Friday, August 17, 2012

Chef David Burke's Kitchen has a Treehouse Bar

Chef David Burke reigns over his Kitchen Treehouse Urban Garden 

Why go out to eat? 
Especially when so many of the leading foodie fingers are pointing gastronomy lovers to the homegrown taste and health benefits of meal fixings made at home. 
And then there is that pesky saving money thing.

You can have it both ways....

There is surely a magical check list of bountiful reasons to dine out that we all hold dear, not the least of which includes, extraordinary who’d-of-thought-to-put-these-flavors-together recipes; superlative, eye-rolling-humming-heavenly taste sensations, along with the charming, seductive ambience that can turn a date or a milestone celebration or business exchange into a memorable feast.
With a discerning wink, a practiced authority, and rivers of irrepressible discovery – it can be an unforgettable event. 
And of course, a dedication to using local, homegrown ingredients.

Or, one can take that list, reduce it to a simple moniker: Chef David Burke and pocket an outsize culinary bonanza.

Long touted as one of the culinary constellation’s most whimsical geniuses, James Beard Award Winner, Chef David, is that singular, shining star: a true thought leader and innovator, who has more talent than three front lines at CIA restaurant Escoffier – or soon-to-be Bocuse, or any line up of Top Chefs or any other culinary-cued reference point.

Yup. Chef David can’t seem to contain his creativity. It oozes out into so many design-fueled channels at his restaurants, including interior design, garden design, decorating, products, cooking techniques via his “culinology:” the approach described as one that blends food technology, food science and the culinary arts.  
And of course, his over the rainbow menu creations.

Albeit fearless yet modest and so down to earth, (he’s like your irrepressible brother or favorite cousin) one can’t help but think he surely must have his head in the clouds to come up with all this sensuous fantasy spun around the art of dining.

This abundance of the unexpected makes your head spin. In a good way.

I have reviewed chef David Burke’s Rumson restaurant in the Garden State where chef launched his cooking career and the opening of David Burke Kitchen at the St. James in SoHo. 

The unveiling of the new Treehouse Bar and the updated Urban Garden was the cause celebre for the recent Chef’s Table dinner with Chef David, two of his team: the urbane Joel Ehrlich and master manager, Sheila Azadan, and select food and drink journalists, including me!
I was delightfully surprised the evening was in fact, an intimate food celebration. 

Up a flight of stairs, one is greeting by the dazzling rooftop Urban Garden and just like a movie set tableau, there is eye candy all around – full of textures: gleaming glassware, white tablecloths, Chef Burke-designed tree branch chairs and tables, curtained alcoves that look just made for canoodling, and pots and planters brimming with happy, twirling vines and surprise: herbs and vegetables such as broccoli.  

This Urban Garden is like Shoots & Ladders for the cosmopolitan!  

Set above a center courtyard visible below, the Urban Garden wraps and weaves its meandering vistas all the way up to the Treehouse, laden with mystery and surprise.

Over there is the outside bar. 
Farther back is a chef’s table under a white tent, all set for a corporate party.  Lucky.
There is a massage tent where one can indulge pre-dinner.  No joke!
And a rowboat.   
Another set design for Chef David’s creative genius: he often strings clams or lobsters to create a seafood fantasy.  Right there on the roof.
This is not like some West Side Story; rather the look is cool, downtown chic. And a perfect vantage point to take in the neighborhood scene.
Or make one of your own.

This is so romantic. And whimsical.  
There is something deliciously forbidden about being in a fantasy that is neither here nor there – not city, not garden retreat, but all that and more. 
This is a top rate garden design.  

A few more steps up to the Treehouse Bar pinnacle where croquet awaits, plus another bar is perched there, with tall tables, that are ideal for cocktails and “Bites,” as Chef David refers to his cornucopia of hors d’oeuvres.

Friendly wait staff passed the Bites, eliciting more oohs and ahhs than a Tiffany window display, while patiently answering the foodie guests’ staccato query of “What IS this?” while trying each success wonder.  


The full Bite list deserves to be showcased. 
It is a Sisyphean task to recommend one or two as outstanding.
Why try, when there is a plethora of over-the-top Bites that deserve tasting. Often. 
Chef clearly knows how to thrill his guests and that culinary talent should not go the way of a mere mention.  

Tuna Tartare Tacos; Whipped avocado/ tobiko caviar
Maple Bacon Dates: corn flake crusted port wine grapes
Foie Gras Panna Cotta: mango/blueberry beet gelee
Gazpacho: summer squash/chipotle lime cream
Deviled Quail Eggs: American caviar
Grilled Bison Kebobs: pineapple

Everyone was delightfully satiated. 
But wait, there was dinner.
In the Kitchen’s rustic dining room, fronting the real kitchen. (There was threat of rain later, so management wisely determined inside. Nice to have the choice!)

Seated family style at one long table the food journalists and David Burke team settled into an epicurean adventure. 
It can be said that food writers can be inured, or even snarky when it comes to food tastings – after all, they’ve been there; done that a lot.
Not this night. 
Everyone was like a kid at a really good friend’s birthday party.  

And the food just kept arriving.  And the wine flowed. 
Chef David does it all

Strikingly tasty are the two, non-alcoholic waters David also created via a partnership with 12NtM.  It is fantastic! Like a pisco, or a peppermint, citrus iced tea with lemonade and raspberry or… it is difficult to characterize because there is so much flavor.  It can be a cocktail mixer too.  A glass is just 60 calories for eight ounces.
Mayor Bloomberg need not fret about high fructose corn syrup sodas for citizen of Gotham. 
Chef David shared with us that in fact; Hizzoner did give the drink his two thumbs up. The drinks are available at Burke’s portfolio of New York restaurants and also at gourmet retailers in town, including Whole Foods.

Chef’s Amuse Bouche 
Warm Oysters- pickled watermelon rind/duck salad/red currants.

Do not miss this.  It’s textures and balance of hot and cold is considered.

First Course
Asparagus & Buratta Salad: watermelon/basil/tomato vinaigrette  
Calamari Peas & Carrots: jalapeno/ginger orange vinaigrette

Second Course
Angry Octopus: white beans/chorizo/basil
Pan Roasted Scallops: crisp pork belly/summer succotash

The Angry Octopus is a riff on Chef David ever-popular Angry Lobster.  The octopus dish is pure genius; fiery hot with red cayenne, crisp, and nicely complemented with the smooth beans and tasty chorizo and pickled radish.  This is a must have.
Angry octopus & chorizo

Entrée Course
Slow Roasted Peach BBQ Duck: pistachio duck sausage/grilled peaches/sugar snap peas/golden beet

The sweet and savory flavors and textures combined for an overall taste that rockets the palate.  No one can make this at home…

The presentation of the dishes was suburb.  Chef David knows the “eyes eat first” and every serving was constructed like a work of art:  too pretty to eat.  Nawww!


When dessert was presented, it was just like the fireworks display at the end – just when you think you’ve seen it all or couldn’t possibly see another fantasia, there is another clutch your heart moment that sends one reeling.

Pastry Chef Zac Young
The five confections made by the just-installed, former Top Chef pastry chef, Zac Young left the foodie table giddy.  
The disco blueberries best captured the imagination and fizzy playfulness of the evening’s charm and Chef David’s trademark style. 
In fact, Chef David said these are what got Zac the job. 
Kudos.  This is better than any ol’Studio 54 to be sure!   

The other outstanding, wildly inventive creations were cool, refreshing, and just this side of nirvana:
Frozen Arnold Palmer: sweet tea semifreddo/lemon granita/candied wild mint
Key Lime Pie: roasted local strawberry compote/blackberry sorbet
Farmer Zac’s Passion Fruit Cream Eggs: crème fraiche panna cotta/passion yoke/disco blueberries. (secret is Luster Dust).  Great on ice cream and Greek yogurt next day too. See, everyone asked for a take away of these bejeweled blue balls
Toffee Monkey Bread: banana caramel/whipped cream/maple pecan ice cream
Cheesecake Lollipops: passion fruit whipped cream  

The coffee was made in Chef David’s Rube Golberg-like contraption that is exquisite to capture, while brewing. It is nothing short of mesmerizing or intoxicating.
And yet another way that Chef David captures the routine and turns it all around to make theater of the usual.  Salute.

Most of the guests were pleading for it all to stop by this point.  Not really. 
Surprisingly, I was not filled to the gills, but rather, was in what quite possibly could be a catatonic state of food bliss.  See what good food can do!!

Add World’s Best Host, to Chef David’s list of honorifics.

The final, over the top gesture was the swag bag Sheila bestowed.  Like any kid, we eagerly perused the goodies:  One of Chef David’s Cookbooks – he has published several.  I received David Burke's New American Classics 
This cookbook is terrific – the format is so creative, naturally. 
There is Chef David’s rendering or updating of a classic American recipe, followed by his Contemporary or updated recipe, followed by a “Second Day Dish” er, Leftover recipe.
Having already made the Meatloaf Bundt Cake with poppy seed croissant topping, there aren’t any real leftovers to speak of. 
Same was true for the Pretzel-Onion Crusted Barbecued Chicken with Pretzel Latkes, Corn, and Mustard.
Brilliant concept. Brilliant execution. 

There again is that “head in the clouds” Willy Wonka crazy-good inspiration.
And yet there is no doubt the recipes are firmly rooted in the good ol’ American hierarchy of let’s get serious cooking vernacular. 

Oh, and there were the amazing David Burke steak knives. Leave it to chef to design and sell individual steak knives that are fashioned after a chef’s butchering knife.  Too cool.
These knives will make a perfect gift to any foodie, meat-loving aficionado. 

The Take-Away
To inhabit “Burke’s World” one suspends everyday reality.
Chef David takes you on a food journey and entertainment excursion that one is hard-pressed to say is not truly unique.  He is unpretentious to a fault.  He exudes joy and pride and one is sincerely impressed by his irrepressible passion to keep reinventing his culinary art.
He is driven to create.

He never loses sight of the fact that the most important ingredient is love. 
And he clearly Loves what he does.
This chef is relentless in his pursuit of the winsome, fun, delicious recipe.

Do go to David Burke Kitchen while the outdoor garden season beckons.

Go to any of Chef David Burke’s culinary jackpots to embrace the reason we celebrate dining out.

Food and Drink doesn’t get any better.

David Burke Kitchen at the James Hotel
23 Grand Street
6th Avenue
SoHo, NY 10013

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