In 1989, Chef David Burke, then-executive chef of New York City’s River Café, was shocked to read that USA Today placed a menu item he created on a top 10 list of worst dishes in America.
“I was so devastated,” Burke recalls. “Everyone was reading this thing. I kept going back to the sous chef and the manager of the restaurant – ‘was it really that bad?’ But everyone liked it.”
The dish in question was a noodle cake with calamari and oysters, according to Burke, “a risky dish, but it was delicious.”
Two days later, esteemed New York Magazine critic Gael Greene spent a few hundred words praising the same exact dish.
“It was one critic’s opinion verses another,” says Burke. “You can’t always please everyone. I certainly try.”
Decades later, Burke aims to please critics and patrons alike after rebooting the entire food and beverage program at The Garden City Hotel. He brought two new restaurants to the premises, King Bar by David Burke and the Red Salt Room. The hotel brought in Burke to revamp the hotel restaurants and work with an existing team that includes Executive Chef Ari Nieminen, whom he previously worked with at The River Café.
“It’s nice to be working with some familiar faces,” says Burke. “We already have that relationship. We know where we’re both coming from.”
Over his 35-year career, Burke has helmed some of the city’s top-rated restaurants, including the Park Avenue Café, before becoming vice president of culinary development for the Smith & Wollensky Restaurant Group in 1996. Fifteen years ago, he branched out on his own and opened several new spaces including davidburke & danatella, David Burke Townhouse, and David Burke at Bloomingdale’s. These days he’s more focused on newer NYC restaurants Woodpecker and Tavern 62 along with BLT Prime in Washington, D.C. Asked how many restaurants currently have his name attached and Burke maintains a lighthearted, “Who knows.”
Along with dozens of prizes and accolades such as appearances on Bravo’s Top Chef Masters and induction into the James Beard Foundation’s Who’s Who of Food and Beverage in America, Burke received a prestigious title from Time Out New York in 2003: Best Culinary Prankster. He’s known for his creativity, introducing odd flavor combinations, pairing strange ingredients and using new techniques. But it’s all based in solid fundamentals, according to Burke.
“As crazy or great something is, you have to have a reason for it,” he says. “And there has to be some fundamental foundation or groundwork from a regional perspective, seasonal perspective, or digestive perspective. You can’t just pull things out of midair.”
The Garden City Hotel restaurants feature many of Burke’s signature dishes, such as clothesline candied bacon with black pepper and pickles ($19); pastrami smoked salmon carpaccio with arugula and honey mustard ($16); fresh Maine Lobster either poached in butter or served “angry style” with garlic, lemon, chilies, and basil; and a variety or cuts of beef aged using Burke’s patented dry aging process using Himalayan pink salt.
All of which are surely coming to patrons’ top 10 lists of favorite dishes soon.
King Bar by David Burke and the Red Salt Room are located at the Garden City Hotel, 45 7th St., Garden City. They can be reached at gardencityhotel.com or 877-549-0400.