Ask a Waiter

Don’t Put Ketchup on Your Steak, Pleads Carly Skinner of Davidburke & Donatella

“I take a fun attitude.”
“I take a fun attitude.”haha Photo: Melissa Hom

Carly Skinner was a server at Houston’s before she came to Upper East Side foodie fixture davidburke & donatella. The change was not a small one. “I had to learn a new food vocabulary,” she says. “I was working with servers who had been at places like Le Cirque for twenty years.” Nine months later, she’s now a captain at the restaurant and training to be a sommelier. We asked her to enlighten us about fussy diners, angry lobsters, and smelly smokers.

How do you translate for diners the more daunting of the menu descriptions?
I take a fun attitude. If I don’t know how to put into words the food, I try to get them excited about trying something new.

Do you have to warn people not to eat garnishes like the monkey?
We serve the sashimi on a big block of Himalayan rock salt. People always ask [joking],“Can I eat this, too?” I had someone joke around and lick it once.

Have you felt the sting of the decline in the lobster market?
For a while we replaced our lobster dishes with prawns. People were disappointed at first, but no one left unhappy.

Do diners ever order every foie gras dish or every lobster dish?
People ask, “Is it too much to have the angry lobster and the lobster steak?” We have a wonderful lobster bisque as well. If you have a taste for lobster, I say go with it.

What makes the lobster steak a “steak”?
It’s the most frequently asked question. It’s all the meat out of a one-and-three-quarter-pound lobster. The meat is at first pan-seared and then roasted together with a lobster mousse and molded into what’s referred to as the steak.

What’s the biggest difference between serving your older, moneyed clientele and your younger downtown diners?
With our older clientele, they’re less inclined to take risks. They see the combinations of flavors and items, and they want something more simple sometimes.

Given how meticulously the food is prepared and presented, are there special requests that irk you?
When they eat their rib-eye with ketchup, that kind of gets me. The marinade that it’s made with is enough flavor in itself. Don’t ruin the meat — just eat it.

Is it true that David Burke bought a prize bull and serves only steaks from cows descended from it?
Yes. His name is Prime. All of our meat does come from him and his cows. The meat is incredible — it’s top quality. It’s a fun story to relay to the customers if they ask. There are people who want to talk to their food and people who want to know about type of meat and where it came from.

During the winter you have a limo parked outside so people can smoke in it. Does it get cruisy?
People stay out there for a while; they meet and mingle. They like to go inside even if they don’t smoke.

Do they reek when they come back?
Yeah, they do. It can be kind of unpleasant, but hopefully the aromas of the food overpower that.

Don’t Put Ketchup on Your Steak, Pleads Carly Skinner of Davidburke & Donatella