PrettyFood & Attitude: DavidBurke & Donatella

“She sits at the Ritz with her splits of mums

and starts to pine for a stein with her village chums

but with her shlitz in her mits down in Fitzroy’s bar

she thinks of the Ritz–oh

It’s so schitzo!”

– Stephen Sondheim, “Uptown/Downtown” cut from “Follies”

The uptown-downtown dynamic in New York is palpable. Never before have I considered myself a downtown guy, but surely I’m not an Uptown Girl. Chelsea (where I live) seems a perfect mix of the two: you have men in suits riding up and down the elevators, but you also have facial piercings, pink hair and tattoos (don’t show your mother). Chelsea is a fusion of uptown and downtown, but mostly downtown and I think that’s why I like it.

Uptown, of course, there can be manifestations of the downtown edge. Like performance artists in Central Park or the challenging Broadway show, uptown maintains some sense of integrity. But, of course, delegates at the RNC stayed uptown, and protesters lived downtown. My parents who arrived Thursday night and are staying uptown were hassled by a protester standing outside their hotel yelling: “Goodbye Republicans! Time to go home!”

DavidBurke & Donatella is located on the Upper East Side and I always imagined it as a bastion of downtown cool in a sea of uptown slickness. The promise of “angry lobster” on a bed of nails and a white limo parked outside for smokers seemed strokes of downtown genius. And in many ways the food was genius. But, sadly, it was the uptown slickness that dominated and made our meal a little less than cozy. Dreams were shattered last night at DavidBurke & Donatella.


Two quick things in their defense:

1) We made our reservation at the last minute and they accomodated us.

2) We urged them to change our 9:30 timeslot (very late for us for dinner) to something earlier and they accomodated us again with a 9 pm bump. We owed them thirty minutes of gratitude.

But then there was our table. Our table sucked. A tight round table in a corner (“No one puts baby in a corner”) by the stairs beneath the bar and away from the main room where the VIPs ate. The main room looked lush and exciting. Our room was rather drab. Dad was pinned to a wall by the stairs and I was sandwiched between a column and the bussing station. Mom looked shadowy in the darkened slot she squeezed herself in.

Mom then, of course, pestered the hostess for a table change and the hostess was a bit condescending and told us it would be more than an hour. Strangely, a pair of women who entered without a reservation were led to the main room right away. A Studio 54 appetizer, anyone?

Good news, though, loyal readers of this site. For those that wonder why it is that I photograph every course of every meal I eat and post it up here, the reason is that I believe the visual component to be one of the essential components of the meal. This isn’t novel: chefs spend a great deal of time on plating. And, therefore, I feel like I get to share–vicariously–an essential aspect of our dining experience with you. It’s like you’re right there with us.

But the good news here is that the plating was the star component of our meal. A freak show of novelties made their way across the table, and so what if the tastes were unexceptional (everything tasted fine, but nothing moved us to tears)—everything looked beautiful.

Look how the bread is served—a pop-over in a mini-copper skillet:


An amuse bouche of mashed chickpeas, yogurt and mint:


Tuna and salmon tartare:


Angry lobster on a bed of nails: (click to see it bigger) (and here the flavor was extraordinary):


And my personal favorite in terms of presentation: scrambled eggs with lobster, creme fraiche and caviar served in a broken OSTRICH EGG on a sea of peppercorns:


(Do you think they recycle the peppercorns? That’s so wasteful!)

(But this was definitely the best appetizer in terms of flavor–we all fought over it.)

As for entrees, I had the duck:


Mom had the lambchops:


Dad had the salmon:


All of which were fine but nothing becoming their revered status or hefty price. I wonder if DavidBurke was away for Labor Day? Maybe Donatella has a cold.

The desserts were, though, quite beautiful.

Mom had something with chocolate and marshmallows:


And I had the butterscotch panna cotta voted one of the city’s best desserts in New York Magazine:


Delicious, true, but nauseatingly sweet. I couldn’t finish it and I love dessert.

By this time of the night, the bar was teeming with leery gray-haired men and buxom plasticized blondes yapping loudly. At a table around the corner a woman threw back her head in laughter: “HAR HAR HAR HAR.” The bus station (which was right over my shoulder) allowed for me to pick up sly comments from the waiter complaining about the guests to the bus boy. The two hostesses looked like they hated each other. A woman at the bar on the tier above us held her drink precariously over mom’s head. Dad paid the check and we left.

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