Thursday, March 10, 2011

David Burke Townhouse: Let's Get Past the Whimsy

I'll be honest, David Burke Townhouse on the Upper East Side is not a restaurant I would choose on my own. Every review I've ever read about Burke's cooking uses the terms "whimsical" and "playful," not the first adjectives that come to mind when I'm deciding where to eat for dinner (I prefer "meat-laden" or "marrow filled"). But I'm always game, so last weekend, at Future Partner's (FP) suggestion, we found ourselves hustling for a black car after seemingly every cab on our stretch of 6th Avenue was taken. I showcased my haggling skills, and soon we were heading up Park Avenue.

Arriving at the restaurant we were immediately led down two short flights of stairs to a cherry-colored banquette in the corner of the main dining room. Flanked by two tall mirrors, and a dominating fireplace, Townhouse was brightly lit and loud, but not overbearingly so, and overall very comfortable.

While we decided on cocktails, we were presented with a celery root soup amuse bouche with black truffle foam. A rich start to an even richer meal.

A special appetizer of milk "peed" (I swear I'm not crazy, the menu said peed) baby pork belly with polenta and paprika jus featured quite possibly the single highest quality piece of pork belly I've ever eaten. The polenta was lukewarm (as it tends to be), but the belly was so good I can forgive that minor issue. I think I chose wisely after vacillating between the pork belly and a pastrami salmon appetizer.

Crisp and Angry Lobster was a minor letdown. The crust of the split lobster was a deep reddish brown, but in obtaining such a crust, the rest of the lobster almost by necessity is overcooked. I tasted paprika in the crust, but now doubt my otherwise impeccable taste memory in the face of a menu description of  "basil lemon chili sauce." Dressed as nicely as we were, I don't think either of us were fully prepared for the digging that was clearly necessary to obtain the juiciest meat.

My entree, "Duck duck duck" featured a confit duck thigh, seared duck breast and foie gras dumpling over mustard cabbage with celery root and a cranberry marmalade. Again, a high quality protein cooked perfectly. I couldn't ask for more in a duck dish. The confit thigh was absolutely perfect-- gone from my plate within a few minutes.

FP ordered braised short rib with handmade cavatelli topped with wild mushrooms, mushroom chips and a truffle mousse added tableside. I only had a couple of bites at dinner, but got to finish it a few days later (thanks to FP for booking a hotel room without a fridge). Usually a dish such as this can be overkill (or even boring), but each individual element retained it's integrity while complimenting the dish as a whole.

We also got an order of tempura fried green beans. They were fine, but as focused as we were on our entrees, we barely touched them.

Dessert involved warm drunken donuts (I was also kind of drunk at this point). I purposely punctured the donut holes until one of the three sauces-- salted caramel, milk chocolate Bailey's and strawberry daquiri-- oozed out of the balls (sorry) and onto our tablecloth. Sadly, we couldn't even finish these, and a few drooped forlornly as I leaned back in my booth seat, utterly content.

I was very impressed by David Burke Townhouse, but I'm not sure if that's a function of my expectations or because I had a truly great meal, though it was likely the latter (now I'm intrigued by his new restaurant Fishtail). While David Burke's food may have had a touch of whimsy (a word that's meaningless to anyone over eight years old), no "gimmick" overwhelmed what was on the plate, and I was ultimately swayed by well-executed dishes in a comfortable (and mildly playful) setting. 

133 E. 61st St
New York, NY 10065
(212) 813-2121

David Burke Townhouse on Urbanspoon


  1. You should've mentioned the milk "peed" veal to your server. Maybe they would've at least cracked a smile unlike the one at Dean Street.

    Also, I'm disappointed that you didn't create a "whimsy" tag, just for this meal.

  2. God. My dinner choices in this hellhole? Applebee's or Cracker Barrel. Take your pick. You guys are killing me...

  3. Steve- I hope they would at least have given me a playful/witty/whimsical answer.

    Katie- I've been there, which makes me appreciate it even more.

  4. I went to dinner with FP last night and she chose Houston's followed by a viewing of Red Riding Hood, both were huge FAILS!!

  5. @ Jonathan: WRONG! I chose Hall Pass (which was sold out) and your better half chose Houston's. While you are correct with your movie review, I seem to recall not hearing any complaints about the food over your gnawing on the rib bones across the table. :)

  6. Ouch. Holli would choose Houston's. This is all so relevant to my DB Townhouse post...

  7. I like his former resto Burke and Donatella too! Glad he came back strong, always good to hear.