Exuberant chef David Burke is no longer involved with Hawaiian Tropic Zone, and that's probably for the best, since he's had his hands full with plenty of other projects anyway. Last fall his sustainable seafood restaurant Fishtail opened on the Upper East Side to favorable reviews, and his restaurant at Bloomingdale's continues to give shoppers the sustenance they need to keep our economy afloat. Burke, who first made a splash at the River Café in Brooklyn in the '80s, has recently finished changing up his other serious venture in the neighborhood, which opened in 2003 as "davidburke & donatella." Restaurateur Donatella Arpaia is no longer involved (the partnership is said to have ended amicably) so it's now simply called David Burke Townhouse, and has reopened with a new menu after renovations.
As you can see, it's still an elegantly festive place, and reflects the personality of the chef responsible for such innovations as "Flavor Spray" and the Cheescake Lollipop Tree. Befitting the economic times, the atmosphere is a bit more like a stylish lounge, especially in the bar room up front, which now has booths, a pink Himalayan "salt wall," and a dungeon door with skeleton keys attached. Venturing further in, you'll find hand-blown Venetian glass balloons, a mahogany wine display holding over 300 bottles, and a new carving station in the main dining room, which has a spacious feel thanks to giant mirrors framed like windows.
Entrees hover in the $20-$40 range, but Townhouse also offers an incredibly reasonable four-course prix fixe menu for $55, which changes daily. The executive chef here is Sylvain Delpique, but Burke tells us half of the à la carte menu is comprised of "signature David Burke dishes," such as the Sea Scallops Benedict ($15, with chorizo oil and lobster foam) and the Bronx Style Filet Mignon of Veal ($35, with sunchoke purée and fig ravioli). The other half of the menu consists of new dishes Delpique and Burke created together, like the impressive Thai lobster consommé that's brewed tableside like an exotic lab experiment. (Burke calls it his favorite dish on the menu.)
Then there's the dazzling Donut Wheel, which seems emblematic of the restaurant's tight-rope walk between formal dining and colorful flamboyance. Burke created the Donut Wheel with pastry chef Jennifer Domanski: Powdered sugar-topped donut holes and chocolate-covered strawberries in a Ferris Wheel presentation, served with miniature squeeze bottles of raspberry and milk chocolate. The absurd confection embodies the fun yet ambitious tone Burke's established at Townhouse, which now succeeds both as a special occasion "destination" and a friendly place for neighbors to grab a tasty bite at the bar.