Entries in David Burke (9)


David Burke Kitchen

David Burke, the playful chef who serves cheesecake lollipops and lobster “steaks,” has taken his act to the James Hotel in Soho. His new restaurant, David Burke Kitchen, occupies a charmless basement that could double as a fallout shelter.

“It’s a challenge to make a basement attractive,” he told the Times. I’ll say.

They’ve done their best to gussy it up. There’s a long, handsome bar, widely-spaced bare wood tables, and a fully exposed kitchen. If you’re sufficiently distracted, you might not notice that the space has only tiny slivers for windows, at ceiling level.

Burke has done business with this hotel chain before: their Chicago branch hosts his steak place, David Burke Primehouse. So why did they offer him, and why did he accept, the hotel’s worst space?

The reasons could be related to Burke’s apparent willingness to franchise himself all over the place, whether it’s David Burke at Bloomingdales, the now-closed Hawaiian Tropic Zone (practically a strip club without the lapdances), or a bowling alley. If you pay enough for his celebrity, then you can put the restaurant into whatever godawful space you choose.

Or maybe David Burke Kitchen is meant to be a more serious effort, like David Burke Townhouse (the former David Burke & Donatella) and Fishtail on the Upper East Side. Despite their unevenness, those places are real David Burke restaurants, not just consulting engagements. On the right day, they can be very good.

The menu is full of Burke’s trademark whimsy: Ants on a Log; a pretzle crab cake; prawn sauce made in a duck press. Most of these dishes may even be good, but can it last after he moves onto the next project? He was ever-present in the dining room last Friday night—at least looking the part of a working chef, though I had no illusions that he was actually doing anything but schmooze.

Prices are lower than at his Upper East Side places, but not cheap, with appetizers $12–17, entrées $22–45, and side dishes $7. There was no amuse bouche, but bread service was impressive for a downtown restaurant, with three kinds of bread (I had the cranberry walnut), and what appeared to be house-made butter.

Bison Tartare ($14; below left) was wonderful, topped with egg salad and smoked tomatoes, with fingerling potato crisps on the side.

There is a rabbit in the restaurant’s logo, and an ever-changing rabbit dish has been on every menu I’ve seen. The version I had ($28; above right) crossed the line from inventive to bizarre. Rabbit medallions were stuffed with chorizo sausage, with two King Crab claws on top, a soupy risotto on the bottom, and at least two sauces. The individual components weren’t bad, but it looked and tasted like an entrée designed by committee.

I dined at the bar, where the server was knowledgeable and attentive. The two cocktails I had were well made, if on the expensive side: the Rabbit Hunter ($14) with bourbon, ginger beer, fresh mint, and lime; and The Border ($15), with tequila, mezcal blanco, ginger, agave, and a slice of beef jerky on a spear.

As I’ve noted before, hotel restaurants are lower-risk projects than stand-alone ones, as the hotel subsidizes the space, and its guests provide a captive audience. It’s an open question whether David Burke Kitchen has staying power with fickle downtown diners, especially if Burke himself doesn’t stick around to keep his whimsical menu from running off the rails.

David Burke Kitchen (27 Grand Street at Sixth Avenue, in the James Hotel, Soho)

Food: ★
Service: ★★
Ambiance: ★
Overall: ★


Review Recap: Mia Dona

Did you ever meet someone at a football game, who shouted, “Even I could coach this football team?”

It happens with restaurants too. Donatella Arpaia was in partnership with two very talented chefs, David Burke and Michael Psilakis. She split up with both, so that she could do the cooking herself, despite having no training as a professional chef.

Turns out, it’s not so easy. So says Sam Sifton in a withering zero-star review of Mia Dona:

And so here is the new, chef-less iteration of Mia Dona: exactly the sort of decent, middlebrow, red-sauce Italian restaurant you’d relish if you found it in a town near the town where you grew up in the suburbs of New York. Within the five boroughs of New York City, we call that sort of restaurant satisfactory.

“Satisfactory” is Times-speak for mediocre:

The main dishes, however, go off the rails. That eggplant parmigiana is almost totally free of taste or character, a sandwich interior taken from a deli in Anywhereville. The roasted baby chicken with peppers and sweet-and-sour cipollini onions, meanwhile, has a corporate tang, a hint of mild depression: a charity-dinner entree made for 200 people.

There is competently prepared branzino, boring as protein out of a can marked “farmed white fish,” and unremarkable mussels in a sauce made of white wine, with tomato and pancetta. You’ve had that before.

And for those who have only experienced tripe-ish excellence at restaurants like Casa Mono or Momofuku Ssam Bar, Mia Dona’s version of tomato-braised beef tripe with garlic toast can serve as a complete explanation why some consider tripe to be spongy and horrid. It is both.

This was technically a demotion, as Frank Bruni had awarded two stars to Mia Dona when Michael Psilakis was in the kitchen. But after Psilakis’s departure Mia Dona became, in essence, a brand new restaurant. And according to Sifton, no longer a very good one.

We gave one star to Mia Dona, but truth be told, it was at the lower end of one star. We have no argument with Sifton’s decision to give zero.


Rolling the Dice: Fishtail

The Line: Tomorrow, Frank Bruni reviews David Burke’s Upper East Side seafood shack, Fishtail. The Eater odds haven’t been posted as of 6:05 p.m., but we’re going to go ahead and record our bet anyway.

Update: Well, it turns out that Eater never did post the odds. Lucky for us, as our prediction (below) was wrong, so we avoided losing $1 on our hypothetical bet.

The Skinny: Fishtail had a rough early start. The original executive chef, Eric Hara, left in late February to take over the Oak Room. Dallas native John Tesar replaced him in March. We’ve heard nothing about the restaurant since then. The only major-media review, one star from Adam Platt, pre-dated Tesar’s arrival.

We liked Fishtail, rating it at 2½ stars. Like Platt, we visited while Hara was still there. Our only complaint was that the tables were packed uncomfortably close together. The fish, however, was impeccable. What we cannot assess is whether the kitchen is consistent, and whether it has improved or regressed since Tesar took over.

There are a dozen reasons why a restaurant like Fishtail would not appeal to a nitwit like Platt, even if the fish were prepared perfectly. Bruni is a far more intelligent critic. Nevertheless, the vibe of an Upper East Side socialites’ restaurant is not likely to appeal to him, and no doubt he will find some of Burke’s compositions too cute for their own good. We’re fans, but sometimes we feel that way ourselves.

Our guess is that Bruni wouldn’t be bothering to review this place so many months after the opening review cycle, unless he had something positive to say. To award one star would be an insult, and while Bruni has done that plenty of times (and will again), he’s not likely to do it for a restaurant everyone had forgotten about.

The Bet: We are betting that Frank Bruni will award two stars to Fishtail.



[Kreiger via Eater]

Note: As I predicted, Fishtail followed the pattern of other David Burke restaurants, and sank gradually into irrelevance. It closed in early 2016, long after Burke himself had moved on to other ventures.


We’re in a seafood moment, or maybe it’s just a coincidence. Over the last month, we have compelling new entries at the opposite ends of town, The John Dory in Southwest Chelsea and Fishtail on the Upper East Side. They’re stylistic opposites too: an edgy downtown vibe at one, old-money splendor at the other. Both places work more fish art into their décor than I ever believed possible.

I expect Fishtail to face a lot of skepticism among the Internet chattering class, many of whom believe the civilized world ends at 59th Street. But Fishtail in its early days is a surprisingly good restaurant. Ignore, if you must, the Park Avenue ladies and their face lifts. Focus instead on the bounty of fish, impeccably prepared.

The ringmaster here is David Burke. No mere chef, the owner (says his website) is “blurring the lines between chef, artist, entrepreneur and inventor.” Most conglomerate chefs at least adopt the pretense of dressing the part, even if you know they won’t be there after the review cycle is over. Burke doesn’t even bother. He was there on a Saturday night working the room, dressed in civvies.

I had my doubts about Fishtail. I paid three visits to his other Upper East Side restaurant, David Burke Townhouse (formerly David Burke & Donatella). Each time, I liked it a bit less than before. Many of Burke’s clever ideas looked interesting on paper, but didn’t quite work on the plate. And he’s spread awfully thin, lending his name to dubious enterprises like the laughable Hawaiian Tropic Zone.

At Fishtail, Burke and his culinary wit are on full display, but in the dishes we tried, practically all of it worked. Go ahead and serve a Rice Krispy Crabcake or Lobster Dumplings, but they’d better be good. And they were.

The menu features raw bar standards, small plates ($11–14), soups, salads & appetizers ($11–18), simple and whole fish à la carte ($21 & up, up, up), composed plates ($29–40) and side dishes ($6.50). You can spend a bundle, but with judicious ordering can have an excellent meal for around $50–60 a head (before wine).

Even the more expensive items seem reasonably priced for this kind of restaurant (e.g., Dover Sole, $40). A couple of items on our bill were were a bit lower than the amounts shown online, which suggests the menu is being adjusted to reality. Nevertheless, this is a luxury restaurant, and the service has most of the flourishes you’d expect at such a place.

As mentioned, Rice Krispy Crab Cakes ($15; above left) and Lobster Dumplings ($12; above right) were excellent. Both dishes had examples of Burke’s wit—the clever glass serving plate used for the crab cakes, the little tiny tails poking out of the dumplings. You can’t eat humor, but I’d gladly order these dishes again.

A whole Branzino ($27; above left) and a whole Red Snapper ($33; above right) were both prepared perfectly. In each case, the whole fish was presented in a skillet and then filleted at a serving station. Both were listed as portions for one, but the Snapper could easily have been for two.

There are sauces and garnishes for the whole fish, in a menu category called “Top Hats”—complement to Tails, get it? These are $7.50 apiece and ample enough to share, but I wouldn’t bother. A Gnocchi & Wild Mushroom sauce added nothing to these already excellent fish, and it was served slightly lukewarm.

Several of the whole fish are priced “by the pound,” a practice that can only lead to confusion. That Snapper, for instance, was $22/lb., but the menu stipulated it was 1½ pounds. So why not be done with it, and just put $33 on the menu? The Branzino, on the other hand, was listed at its correct price of $27.


French fries ($6.50; above left) were served in a miniature frying basket with homemade mayo. The first batch was cold and soggy. After we complained, they brought up another batch moments later, which was perfect. Cauliflower Brûlée ($6.50; above center) didn’t need a do-over: it came in a sizzling hot cast-iron dish, and was terrific.

The wine service, already very good, still needs some tweaks. A server offered to send over a sommelier before we’d even seen menus. The wine list, printed in 8-point type, is practically unreadable. What could they have been thinking? After I’d squinted my way through it, I found a great Crozes Hermitage ($50; above right). It would have been harder to find a bargain among the reds. There are some compelling verticals with real age on them, but at prices well above our budget.

The “petits-fours” (right) were little daubs of sorbet inside a candy wrapper, served on ice. It was the only time in the meal when the “chef–inventor” got too cute for his own good.

Aside from that, service was impressive, with plenty of staff in ties and vests scurrying efficiently. There were warm baguettes at the beginning of the meal, though two people shouldn’t be asked to share one butter knife.

The restaurant is set up on two floors of a townhouse, with the bar and the kitchen downstairs, and two dining rooms up above. Food runners will get plenty of exercise shuttling food upstairs, and as noted, a couple of items came out not quite warm enough.

The space is lovely, if you don’t mind bright red. It is not quite as cramped as David Burke Townhouse, but you still get a sense that there isn’t an inch to spare. Our two-top was just six inches away from the next one.

David Burke seems to have a built-in Upper East Side fan club. His earlier restaurant is perpetually packed, and his clientele seems to have followed him over to Fishtail. If I have a concern, it’s whether Burke and executive chef Eric Hara can keep up the quality after Burke moves onto other projects.

But for a one-month-old restaurant, Fishtail is impressive. I hope it will stay that way.

Fishtail (135 E. 62nd Street between Park & Lexington Avenues, Upper East Side)

Food: ★★½
Service: ★★½
Ambiance: ★★
Overall: ★★½


davidburke & donatella

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Note: In 2009, davidburke & donatella was renamed David Burke Townhouse, after Donatella Arpaia severed her ties with the restaurant. The restaurant closed in 2014, for what was supposed to be a month of renovations. Not long after that, Burke “took a backseat” in the operation of his various restaurants. David Burke Townhouse never re-opened, and as of May 2015 the building was for sale.


Davidburke & donatella is a frustrating restaurant that is hard to ignore. The first time I visited, I rated it a shade below three stars. The second time, I was so disgusted that I wasn’t sure I’d ever return. But David Burke’s witty menu, now under chef de cuisine Eric Hara, drew me back.

Some of the restaurant’s drawbacks are destined never to be remedied. Tables are squished so tightly together that you’re practically in your neighbors’ lap. This is certainly not the place for a romantic tête-à-tête. To get to the restroom and back, you must navigate an obstacle course. Given the price range, you’d like the service staff to be more attentive; given the cramped quarters, I’m not sure how they’d squeeze in any more of them.

The comely Ms. Arpaia and her Vespa

The wine list remains exorbitant. A mediocre pinot noir was $75, and I saw nothing for much less.

Both David Burke and Donatella Arpaia have since drifted on to other adventures. Arpaia’s latest is Mia Dona, with chef Michael Psilakis. Burke has opened six restaurants in the last four years, of which David Burke Las Vegas is the most recent.

But despite the distractions, the menu at davidburke & donatella has not remained stagnant. There were several items I had not seen before, and Burke’s abundant wit remains evident in all of them. I don’t know if he is still contributing, or if in Eric Hara he has found a worthy deputy.

When you sit down, the evening’s tasting menu ($75, five courses) is already in front of you. There are also several hand-written specials. It is admirable to have them in writing, especially given the dense complexity of Burke’s (or Hara’s) creations. If they were recited, I suspect they would be inaudible through the din.

A three-course prix-fixe (which wasn’t available before) is $55, although numerous dishes carry supplements. On the à la carte menu, appetizers are $15–24, mains are $28–44.

Scallop Ceviche (left); Bread service (right)

The amuse-bouche was a rather bland scallop ceviche. As before, the wonderful hot bread rolls are served in a copper pot, and the butter is an artful sculpture that one is almost sorry to cut into.

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PB&J (left); Parfait of Salmon and Tuna Tartars with Crème Fraiche (right)

“PB&J” ($21) seems to have undergone some refinement since it was featured in New York. Earlier photos (example here) showed a hunk of pan-seared foie gras between two slices of toasted brioche, with strawberry jam and a macadamia nut spread. But the version of served yesterday was a lot less interesting. The foie gras itself was more like a tennis-ball-shaped terrine cut in half, with the jam and peanuts on the side. Though visually arresting, it was not as interesting with the contrasting ingredients demoted to observer status.

My girlfriend adored the parfait of salmon and tuna tartars ($16). The version served last night was handwritten on the menu, so it might not be exactly the same recipe shown on the restaurant website, although I believe it is close.

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Organic “Ostrich” Scramble (left); Handmade Cavatelli & Braised Short Ribs (right)

For the main course, I decided on one of the handwritten specials, described as an “Organic ‘Ostrich’ Scramble” ($44 as an entrée; also available as an appetizer). The ‘Ostrich’ in quotes refers to the serving vessel: half an ostrich egg. There is otherwise no ostrich in the dish, which includes scrambled organic eggs, lobster, tomato, caviar and crème fraiche.

dbd04.jpgI give Hara (or was it Burke?) full credit for dreaming up something that, I think we may safely say, no one anywhere else is serving. But in the end it was just a tasty mash-up of luxury ingredients that didn’t really sustain enough interest to be a main course.

My girlfriend was quite happy with the Homemade Cavatelli & Braised Short Ribs ($32).

We concluded with a shared order of Burke’s Cheesecake Lollipop Tree ($18; left). I’ve now had it three times, and like many Burke creations, I think it’s more notable for how it looks than how it tastes.

More than four years after it opened, davidburke & donatella has lost none of its popularity. It seems to be nearly always full, drawing heavily on a well dressed Upper East side crowd.

It would be easy for such a place to lapse into dull repetition, but Burke and Hara continue to swing for the fences with their inventive cuisine. If not every item is a hit, one has to respect the creativity. But in so many other ways the restaurant is incredibly unpleasant. After three uneven visits, I am not sure I’ll be back again anytime soon.

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

Food: ★★
Service: ★
Ambiance: ★½
Overall: ★½


Hawaiian Tropic Zone

Note: As of December 2010, Hawaiian Tropic Zone is closed.


Regular readers will recall that my first visit to Hawaiian Tropic Zone left me with no burning desire to return. However, I managed to win a free dinner-for-two, so I paid one more visit. I invited my friend Kelly, who was eager to give it a try.

We started with the shrimp cocktail ($15) and the oysters ($13). You could fault HTZ for many things, but they know how to do justice to these raw-bar favorites.

Veal Chop with lemon caper butter sauce, green beans and almonds

They also did justice to a 16 Oz. Veal Chop ($39), with lemon caper butter sauce, though green beans were dull. Kelly was not quite as enamored with the bone-in rib steak, proving once again that steaks ordered outside of steakhouses are an invariably risky proposition.

htz03.jpgWe were plenty full already, but as the whole meal was comped, we went ahead and ordered dessert. Kelly had heard wonderful things about the doughnuts, so she tried that. They came in a paper bag (why?), but they were soft, warm, and delicious. I ordered David Burke’s Cheesecake Lollipops, a justly famous dessert he brought with him from davidburke & donatella.

We didn’t order wine, but we had cocktails. I especially liked the Espresso Martini (Van Gogh espresso vodka, Kaluha, chilled espresso).

When we arrived, they initially had us seated at a noisy table near the bar, where we could barely hear ourselves talk. They had no problem moving us (there’s a whole upstairs area, which was mostly empty), but insisted at first that I would need to close out the tab for the cocktail I had ordered at the original table. They must have realized how classless that was, and a few minutes later the new server said that the tab would transfer after all.

Aside from that, the service was just fine, but I could have done without being addressed as “sweetie” or “honey” by the server. (She called Kelly that, too.)

Hawaiian Tropic Zone isn’t on my list of restaurants to return to. You’re never going to go too far wrong with a David Burke menu, but there are far more pleasant ways to spend an evening. We weren’t paying, but had it been on our dime, dinner would have been $203 including tax, before tip.

Hawaiian Tropic Zone (729 Seventh Avenue at 49th Street, Theater District)

Food: *
Service: *
Ambiance: Unpleasant, aside from the bikinis
Overall: *


Hawaiian Tropic Zone


Note: As of December 2010, Hawaiian Tropic Zone is closed. For a review of our second visit to Hawaiian Tropic Zone (yes, we did go twice), click here.


It was a Saturday night, and I was on my own. Where to dine? How about a place my girlfriend wouldn’t care for. Like Hawaiian Tropic Zone.

There isn’t much Hawaiian in Hawaiian Tropic Zone, except that the servers are all in bikinis. Twice nightly (6:30 p.m., 8:30 p.m.), they participate in mandatory beauty contests, with the restaurant’s patrons voting on the outcome. There’s a huge platform above the bar (see photo) where the girls strut their stuff. The winning server gets $100. Yesterday was St. Patrick’s Day, and most of the girls were in green bikinis.

When HTZ first opened, the local serving staff was supplemented with imports from nationwide beauty contests, who were brought to New York and boarded rent-free in “dorms.” None of those interlopers seemed to be on duty last night. My server, who’s from Buffalo, said she has worked at the restaurant since it opened last September. I thought she was easily the best-looking woman there, but she doesn’t have much enthusiasm for the nightly beauty pageants. “They make us do it,” she said. And then shrugged her shoulders.

htz_tina.jpgWhen I got home, I suddenly realized that I’d seen her photo before. A little bit of googling, and I found it: she was the one featured in a Grub Street post about four months ago. What’s it like working in a bikini every day? “The most common issue is men asking myself and other waitresses if their boobs are real, which puts you in an uncomfortable situation. Mine are, but a lot of the other girls’ aren’t!”

As far as the food goes, there wouldn’t be much to write about, except that a serious chef, David Burke, is in charge of the cuisine. Like a few other celebrity chefs, Burke has spread himself a little thin lately. His flagship restaurant, davidburke & donatella, is still tough to get into, but my last visit there was disappointing. Since DB&D, Burke has expanded to Bloomingdale’s, a Chicago steakhouse, and now the Times Square Hawaiian Tropic Zone. A clone of the Hawaiian Tropic Zone and another David Burke restaurant are announced for Las Vegas.

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BBQ Chicken Spring Rolls (left); Coriander Crusted Tuna (right)

The menu seems to be a mongrel, with no obvious theme that I can make out. BBQ Chicken Spring Rolls ($13) were lumpy and dull, but thanks to the accompanying barbecue sauce, were at least passable. Coriander Crusted Tuna ($32) was far more successful. The various accompaniments—vermicelli, peppers, scallions, napa cabbage, wasabi vinaigrette—seemed a lot more than were wanted, or needed.

The server recommended the Bikini Punch ($12), made with Bacardi White Rum, Cruzan Coconut Rum, lime juice, passion fruit juice, pineapple syrup, orange juice. It was a great suggestion, and I had two of those. Cocktails at HTZ are a generous size, so that was all I needed.

The décor at HTZ is glitzy and over-done. The clientele aren’t all men; to my surprise, I saw plenty of women dining there. There were tons of empty tables at 8:30 on a Saturday night, but my server said it is usually busier. It was St. Patrick’s Day. She speculated, “Maybe they’re all at the pub.” She wasn’t just a pretty face: service was excellent.

The mainstream critics have pretty much ignored Hawaiian Tropic Zone, except for Bob Lape of Crain’s New York Business, who awarded a rather generous two stars (PDF) in February. I find that Lape is usually about a star higher than all of the other critics, but I suspect HTZ wouldn’t even get one star from Bruni or Platt.

My visit coincided with one of the nightly beauty contests. The emcee said that the result would be tabulated in a half-hour or so, but when I left 45 minutes later, there was still no announcement. There’s also a nightly drawing, with Dinner for Two as the prize. I was the winner, so it looks like I’ll be coming back at least one more time.

Hawaiian Tropic Zone (729 Seventh Avenue at 49th Street, Theater District)

Food: *
Service: *
Ambiance: Vegas-lite
Overall: *



davidburke & donatella

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

Once upon a time, David Burke and Donatella Arpaia opened a hot little restaurant on the Upper East Side. They called it davidburke & donatella. The food was inventive and terrific. The space was noisy, but when the food was this good, who cared? It was packed every night. Flushed with success, Arpaia opened her own place in Soho (the undistinguished Ama). Burke took over the catering operation at nearby Bloomingdale’s, launched a steakhouse in Chicago, and started planning another in Manhattan.

With all of this extra-curricular activity going on, is anyone minding the store at the flagship restaurant that bears both their names? My experience last night suggests that one or both of them needs to start spending more time at East 61st St, ere DB&D becomes a sad caricature of itself. I still have fond memories of my first visit (eighteen months ago), but the restaurant is now misfiring.

This was a year-end celebratory dinner with two friends who live in Boston, but have been working in New York. We knew that the transit strike would make it difficult to get uptown, and my friends suggested that we cancel. However, I was determined to keep the date. We hailed a cab immediately, but the driver had first to drop off somebody else, which required a bit of a detour. In all, it was about a 90-minute trip from our TriBeCa office to the restaurant, more than double than normal. Exasperated with the traffic, we left our cab behind at 57th & Park, and walked the last five blocks. (FYI, taxis during the strike are charging per person by the number of fare zones crossed; we were charged $15 apiece — $5 times three zones.)

Transit strike notwithstanding, DB&D was fully booked. They graciously honored our reservation, although we were 40 minutes late. The noise level was just as I had remembered it: practically deafening. The server dropped off an amuse bouche, but we couldn’t hear his description of it. We were barely able to ascertain that it contained no pork (which my companions do not eat). It was a small pastry filled with some kind of tangy meat—but what?

The wonderful bread service that I wrote about last time remains the same. (“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.”)

My companions are identical twins, and they ordered identically. They started with grilled oysters, which they described as unpleasantly gooey, and left unfinished. I had the Scallops “Benedict” ($15). This was two fried egg yolks, each atop a scallop, atop a slice of bacon, atop a potato pancake: in short, about two ingredients too many; a promising idea run amok. The bacon was salty and tough, as if left over from breakfast the day before.

My companions did better than I for the main course. They had the Lobster “Steak” with curried shoestring potatoes ($40). They got an enormous helping of lobster, shaped like a fillet mignon, with which they were quite happy. Alas, I had no joy with the Halibut “T-Bone” ($38), which came with lobster dumplings that were both tough and gummy. The halibut was bland, and the portion was small.

Although the restaurant has been open just two years, there is already a section of the dessert menu labeled “DBD Classics,” from which we ordered. My companions shared the famous cheesecake lollipop tree ($16), while I had the coconut layer cake ($10). This was the only course that all of us found successful, and the only part of the meal that I’ll remember with any fondness.

David Burke was in the restaurant last night, but he was in civilian clothes, talking on his cell phone. He’s obviously not minding his kitchen, and he’s not minding his website either. Visit http://www.dbdrestaurant.com/, and you’ll be reminded that “Thanksgiving is just around the corner.” (It is Dec. 22 as I write this.) There are bugs in the site, and it takes several frustrating clicks to get to the online menu, which is outdated anyway. (The first click brings up David Burke’s spring recipies, instead of a menu. The second click brings up a section called “Our Little Nest.” Another click, and finally you see the menu.)

We wondered how difficult it would be to get a taxi home. Although there are plenty of taxis out, you can’t easily tell whether they’re available, because the meters aren’t running during the strike. As we were all rather full, we decided to walk off some of the calories, and see how far we got. In the end, we just kept walking. It was about two hours from 61st & Lex to John & Gold, or about 6-7 miles in 30-degree weather. But it was a lot more pleasant than sitting in a taxi.

As I observed last time, the tables at DB&D are packed as tightly as can be. Our table was near the front door, in front of the bar, and a long walk from the kitchen. Our server was pleasant and tried hard, but she was obviously very busy, and there were long stretches when we didn’t see her. I ordered a glass of wine to go with the appetizers. I would have ordered a second glass of wine, but by the time she re-appeared the meal was almost over, and I didn’t bother. They did manage to keep our water glasses replenished.

Marian Burros of the Times rated DB&D at two stars. On the strength of my first visit, I thought that the restaurant arguably deserved three. On the weakness of last night’s visit, it would earn only one. The bill for three was $228.50 before tax and tip, and there was only one alcoholic beverage (my glass of Riesling) in that amount. At these prices, DB&D needs to do better. For now, I would give the food two stars for good intentions, but only one for execution.

Food: *½
Service: *
Ambiance: *
Overall: *½


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)