Monday, February 7, 2011

A Whimsical Journey at David Burke Townhouse

Twice a year in most major American cities Restaurant Week comes to town.  Over the years, in the various cities in which I've lived, I have looked forward to this event in culinary frugality :)  There are highs and lows.  In New York, reservations book very fast for the most popular restaurants.  Celia (from Cookbook Archaeology) and I were able to snag some lunch reservations at David Burke Townhouse last week.  In addition to RW (Restaurant Week), David Burke Townhouse also has a lunch prix-fixe menu throughout the year, so you can take advantage of this wonderful deal (with limited choices) year round.  A lot of the complaints I've heard about RW in general, is that most restaurants create a completely unique menu for the occasion, which is not as special as it sounds.  These menus are created generally to keep food costs low, and make food production easier on the kitchen staff, whereas most people are partaking in RW to discover new restaurants.

If you had a restaurant, wouldn't you want to put your best food forward instead of offering a second-rate menu?  Well, David Burke Townhouse is one that I've found that offers options off their regular menu for RW (and their year round prix-fixe).  They even make their daily specials available for inclusion.  Some of the more expensive menu items come with a supplemental fee in addition to the prix-fixe price, but at least diners are given many choices instead of just a few mediocre ones.  For what it's worth, I think David Burke Townhouse is one of the best RW options in NY for this reason and others.

Before even delving into the food, some respect must be paid to the ambiance at David Burke Townhouse.  It is playful and whimsical with brightly colored balloons hanging in the hallway and lots of unique artwork and blown glass decorating the walls.  This is a fine dining establishment that doesn't appear to take itself too seriously, and yet everything is clearly intended to reflect the innovative menu that David Burke has created.  It's like a refined palate's trip back to childhood.  During our dessert, for example, I joked that I had reverted back to my 9-year-old self... in the best possible way :)

The specials menu (love the drawings!)
We were served hot crusty rolls and a beautiful arrangement of butter topped with coarse salt.  I loved the presentation, and the dark salt on top of the butter added a touch of color, texture, and delicious flavor.  Very unique butter presentation, indeed.  To drink, I ordered an iced tea, and was a bit surprised when I saw a bottle of Republic Darjeeling: The Champagne of Teas.  I expected a home-brewed version, but this was fine with me.  They served it with a variety of sweeteners including a small pitcher of simple syrup.  I also appreciate that my glass was repeatedly filled with iced tea from the bottle without my realization.  I didn't even notice someone come over and refill it... they are super stealth here!  The iced tea's price is pretty stealth too.  It wasn't until we got the bill that I discovered it was $8!  I should have expected so much.  Note to self, next time if I'm gonna "splurge" on a drink, there better be alcohol in it.

Butter with coarse salt

Iced Tea $8

Celia and I both chose appetizers that incurred a supplementary charge in addition to the regular prix-fixe price.  We just couldn't resist :)  As I stated, they are available on their regular menu (and quite popular) so I will share the regular prices for the record.  Celia selected the pretzel crusted crabcake and sweet chili prawn with tomato orange chutney and poppy seed honey.  I imagined it would have crushed pretzels as the crust, but instead it was crusted in pretzel rods lined in rows!  The pretzels had softened slightly in the cooking process, but still had a bit of a bite to them, and overall the dish was presented beautifully and was well-balanced with its salty-sweet-crunchy-soft contrasts.

Pretzel Crusted Crabcake and Sweet Chili Prawn - tomato orange chutney and poppy seed honey $16 at lunch / $18 at dinner

Side view
For my appetizer, I simply couldn't resist the parfait of big eye tuna and salmon tartares.  It was a generous portion (much bigger than expected), plated in a perfect cylinder, topped with crème friache, thin gaufrette potato tuiles, and served with small round toasts and three different sauces: spicy mayonnaise, cilantro pesto, and soy glaze.  I piled the tartares high on the little toasts and spooned the various sauces on top.  When I ran out of toasts, I happily shoveled the fresh tartares directly into my mouth via spoon.  Not only were both fishes super fresh, they were seasoned perfectly, and accompanied by sauces that complimented them well.  The crème friache added creaminess, while the mayo was lightly spiced and almost mustardy.  The cilantro pesto was more of a cilantro oil and added a touch of richness and herb flavor, and finally the soy glaze was tangy and thick and spun the tartares in a more Asian direction.  Absolute bliss.  Do order this.  You will not regret it.

Parfait of Big Eye Tuna and Salmon Tartares - crème friache, soy glaze, spicy mayonnaise, cilantro pesto $16 at lunch / $18 at dinner

Photo from dinner menu at

For her entrée, Celia chose the Scottish salmon, which was served over a bed of celery root puree, thumbelina carrots, porcini mushrooms, and artichokes.  The melange of vegetables were an excellent socle for the nicely seasoned, tender piece of salmon.  It was a colorful and flavorful dish.

Scottish Salmon - celery root, thumbelina carrots, porcini, artichokes and red pepper froth $22 at lunch / $29 at dinner

I struggled to select my entrée, and ended up choosing one of the specials, Berkshire pork osso bucco with Israeli couscous, oven-dried tomatoes, and coconut foam.  It just sounded so unusual that I couldn't resist checking it out!  Osso bucco is traditionally made with veal shank and served over risotto Milanese, so this was a diversion from the original on many fronts.  The pork was incredibly tender and unctuous, easily falling off the bone.  The bed of Israeli cousous was, on the other hand, al dente, adding a toothsome element to the dish.  I was unsure how the coconut foam would play into this creation, but it was surprisingly light and fresh and didn't overwhelm the other components whatsoever.  This was a really fun take on a dish that has been prepared basically the same way in countless restaurants (and homes) before.  Another example of David Burke's ability to take the foods we are comfortable and familiar with, and present them in ways we've never seen before.

Berkshire Pork Osso Bucco - Israeli couscous, oven-dried tomatoes, coconut foam $28 at lunch

For dessert we had the option of each selecting our own dessert, or sharing the one we both really wanted.  I think we made the obvious choice... sharing the famous cheesecake lollipop tree.  Yes.  I said CHEESECAKE LOLLIPOP TREE.  It's a tree.  With cheesecake lollipops.  And bubblegum whipped cream.  Really good cheesecake is scooped into balls and pierced with lollipop sticks and then coated with various melted chocolates and toppings to create 3 unique flavors. Cherry Pink Cashmere (half white and half pink) is dipped in pistachio crunchies and sun-dried cherries.  Three-Chocolate Tuxedo is dipped in white, milk and dark chocolate, then dipped in peanut crunchies and Reese’s Peanut Butter pieces.  Toffee Top Hat has a milk chocolate coating dipped in dark chocolate crunchies and ground up Score candy bars.  Bubblegum whipped cream adds to the nostalgic experience reminding diners of Blow-Pops (lollipop with bubblegum in the middle), but in a much more delicious, creamy, tangy, and refined food-on-a-stick alternative.  These are amazing.  Not only is the presentation creative and fun, the entire concept is unique, and all of the flavors are addictive.  I'll trade regular lollipops for these cheesecake ones anytime!

Cheesecake Lollipop Tree - bubblegum whipped cream and raspberries $18

Photo from dessert menu at

Toffee Top Hat Cheesecake Lollipop

Cherry Pink Cashmere Cheesecake Lollipop

Three-Chocolate Tuxedo Cheesecake Lollipop

After my not-so-great Providence RW experience recently, my visit to David Burke Townhouse was a breath of fresh air.  I had always known that the New American cuisine at this restaurant was far more innovative than others of the same genre, and I experienced it first hand when I finally got to visit.  Stepping into the restaurant space, I knew I was in another world, one created by David Burke to set the mood for his playful fare.  Service was consistent and "stealth" when it needed to be.  Although my iced tea was a shock at $8, and I ended up spending way more than planned, selecting dishes with supplemental fees and tipping generously, this was honestly one of the most exciting and unique meals I've had in a while.  A prix-fixe menu is offered year round for lunch, and even without it, the lunch prices are comparable to those I'd expect for similar dishes elsewhere.  At dinner, the prices are "bigger," but I have a feeling the portions are too.  Come to David Burke Townhouse for a whimsical culinary adventure, and don't forget to order the cheesecake lollipops :)


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