Entries in David Burke & Donatella (3)


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


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)