The fact that normally timid Upper East Siders are braving the frigid air to pack the newly opened David Burke & Donatella is really no surprise. This culinary marriage between Burke, who has attained super-chef status through his stints at the River Café and Park Avenue Café, and Donatella Arpaia, a member of one New York's most prominent restaurant families, seems like a union devoutly to be wished.
As it happens, the food ranges from the mundane to the magnificent. But those with a hefty pocketbook (dinner can easily top a $100 per person) should make a visit just to see the transformation of the former stodgy Il Valetto into a magnificent red-white-and-black fantasy. The restaurant is also dedicated to top-of-the-line service, complete with a stretch limo outside the front door for those who need to take a cigarette break.
Burke's menu, which includes a few of his old favorites like salmon pastrami, seems designed to compete with the drama of the surroundings. For example, the minestrone soup that is poured over delicate blue crab ravioli comes out of a French Press, while a superb lobster "flan" (more of a custard) topped with chunks of the crustacean is served inside a bird's egg – and is accompanied on the plate by a delicious spiced quail stuffed with shiitake mushrooms and a few stalks of excellent asparagus. But for pure presentation, nothing beats "angry lobster" – cayenne and chili-crusted lobster pieces that sit arranged atop an actual bed of nails. It may be silly, but it's also really tasty.
The house's signature entrée, the "Bronx filet mignon" of veal, is a truly enormous chop, but rather bland, while the equally large rib-eye steak fared considerably better. (Burke was most recently heading the kitchen at Smith & Wollensky.) Desserts were also a 50/50 proposition, with a coconut layer cake proving far more pleasing than the slightly greasy, oversized crisp apple tart.