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High-Low Country



This past Tuesday I attended the opening of the new David Burke restaurant in Las Vegas. French-trained but Jersey-born, equally skilled in both pastry and savory, and a savvy entrepreneur, Burke is the latest culinary star to make his pilgrimage to the Mecca of capitalism. The restaurant itself, on the ground floor of the Venetian resort and casino, is lushly modern—all deep reds and warm browns highlighted by glassy walls of copper-colored Himalayan salt rock. But it’s Burke’s food that bears mentioning, because of how he combines high-end technique and ingredients with accessible, popular flavor combinations and textures.

A few examples from opening night: “pigs in a blanket” made of miniature hot dogs wrapped in flaky pastry; pretzel-crusted crab cakes with mango and poppy seed honey; and my favorite, Reuben spring rolls, bite-sized crispy rolls filled with Swiss and pastrami. For dessert, Burke’s famous cheesecake tree—chocolate balls filled with cheesecake and dipped into a minty whipped cream (pictured).

You see the underlying theme here—Reubens, lollipops, hot dogs. Basically lowbrow, fun-filled American food that’s been updated and upgraded. Of course there was also delicate carpaccio, goat cheese croquettes, tuna tartare and other incredibly fresh seafood (a tank of gargantuan crabs, lobsters and shrimp sits at the back of his kitchen). But I like it that Burke is a highly trained chef who’s not afraid to coat a crab cake in pretzels.