Monday, June 13, 2011

David Burke Kitchen delights... until dessert

Last week marked my parents' 38th wedding anniversary (!!!), so to celebrate, we all went out to dinner at David Burke Kitchen in Soho. I'd heard good things about the new outpost of David Burke's empire, particularly about the desserts, so I was excited.

Despite the fact that it was empty when we arrived (literally-- we were the first group to be seated that evening, which is always awkward), the space is quite nice. It's subterranean but still full of light, bright and whimsically decorated.

We started off with a bottle of prosecco to toast the parents' achievements (the wine list skews quite pricy, so budget accordingly). This went well with the bread course, which offered a choice of sourdough, multigrain, or olive walnut bread-- as much as you could eat throughout the meal, courtesy of an obliging bread man. The olive bread was luxuriously studded with enormous olives and was delicious with the soft, spreadable butter. My only gripe was that they only provided one tiny dish of butter for the table of five (maybe two tablespoons total)-- upon request more arrived, of course, but still.

LOVE olive bread!

Then came the appetizers. Mom and Dad both ordered the market salad, which we'll get to later. The bro went for the lobster soup, which came first as a bowl of just the included lobster dumplings and associated garnishes. As the maitre d' placed the bowl on the table, he asked the bro if he'd like more soup; "Sure, a little more," D responded in slight confusion. Of course, then the soup was poured tableside from a teapot-looking contraption, the plan all along. Mad props to DBKitchen for punking my brother. Culinarily punking.

Ashton, is that you?

While the appetizers were appreciated, the entrees were even more successful. Mom went for a soft-shell crab special, which the waiter offered to prepare in an entree portion (it was designed as an appetizer). As a lover of soft-shell crabs, she loved this preparation, which is visually bizarre yet kind of cool.

Tentacles everywhere

Dad and LM went for the pork chop, a huge Flintstones chop crowned with a couple of gargantuan onion rings. I took a bite of LM's onion ring, and it was exemplary-- fluffily battered yet still sweet and toothsome. They both really enjoyed the pork chop, though they noted it was a bit on the fatty side. LM also ordered a well-received and visually quite pretty side order of basil whipped potatoes.

Crowning onion rings

Purty potatoes

The bro went for the short rib, which got crowned with a dollop of truffle cream tableside (guess he was all about the tableside preparations that night, eh?). Along with the accompanying cavatelli and wild mushrooms, the bro pronounced the shortribs perhaps "the best plate of food he's ever had." Cheers to that!


My choice was the same market salad Mom and Dad had had as an app. I got mine sans bacon, but it was still plenty interesting. It was a huge tangle of lightly dressed greens crowned with some translucently-thin shavings of what seemed to be pear; in the mix were roasted walnuts, caramelized dices of some sort of root vegetable (could easily have been potato or turnip), and a few large hunks of aged goat cheese. This was one of the more interestingly composed salads I've encountered-- a fine and satisfying balance of textures and flavors, and quite filling to boot.

Highly recommended

So the meal seemed to be on an upward trajectory, and given the raves I've heard about the desserts, I couldn't wait for the final showdown: dessert. We were all quite full at this point, so only Mom and LM got a real dessert (the chocolate caramel fudge cake), while I got an assortment of three of their ice creams.

The fudge cake went over well; it was pretty much just as you'd expect from the photo: chocolatey, cakey, pretty to look at. It got the job done.

Chocolate cake

But my ice creams-- for shame! This was, without a doubt, the worst ice cream I've ever had. And if you read this blog regularly, you'll know how much ice cream I eat and how much I love ice creams and frozen treats of all kinds. All three flavors here-- vanilla, cajeta (goat's milk caramel), and chocolate-- were atrocious. Icy, thin, flavorless, not rich at all: it tasted like eating ice with a bit of skim milk poured over it. The texture was all wrong. The flavor was all wrong. I took a couple bites, and once I realized what was going on, I did the unthinkable: I stopped. Not sure if this is sad or not, but this is the first and only time I've ever stopped eating a dessert a few bites in because it was terrible and simply not worth the calories (even at Scarpetta, when I should have stopped, I didn't.) It's just such a puzzler, because it's not difficult to make delicious ice cream, and if you can't, just order it from any of the many fantastic companies that deliver to restaurants (Il Laboratorio del Gelato, anyone?). Also, on a completely separate note, it's a little disappointing for an ice cream dessert preparation at an upscale restaurant to come with no garnishes or fun add-ons (whipped cream, cookie garnishes, anything); given that the ice cream was so vile it didn't matter, but had it been delicious the three small shot glasses of plain ice cream still would have been somewhat disappointing.


Anyway, dessert screed over. Aside from that, the rest of the evening was pitch-perfect-- food was delicious, space enjoyable, and service prompt and friendly and everything you could ask for. In the right context and with a much improved ice cream service, DBKitchen could be pushing five spatulas. As it was, it landed at a low four, providing a memorably delicious evening to most of the party and unfortunately only truly disappointing the reviewer.

David Burke Kitchen
23 Grand Street at 6th Avenue

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