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Review: Davidburke & Donatella

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davidburke & donatella
133 E 61st St
New York, NY 10021
Between Park Avenue and Lexington Avenue
Phone: (212) 813-2121

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Orlando? Lovely. Mr. Chu? A blast and I'll take three. Ms. Donatella? Well ...

There was something ominous about the white 20-foot stretch Ford Explorer being prepared for the evening's smokers in front of the restaurant that should have clued us in. We ignored this and made it past the well-appointed gentlemen whose only purpose (it seemed) was to inquire as to one's business at davidburke & donatella that evening then promptly shut the door behind you:

"Do you have a reservation, sir?"

"uh ... yeah?"

"Very well then."

In fact, a few minutes after we were allowed entry, a handsome, yet sadly reservationless, couple was turned away at the door. A word to the chowhound wise: No rez? Don't even think about having a drink at the bar, yo.

After being efficiently checked in by a gaggle of front-room staff, we were told to wait.

And wait we did.

Be prepared to wait, Chowhounds. Wait until you can no longer stand the conversations about P&L and P/E ratios that you -- due to rather unfortunate circumstances of forced proximity at the overly crowded bar -- are eavesdropping on. Wait until you are offered then you politely decline a seat next to the bar (ugh). Wait until you are proffered not one, but two most likely inadvertent yet surly stares by - lucky us - Ms. Donatella Herself (who in all fairness, seemed extremely harried and out of her league in a restaurant this busy...hmm ... *is* that fair?). Finally, wait until your dining partner finally describes the packed-in milieu of agitated waiters (and I mean the people *waiting* long, long past their reservation for a table) as "sh*t that got f*ed up."

Saving grace: At the bar we were served two amuse bouches by an apparently sympathetic Chef David Burke: Puff pastry with a dollop of pureed salmon topped with radish and chives and another puff pastry filled with goat cheese topped with a single breaded and fried muscato grape and pieced by a bamboo skewer.

Since I am not a fan of salmon, I won't comment on the first amuse, but it seemed the second might bode well for the meal at hand: The sweet (yet not overly cloying - take that, CitySearch!) breaded and fried muscato grape posed an excellent contrast to the piquant goat cheese. This, in spite of an overly churlish and somewhat stale puff pastry.

Exactly one hour and 5 minutes after arriving for -- what I thought would be -- an early and fairly easy to seat 7PM reservation, we were seated in a davidburke-and-donatella-described "beautiful" corner banquette.

No complaints. It actually was quite lovely.

The decor is uber-neat: A kind of hip Elle Decor/Chinese/hints of egg/Upper East Side town house/padded white-leather walls thing.

From the moment we sat, the service was impeccable and attentive yet not sycophantic. The items on the interestingly handwritten tasting and specials menu and the regular menu were patiently explained by staff that, to a tee, seemed extremely knowledgeable and well prepared.

After spending a few minutes to peruse the menu, I chose an appetizer of warmed Kumamoto oysters with watercress puree, fried lotus root and lobster glaze with a side of three seaweed buttered toast and an entree of braised short ribs and jumbo shrimp over drizzled polenta.

The lovingly-plated appetizer was rather decadently served on a large bed of whole peppercorns, yet was only moderately tasty, barely rescued by the large pieces of diced lobster inserted in abundance within the shells of the oysters. Warning: Beware the errant peppercorn. I had the accidental pleasure of biting down on one of these "black pearls" while eating an oyster. Yikes!

The huge portion of the rather trendy braised short ribs (tell me: who doesn't serve s.r.'s now in Manhattan?) was nothing short of delectable in a wonderful Mirepoix sauce and a garnish of frizzled onions. The accompanying shrimp were corpulent and perfectly cooked while the polenta was velvety.

My dining partner decided upon the signature appetizer of scallops with quail egg and chorizo topped with a lobster foam appetizer and an entree of pasta with mushrooms with a side of mushroom chips.

While I appreciate the element of fun in Chef Burke's presentation of his admittedly delicious signature appetizer, the lobster foam barely registered on the palate, leaving the chorizo to do all the work. This seems like a cheat, and would have been more appropriate for service at brunch. The scallops, however, were perfectly prepared.

The pasta with mushrooms was, as with the appetizer, quite delicious, yet left something to be desired within the context of Chef Burke's half-hearted attempts at experimental plating and ingredient pairing. I would like to see greater editorial consistency across his dishes; either experiment or don't, but don't leave your patrons stranded on islands of boredom among more interesting dishes like the oysters or angry lobster.

A highlight was the selection of mushroom chips served along with this dish. I wish I could have taken a bag home with me!

Our shared cheesecake lollipop dessert was served as a fun, silver-plated tree with an abundance of flavored cheesecake lollipops, raspberries, and fresh mint forming branches and leaves. A healthy dollop of bubblegum (my dining partner exclaimed "Bazooka Joe!") flavored whipped cream was served in a separate dish. This was an entertaining and witty end to an inconsistent meal.

Overview:
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1) Taste Factor: certainly some high points, but only on the "easy" dishes
2) Plating Factor: eh.
3) Service Factor: Polite, efficient, yet a surly subtext, but that could be the second Belvedere and soda talking. Good pacing. Orlando was the only one who was able to muster up a smile, god bless'm.
4) Return Factor: no way, Jose
5) Price factor: $80pp
6) Cheese Factor (If you have to ask...): Some B&T, botox, a few "Wildensteins", and white leather (on people, not walls), but OK overall. Oh wait; there was that white stretch Ford Explorer "Exclusive Smoking Room" parked out front. Bachlorette Par-tay! I'm buying!

Link: http://newyork.citysearch.com/profile...

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  1. Superb review! I don't live in NYC and I rarely get there, but I'm glad I read this.

    Also, even a mere provincial like me knows all about "The Bride of Wildenstein." Great reference!

    1. Excellent review. I would love to check out a similar spot, so if anyone has any ideas, I'd love to hear 'em!

      1. We'd been thinking about going there recently. Went to 11 Madison instead. It sounds like we made a good decision. I have a feeling that I enjoyed reading your review more than I would have enjoyed dining there. That stretch ford explorer. yikes.

        1. I had been thinking about trying it but my aversion to the UES has kept me hesitating. It sounds like my fears were well-founded. Just what I would expect in that zip code. Thanks for the warning.

          1 Reply
          1. re: rrems

            Just thought I'd point out that the review above is from more than 3 years ago. While I love keeping old threads alive - and while I don't feel that the OP's observations are altogether inaccurate given my recent DB&D experiences - I'd be hesitant to hail such an outdated review as the final word on a restaurant that has an undeniably solid culinary pedigree.

          2. Thanks, Caljack, I didn't notice that. But even if the food is consistently good, it just seems to me that the food couldn't be so utterly fabulous as to make up for the other unpleasantness the original poster encountered, and I wonder if the attitude could have changed that much for the better.