The anxiety-inducing thought of serving dinner to a rather demanding group of 15 executives after a long day of butt-numbing meetings is enough to insert molten shards of glass directly into the cornea. On one hand you have a ravenous team who has just spent the last 9 hours struggling to stay awake through flip charts, pie charts and stale coffee, and who rightfully deserve a few foo-foo cocktails, a table bedecked with a variety of sumptuous dishes and flawlessly attentive service. On the other hand you have an über-popular, high-brow restaurant in a trendy neighborhood, with a highly decorated and acclaimed chef accustomed to cooking and serving immaculate dishes for parties of 4 or 6. Perfect storm warning!
I think it’s important to separate the delights from the disasters as they transpired during our recent team dinner at the David Burke Kitchen in Soho’s James Hotel. Chef Burke has made a solid name for himself as an inventor and patent holder of many culinary feats that have become commonplace kitchen practices all over the world. His whimsical cooking style using basic ingredients gives his many restaurants a unique edge and distinctive flavors. But if we are truly measured by our weakest link, then someone’s got some ‘splaining to do in the service department.
The dish-sized menu groupings are obviously a collection of greatest hits rather than any themed journey, starting with at least one of Burke’s many signatures – his little glass jars with Ratatouille and Ricotta. The Peanut Butter Maple Bacon Dates and saffron-infused Burrata and Squash Carpaccio with melon nuggets are hands-down crowd pleasers.
And while the fragrant Baby Octopus and beets salad and the sublime Parfait of Tuna and Salmon Tartare can silence a room, nothing compares to the gorgeous Lobster Dumplings, which combine zucchini, white beans and roasted garlic in perfectly swirled, petite wraps.
The mains include every variety of popular proteins, including a crispy Branzino and the much reviewed and requested Short Rib with truffle mousse, or the cheddar bacon Kitchen Burger. The impressive Heritage Pork comes two ways: seared loin medallions au jus and the most delicious BBQ pulled shoulder baked right inside a light and fluffy corn bread torte.
The green goddess dressing and tomato marmalade regretfully overpowers the magnificently presented Main Lobster BLT, and the prime rib-eye with extensive dry aging via Burke’s trademarked SaltBrick™ method harboring a trace of rancid mustiness from perhaps a tad too much of a good thing, was further exasperated by someone confusing medium-rare for medium-well!
The Chocolate Hazelnut Crunch Bar is rich and sinful enough to share and although we ordered (and were looking forward to) the Coconut Trifle with peppered pineapple jam, we had to make do with Burke’s cheerful Cheesecake Lollipops instead.
Note to self: Team dinners + prix fixe menu = probably the way to go.