>> 7/30/14

226 West 79th Street
New York, NY 10024
(646) 823-9251

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.

Burke & Wills on Urbanspoon



>> 7/22/14

1221 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10020
(212) 554-4848

See, it's like this. I hadn't seen Speeds in many a moon. Many moons had passed. Oh! The moons! So many. Where was I? Oh yeah. We wanted to get sauced, essentially. Initially, we had these grand plans to meet at the Sanctuary Hotel because it was near a theater she had plans to see a show at and shoot the breeze on their rooftop bar, Haven. So I made a reservation figuring "hey, it's a Friday, it's midtown, it's tourist season, it's a nice evening. The place will be packed." Well, the Haven people basically took our reservations and burned them. So we found ourselves standing on the curb, wondering what to do. Myna, ever intrepid, took off to scout some places out. We didn't want to find ourselves in some happy hour Irish pub filled with bridge-and-tunnelers. Oceana and Del Frisco's, around the corner, were too expensive. An indifferent hostess at a local Italian place rewired our decision to go there.

We chose 48 Lounge. Not only was it ridiculously close to the theater Speeds was planning to see a show at, but there were plenty of seats. Sofas, actually. There were plenty of sofas.

The interior was bright and spacious. The seating was comfortable. The staff was friendly, the food was good. The vibe (at 7pm) was chill. That's the short of the story. The longer version is that you'll be paying through the nose for it all. The menu is all small plates and appetizers and a good rule of thumb is to expect to pay $16 for the average dish. In fact, you should expect to pay $16 for everything. The average dish, the average cocktail, the average glass of wine. This is no cheap after-work joint. The restaurant may not be associated with a hotel, but it feels like it is. And with waitresses in miniskirts, bathroom attendants, and bottle service available for your table at $350 a bottle, it feels like the kind of place that turns into a club at night. It feels like the kind of place a businessman might go to schmooze a client or get into a coworker's pants or that might have a bunch of wealthy kids using dad's Amex on any random evening. The music wasn't loud, but I can imagine that it probably will be come sunset.

Still, if you're anything like me, then you aren't a 22 year old trust fund kid who goes clubbing and you don't woo clients with booze. You care about the kind of food that you and your friends can eat. 

Without getting too into depth, everything we had was pretty good. We started off with a round of the Pickled Pepper & Egg Shooters. Contrary to what we thought, these were not deviled eggs. They were hard boiled eggs with a topping of picked peppers. They weren't bad. Myna and I would have preferred deviled eggs, but we liked them. Speeds scraped off the pickled pepper from hers. With it we noshed on a round of Brussels Sprouts. They were fine, but forgettable. On the plus side, at least they were guiltless.

For a bit more heft, we ordered the Filet Mignon Sliders, served on a challah roll with a thyme and shallot puree and a little dollop of melted blue cheese that I promise you can barely be noticed. It was extremely tender and quite impressive. Worth $20? Well, if $6.66 per slider is something you consider "worth it", than yes. It was accompanied by the Roasted Tomato & Chorizo Pizza, a small flatbread pizza with tomato sauce, chorizo, and arugula. Again, no complaints. Quite tasty. I'd love to have had more, since, with three of us eating it, it was inhaled in about three bites.

After scraping our plates clean, but failing to satisfy our hunger, the girls ordered a Hot Artichoke and Spinach Dip plate. It's exactly what it sounds like. Pureed artichoke and spinach, baked with shallots and cheese and served with toasted bread to scoop it all up. Not bad. Not my favorite thing of the evening, but it got the job done.

By the end, we spent way too much money on way too little. Myna and I initially talked about staying out past the time that Speeds went on her merry way, but at $16 a cocktail, that was nixed. When Speeds left for the show, we left for home.

With tax and tip, our small plates and drinks came to $150. Bring your expense account.

48 Lounge on Urbanspoon


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