226 West 79th Street
New York, NY 10024
With Bro visiting the city for dissertation research, my birthday having just happened, and Restaurant Week all coinciding atop each other, Myna thought it would be nice for the three of us to all go out to dinner somewhere. I feel like I only ever eat out at gastropubs in the East Village or on the Lower East Side. This time, I was looking for something different somewhere else. After looking at our options, we decided on Burke & Wills on West 79th Street.
Once upon a time, virtually all of my friends lived in the Upper West Side, and I spent a considerable amount of time eating cheap Thai food at Land, drinking cheap beer at Blue Donkey, and hitting on cheap women at Dive 75 (... okay that last one was a joke. I'm way too shy to have ever hit on girls at bars. Also, the cheap women were at Blue Donkey). These days, I'm not in the area nearly as much, so it was good to be back in one of what I consider to be one of New York City's most quintessentially authentic neighborhoods.
Aside from the location, Burke & Wills is Australian. Not only did Bro spend a semester in college in Sydney and I knew he'd get a kick out of going, there ain't too many Australian restaurants floating around these parts and I thought it would be interesting to try out the cuisine.
We were led by the hostess through the front bar area, which serves $1 happy hour oysters (cash only), past the rotisserie chicken roasting window, and into the rear dining room, which sits in a glass ceilinged, greenhouse-like atrium. With only about a dozen tables, there aren't a ton of seats here, but despite being a relatively early meal on a Monday, it was far from empty and we were far from the first diners to show up.
To start, Bro chose the Grilled Asparagus; a half dozen asparagus stalks served under a poached egg white, over a hearts of palm puree, hearts of palm, crispy onions, and a kaffir chili sauce. He was disappointed. We all were. It was pretty bland. I had a similar feeling about Myna's appetizer, the Grilled Octopus. It was served alongside smoked mussels, under a little bush of frisee greens, and over a dollop of cannellini beans and white gazpacho. She and Bro enjoyed it quite a bit, but I felt that the octopus lacked oomph. "Well, you're wrong" she said. I chose the Crispy Smoked Quail since really how often do you see quail on a menu? It didn't taste smoked, but it was very good. It came with a mustard-heavy quinoa salad with almonds, dates, olives, and a pomegranate vinaigrette that was actually larger than the quail. The one downside to this dish is how small this particular bird is. After giving a bite's worth of meat to Bro and a bite's worth of meat to Myna, I was basically left with a bite's worth of meat. Still, if you like duck or dark meat chicken, then you'll enjoy this.
Bro's entree was the Slow Cooked Salmon served with grilled baby leeks (scallions?), over a red pepper romanesco and with a celery leaf "salad". He liked it and it was quite well made for salmon. The thing about salmon is that it's a love-it-or-don't-care-about-it kind of fish. Unless you're one of those salmon lovers who can't get enough of the stuff, then nine times out of ten, even if it's made by a pro who has four Food Network shows, it's mediocre. Sure, every so often you get blown away, but it's a rarity. Here the dish was perfectly made, but I'm not a salmon guy. I ordered The 'Roo Burger, a kangaroo meat hamburger with a bit of tomato jam inside the sesame seed bun, sliced red onion, and arugula, with a side of triple fried chips and a spicy chipotle-esque dipping sauce. The fries, which were thick enough to make those Texas-sized steak fries look small were fantastic, no doubt about that. The sauce was great, too. But the real question I had was "okay, what does kangaroo taste like?" It tastes almost like beef. I knew it wasn't so maybe it's in my head, but there was a sweetness to it that beef doesn't have. Or perhaps it was missing the smokiness that beef does have. In any event, it was close enough to beef to say that if no one told me, I woudn't have flagged down the waitress to ask "and just what the hell is this?" I would certainly order it again, but I'd do so without the salsa that they put on top. I didn't care for it. But Myna enjoyed it. My recommendation: ask for it on the side. Myna, though, was the clear winner in the who-got-the-best-entree division. She ordered the Spiced Duck Breast wit grilled peaches, a mushroom arotto, and a bourbon sauce. They suggest getting it medium rare (which most people never do with poultry) so she said fine. It was the best duck I can remember having ever had. It was like tender filet mignon. In fact, if I didn't tell you it was duck, you probably would assume that it was beef. The meat was amazing and the glaze was sweet and the little barley-like pile of goodness it was on was simply perfect. Get this instead of the kangaroo.
When the dessert menu arrived, it appeared to be entirely Italian. "Well," our waitress explained "the desserts are representative of what are popular in Australia. So they're Italian-ish, with some Australian influence." Fair enough. Bro ordered the chocolate-coated Hazelnut Cake served with an espresso ganache and amaretto crunch gelato. The gelato was good but, in my mind the cake was a little timid. If you didn't tell me it was supposed to be hazelnut, I might not have known. Myna went for the Bomboloni, a quartet of large doughnut holes made with dulce de leche, coated in cinnamon sugar, and served alongside a scoop of vanilla ice cream. I thought that these were delicious. Here, the flavors were quite vibrant. It was a dessert that was sweet without being so sweet that you needed to wash your mouth off with black coffee between bites. I ordered the Affogato, which is certainly different. Basically, it's two long slices of brownie in a glass with Kahlua gelato. It comes served with a pitcher of espresso that then gets poured over the brownies and gelato. The gelato melts and the brownie starts to disintegrate beneath the water line, creating a sort of warm milkshake. I liked it. I'd get it again.
Three appetizers, three entrees, three desserts, six drinks, three coffees, tax, and tip totaled $240. There was a nominal degree of savings from the Restaurant Week menu. The truth is, the regular menu isn't pricey enough to save you too much money anyway, and there are a number of dishes that have an up-charge (like the duck did) making it far less valuable in this specific case. Indeed, I chose to go off the standard, full-sized menu and my three courses cost less than the Restaurant Week $38 charge.