When David Duncan built a house on his dairy farm in 1865, he knew he had chosen excellent acreage on which to breed his Jersey cattle. The home was designed in Victorian Gingerbread, the architectural fashion of the times. Today, 165 years later, caring owners have lovingly restored the home to its unique, classic lustre, and re-opened its restaurant, David Duncan House.
This is the way it was my friends: when dining out meant white tablecloths, table side preparations and professional servers who did not insinuate themselves into your evening. Before the restaurant revolution. Before Pan-Asian-Fusion. Before “tasting plates.” Before, you could get hoarse and deaf from such rock-concert-decibel noise, that you know your lips are moving but you can’t hear yourself speak. Enter a gracious environment. Admire the original stained glass skylight, the Art Deco mirrors and wall enhancements. We allow the concierge to help us with our coats, and the Maitre D to escort us to our table, which is up a few stairs to a kind of mezzanine level.
Aaah, comfortable chairs. At an adjacent table, a server slices and serves a magnificent Chateaubriand Bouquetaire to the delight of guests. We have a bird’s eye view of the bar, and watch the mixologist flame cocktails with aplomb.
Now comes the difficult part, choosing from a menu that offers all our favourites. Our server helps us make our decisions and takes his leave. Let the games begin! Carpaccio with charred lemon sets the tone and tantalizes our palates. Grilled Octopus, its oceanic flavour paired with roasted potatoes and olives for a rustic medley of textures.
Caesar by Table side
We’re ready for our table side drama. Caesar salad prepared by a master. He ladles the ingredients into a huge wooden bowl and whips up a rich and luscious emulsion. We are all involved in the finishing touches. After tossing-in crisp lettuce, he asks, “anchovies?, croutons? Smoked bacon? More Parmigiano?” As he grates until we stay stop. This creamy, garlic-y, lemony salad is the refreshing Caesar we’ve been craving.
The Lamb Chops
In a dinner of highlights, Peter’s Lamb Chops which come medium rare are perfumed with lemon, garlic and herbs, and may well be at the top of the list. Succulent chops cut like butter and are robust and juicy. We’re distracted by servers carrying platters and towers of seafood, charcuterie boards of hand-carved Jamón Iberico and the steaming aroma of lobster pasta. At a time in this city’s culinary style when entrees often leave diners going home hungry, the sight of all this generosity is a reminder of why we really love to dine out.
A Paella to Remember
Paella, the Valencian classic, is a dish of vibrant colour and succulent ingredients: golden saffron rice plump with mussels, clams, calamari and colossal shrimp gives us a different taste with each mouthful. Chock full of hearty ingredients, the harmony of flavours sings of the Spanish coast. This is a paella to remember.
To Dessert, or not to Dessert…
And then after a most enjoyable dining experience, the inevitable question is asked. Dessert? Torn between a table side rendition of flaming Bananas Foster or Cherries Jubilee, we end the evening with a Warm Apple Crostata with crème Anglaise, warm caramel and French Vanilla ice cream. We are in no hurry to leave, and sip our David Duncan House coffee, a specialty laced with Remy Martin, Grand Marnier and amaretto that our waiter prepares table-side with pyrotechnics and aplomb.Surprisingly, it’s also just a short drive from midtown, and the bonus is, lots of parking at the front door is free.
Sara Waxman, OOnt, is an award-winning restaurant critic, best-selling cookbook author, food and travel journalist and has eaten her way through much of the free world for four decades, while writing about it in books, newspapers and magazines. She is the Editor in Chief of DINE and Destinations magazine.