Chatting With David Burke About the New Townhouse, Bar Menu, and Tiresome Food Trends


Today, Fork in the Road caught up with David Burke, whose restaurant, David Burke Townhouse reopened last week after an overhaul of the interior, and tweaking of the menu. Burke has eight restaurants around the country, three in New York–Townhouse, Fishtail and David Burke at Bloomingdale’s. We chatted about how fine dining has changed in recent years, his new bar menu, midnight buffet, and what he’s read lately.

Thanks for taking the time to talk–I’m sure you’ve been busy with the renovation and re-opening.

My last piece of furniture just came in today.

What is it?

It’s a wine cabinet that’s also going to be our carving area–wine on the bottom, butcher blocks on top, where we’ll cut our Cornish hens, ducks, porterhouses.

So what’s changed at Townhouse? Was there a different feeling you were going for?

Yeah, we’re approaching 6 years old; we changed the name earlier in the year, and thought it was time for something new. We changed the feel of the bar–it’s a little more organic, with tile, and the back bar is made of salt–Himalayan brick–lit with lanterns. At the maitre’d station, the back wall is made of salt…The bar and mezzanine level, those two rooms have been made into one–it’s a little bit more lounge-y.

We got new art work–blew some new glass, Venetian glass balloons against the ceiling, some fun-looking stuff, Russian art work; we built a wine nook with a dungeon door.
It’s not as cold. It’s chic-er looking, with better colors…we got rid of some walls, and put glass there instead, so you see clearly through rooms. We bought new carpets, new china, and new chandeliers.

It’s warm, more comfortable, and cozy for late-night snacking.

And what about the menu?

The kitchen is open late, but we’ll also have a bar and snack menu that starts at 10 p.m. That menu launches the Tuesday after Labor Day, because this week is just so quiet. The bar menu will be 10 to 12 bucks, stuff like spring rolls, dumplings, a burger, maybe an open-faced sandwich, tuna tartare.

Really, it’s the same style cuisine as before–the food still has some high wire stuff, but it’s also as simple as dry-aged porterhouse, lobster steak, turbot with spaghetti and olives.

And pastries are being developed this week. We have a new pastry chef named Jennifer. We’ll still have our standbys: Lollipops, donuts, butterscotch, but we’re going more seasonal, and offering things that are sharable for the table, like soufflé for two or four, a bread pudding big enough for the table, cookies baked to order.

And, I think, once we get moving with the new bar menu, probably around October, we’re going to start doing a midnight buffet, with prosciutto, mozzarella, tartare, olives, a toaster–whatever I have around. I think it would be fun to drop your own toast, put some jam on it, or make an open-faced egg-salad with truffle–something to eat with a martini that’s complementary. I think we’ll do it at Fishtail, too, with the raw bar.

And we have a $49 four-course prix fix. Well, it’s hard to call it four-course, but the amuse is substantial. It’s definitely value-driven. Then on Sunday brunch, we have three courses for $30. We’re trying! But something’s got to pay for the renovation, right? [Laughs.] We still have an elegant part.

And our decor really fits in with what we’re putting on the plate, which is not the case at some other places.

Where do you go after hours to eat or drink?

There’s a bar next door to Townhouse, Brio, that I eat at occasionally. JG Melon for a burger; Smith and Wollensky for a steak in the grill room. I go to Geisha for sushi, and Beacon for steak. That’s about it. I’ll hit Fishtail. I usually eat at 10, and I try to eat at my own places.

In New Jersey, where I live, there’s a family-run restaurant called Grissini in Englewood, and a steakhouse, River Palm Terrace, within walking distance of my house. If I get home early enough, I go there for a bite and to read the paper.

Is there a food trend that you wish would go away?

There’s really not… I haven’t eaten out a lot lately. Although pizza and burgers should die down, and I think they will with the season change. I’ve been reading about burgers for a year now, they’re on every cover of every magazine. I love them both [pizza and burgers], but what else is there to say?

I think it’s time to move on to the next thing, which I guess is fried chicken, which might be part of our midnight buffet. And dessert restaurants…that’s faded away, I know, about a year ago.

Other than that, top 10 lists. Everybody’s got their top 10, 15, 50, whatever it is.

We kind of hate doing those too.


Do you think the recession has permanently changed the New York restaurant industry, not in terms of restaurants closing, but in terms of how people eat?

I think so–I think it was changing anyway, and then when something this drastic happens, it nudges you. It makes you ask, “Why, why go back?”

Fine dining was having difficulties anyway. People didn’t necessarily like the whole idea of making plans to sit for three hours. I think the new fine dining is quicker. There’s always room for the four-star places, but there are people who want to eat well who would rather eat a fine dining meal in two hours. Or just go to a great restaurant and eat one or two courses, or even sit at the bar, have a glass of wine and two apps, and be on their way in an hour. I think it’s about the service, the friendliness.

And the recession has really opened people’s eyes to how much they’re spending on wine. The public is savvy, especially in New York, and they understand value-driven stuff.

What’s the best food destination outside New York?

China–I like Chinese food. Hong Kong, Shanghai, Singapore. And Chicago has a lot of great food. I love to go to Napa because it’s a great getaway, and I’ve had some great meals in Munich.

What’s the last book you read?

Salt. That’s an interesting book, a tough read. And before that, oh it was…I forget…the one about corn.

The Omnivore’s Dilemma?

Yes! And right now I’m paging through Bob Dylan’s book of drawings. I had no idea he was an artist.

And what’s the last movie you saw?

That one with Brad Pitt–Inglourious Basterds. I tried to go see Julie and Julia but it was sold out. We might do a Julia dinner at David Burke Fromagerie, [Rumson, New Jersey] so I wanted to see the food. I go to the movies once a month, it’s a good way to relax. I turn off my cell phone.