Friday, April 25, 2008

Dinner at David Burke and Donatella

David Burke and Donatella [Arpaia] ( is actually one of my favorite restaurants in Manhattan, so it's a little surprising that I haven't written about it before. The space is lovely, and the food is superb. I think they still have a smoking limo (a white stretch that sits outside the restaurant for smokers as smoking is banned in small restaurants in NYC), although it might only be a winter thing. It is also one of the best values I've found for food of this quality, with a 3-course prix fixe dinner for $55 (supplements for certain items). They also have a 5-course tasting menu that changes pretty often (every week or two I think) for $75. It's also a pretty good place for a walk-in if you're not going during peak hours.

Tonight's review will be of the 5-course tasting menu that I just had, but since this menu is not on their website, I might miss out on certain ingredients/flavors in my descriptions.

Atmosphere and service: Like I said, the space is lovely, but I usually go as a walk-in during off-peak hours, so I don't really know how the buzz is when the restaurant is busy. Service is as expected for a restaurant of this quality, and they've been even friendlier since I've been there more frequently of late. I even got to meet the chef today.


First course was a hamachi carpaccio. I've had similar variations of this dish before at different places, usually with a lot of citrus and garnishes to provide texture. This one came with pineapple sorbet in fact, and the overall mix was quite nice. This isn't a dish where the fish flavor really stands out, but it's quite refreshing and makes a great starter for the spring season.

Next came their take on the spider roll (soft shelled crab tempura maki). This was a fried soft shelled crab wrapped in brioche with some asparagus and avocado, and fried again. This dish was surprisingly light given that description, with a little mango salad to help cut into the fried goodness. The portions of crab were quite sizeable.

The next course was my favorite of the night. It's a perfect example of how Gordon Ramsay was explaining to a younger chef on an episode of Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares (UK) about how Michelin stars and AA rosettes are won with dishes that are simpler, with 3 or 4 tastes, instead of trying to confuse the palate with too many flavors. It was a baby halibut T-bone, simply grilled yet the flesh was so tender and flaky it felt like it was steamed (cantonese style). This was served with an asparagus couscous and a dashi-mushroom broth. Fragrant, simple, delicious, well-cooked food.

The main meat course was a surf and turf, with some simple lamb and fried scallop. This dish was solid, with great flavor in the produce, but I was still savoring the previous course.

The dessert was more like two courses in itself, with a tasting which included a fruit tart, a coconut macaroon, and a fig ice cream as well as petit fours that was actually about petit sixteens. The petit fours are presented in a cute little oven toy/prop, which is what petit four actually stands for in French (small oven). Dessert was tasty and completed the very true-to-spring menu.

This was a beautifully crafted spring menu with bright colors and bright flavors. I definitely recommend this restaurant in general, but especially suggest trying to get there before they change this tasting menu. Then again, your opinions could be different from mine.

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