and it’s a struggle to find an anchor point for your fork. It was a tasty piece of veal, but I don’t like to fight fight for my food. My friend had the pork chop, which I tasted. It had a wonderful char and was perfectly tender.

The wine list is a confusing jumble. Within the standard categories (red/white), the wines are grouped by degrees — that is, each of the main headings is a number with the little “degree” symbol. Was this the degrees latitude where the grape was grown? The temperature at which the wine is stored? We could not tell. It is also a pricey list, and we struggled to find a good choice in our range. Finally we asked the sommelier for a suitable choice under $60 a bottle, and he produced an off-the-menu shiraz at $55 that we were pleased with.

db&d is known for its desserts. The table next to us were friends of pastry chef James Distefano, and they got a free sample of everything on the menu. You would have to carry me home if I ate that much dessert, but it certainly gave us an idea of the range of creativity on offer here. I had the Coconut Layer Cake, my friend the Dark Chocolate & Praline Torte, which were both winners.

David Burke himself seemed to have a few friends in the house last night, as he came out of the kitchen several times to greet diners. I expected a light turnout, given that it is a holiday weekend, but the restaurant was packed. However, we got an 8:00pm reservation that I called for only on Wednesday, which perhaps wouldn’t be available on an ordinary weekend.

There is much to appreciate at db&d, and on one visit I thought we had barely scratched the surface. I will have to return.

davidburke & donatella (133 E. 61st Street between Park & Lexington Avenues, Upper East Side)

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