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Has anyone been to WD-50 in New York?

Has anyone been to WD-50 in New York?
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  • Has anyone been to WD-50 in New York?

    Post #1 - October 5th, 2005, 5:02 pm
    Post #1 - October 5th, 2005, 5:02 pm Post #1 - October 5th, 2005, 5:02 pm
    I've got reservations there this weekend and I noticed they do both a 9-course tasting menu and an a la carte menu. Although I typically tend to choose tasting menus because of the variety offered, I wanted to know if anyone has tried either menu and has any comments . . . or suggested dishes. I appreciate the advice.
  • Post #2 - October 5th, 2005, 8:19 pm
    Post #2 - October 5th, 2005, 8:19 pm Post #2 - October 5th, 2005, 8:19 pm
    I'm scheduled to eat at WD-50 on Wednesday. If you post, I'll know what to order/avoid.
  • Post #3 - October 5th, 2005, 9:00 pm
    Post #3 - October 5th, 2005, 9:00 pm Post #3 - October 5th, 2005, 9:00 pm
    Well then at the very least, maybe I can help you out.
  • Post #4 - October 10th, 2005, 11:49 am
    Post #4 - October 10th, 2005, 11:49 am Post #4 - October 10th, 2005, 11:49 am
    We ended up doing the tasting menu with wine pairings. Although limited in time now, I can tell you that we had 12 courses and I believe 7 wine pairings. They were very generous with the pours, even refilling a couple of times when we finished a glass before the 2nd dish matched with the wine was served.

    Overall, the service was spotty -- at the beginning, courses were very well timed, then in the middle there were a couple of very long gaps, and finally, toward the end we felt rushed. It ended up being about a 3-hour meal. Those not ordering the tasting menu arrived after and left before us. One aspect of the service we really found lacking was the lack of discussion by the wait staff regarding the food being served. At both Alinea and Moto, I love how the wait staff describes each dish extensively and even tells you the best way to savor it.

    The food, although a bit whimsical like Moto or Alinea, is not as good, although don't get me wrong, I thought the food was excellent. The courses I liked the most were the amuse (poached oyster), the squab and a chocolate/hazelnut terrine. Perhaps the most interesting dish was the "sunnyside up" - a coconut gelatin-like exterior, topped with a carrot (slightly gelatinized) which when opened poured out. Very cool!
  • Post #5 - October 13th, 2005, 7:24 pm
    Post #5 - October 13th, 2005, 7:24 pm Post #5 - October 13th, 2005, 7:24 pm
    Just Desserts New York City Entry #22

    The relationship between a head chef and a pastry chef is rarely between equals. That we speak of "chef" and "pastry chef" displays a hierarchy by virtue of the extra descriptor alone. Virtuous diners skip dessert, seeing the denouement as a needless excrescence, and because desserts are typically served cold, they are often seen as less a performance than the hot dishes they follow. In my observations, pastry chefs, even if they prepare far more than pastries, pies, and cakes, do not work during the evening, preparing their morsels earlier in the day, home to sup quietly with the family. Not laboring in the kitchen inferno, they are not truly part of the trade. All too many restaurants, even some who advertise their stars, outsource the production of sweets. Made in Bangalore.

    The relatively low status of the masters of dessert is evident by a simple thought experiment in this age of celebrity chefs. Most food savvy New Yorkers can rattle off the names of a dozen or more great chefs, but how many of these are pastry chefs? (Chicagoans may justly name Gale Gand whose magic outshines that of her husband Rick Tramonto at Tru). How many pastry chefs have restaurants named after them with the entree chef as second fiddle? Someone will certainly come up with such an example to which I will smugly add the line on which every mistaken loser relies, "That's the exception that proves the rule."

    And yet the brilliant pastry chef can rescue a meal from the muddle that the chef has left.

    In entering WD-50 I expected that my task would be to compare this outpost of "agape cuisine" with those standouts that have made the Second City the First City of cutting-edge dining. Leaving I knew that my story was of sweet closings.

    WD-50 is a restaurant that is often compared to Alinea, Moto, and Avenues in Chicago (and El Bulli and the Fat Duck in Europe). This 60 seat Lower East Side "eclectic new American" has received much buzz, but a fair measure of disappointment. In considering my twelve course tasting menu ($95), it is not hard to see why. Wylie Dufresne seems to lack a sense of harmony that Chefs Achatz, Cantu, and Bowles share at their best, even while teasing and tormenting. These men are former students at the stoves of Charlie Trotter, and his academy left its mark. Trotter insists that his cooks and his diners think about their meals, and each chef has adopted this view in various ways, treating each food as an exercise in philosophy.

    Chef Dufresne comes to his craft from other stoves, trained by Jean-Georges Vongerichten, whose cuisine is characterized by powerful flavors and challenging combinations, but not by a challenge to ideas of dining. Chef Dufresne carries this style one step further, but eating at WD-50, one feels that one is attending to a working cook, not a theorist.

    It is appropriate (and surely desirable) when that cook has a palate that surprises and delights, melding different tastes into one. Others can write with words, while chefs must write with herbs, spices, meat, and mash: the poetry of the plate. However, in the eight dishes selected by Chef Dufresne for the Tasting Menu the tones were off. (The chef was not in the kitchen the night that we dined at WD-50, but the problems were not with the execution, but with the conceptions).

    The problem in almost every Dufresne dish was that one flavor - and a jarring one - dominated the plate. The fact that the taste is unsettling, coupled with some instances of technocuisine, allows WD-50 to be classed under the El Bulli umbrella. The trick to have a satisfying meal at WD-50 is to take charge of one's plate, exiling the offending ingredient. Chef Dufresne needs to tame his creative urges, tasting his dishes as his customers might. Only then will he distinguish harmony from dissonance.

    We began with a lovely pistachio soup with sour cherries, and a touch of garlic and lemon thyme. This would have been an ethereal starter. The cherries and thyme were quite sufficient to add the spark to the mild soup. Chef, drop that skillet. Yet, sitting in this innocent soup was a lump of marinated sardine. I have nothing against sardines - and used to eat them from the can and enjoyed a treatment on this workingman's fish at Prune. Dufresne's marinated sardine was well-prepared, it just belonged in an alternative universe. No pistachio, cherry, or thyme can win a battle with marinated fish. The answer was of course triage, creating two dishes from one.

    This opening seemed an eccentricity of the chef, and diners find quirks in other temples of agape. However, the second dish had a similar problem. We were presented with a glowing pink puck of foie gras mousse, huddled at the edge of a large plate, perched on shamrock pixie dust, described as dehydrated green pea "soil." Our server advised use to cut the cylinder. Shades of Moto! Out spilled crimson beet liquor: Lucifer's boiled egg. This was Chef Dufresne's most explicit bow to Chicago's gang of three. I felt that the beet jus didn't fully bring out the flavor of the mousse (the candied olives helped). Here the problem was the soil. Let us give the chef points for cute, but deduct for a mix that was more salt than sweet pea. Pushing the soil to the side, the remainder could be savored, but, unless this represented an error of preparation, someone should have noticed the clash.

    Third was Dufresne's canonical "Shrimp cannelloni," neighboring a bright orange chorizo smear and selected micro Thai basil. Shrimp cannelloni is "pasta" of extruded shrimp. Although cleverness can get wearying, the shrimp, basil and chorizo made a disarming match. The problem here was a hidden ingredient: preserved lemon. Once again, this one ingredient so dominated the plate that one had to rely upon the childish technique of making sure that different foods didn't touch. Without that preserved lemon - or by eating it as a mid-course amuse - I could come to appreciate the conception that went into a Mexican mix of sausage and prawn.

    Our first meat dish was "picked beef tongue, fried mayo, onion streusel, and tomato molasses." The tongue was thinly sliced, an amiable lunchmeat, lacking the meatiness that I expected. The fried mayo, little dice of breaded Hellman's - another bow to adorable cuisine - nicely paired with the tongue. My disappointment here was a tomato molasses that smacked of prune and coffee aromas. Once again - my repetitions are becoming tiring - by exiling the molasses, the tongue could be enjoyed. (WD-50 does not serve bread, only crackly sesame flatbread, but I would have appreciated a roll to mop the piquant sauce).

    A second dish that captures a sense of amazement was the "carrot-coconut sunnyside up." Here Chef Dufresne pays homage to the humble fried egg. A carrot yolk, seasoned with olive oil, is surrounded by cardamon coconut milk albumen. This dish is primarily notable for its trompe l'oiel texture (trompe les doigt?). Poking the creation one might imagine breakfast at the Restaurant at the End of the Universe. The dish tasted less impressive than it looked. The carrot dominated, although neither component was memorable. That the chef imaged the dish was sufficient without having to consume more than a bite or two.

    "Hamachi with sausage flakes, plantain gnocchi, nasturtium smear, coffee-infused water chestnuts" was a more satisfying main course. While the intense coffee could have dominated, the Hamachi fillet held up well. The plantain was too mild, but eating the gnocchi as a separate mouthful allowed an appreciation of the tropics.

    The carrot confit, hibiscus sorbet, and crispy lamb belly was a strange selection. Chef Dufresne prepared the lamb as bacon. What might have been an original and amusing encounter with a novel taste was lost in its preparation, less impressive than Alinea's bacon on a trapeze. A so-what moment. Here a too-sour hibiscus sorbet that destroyed the sweet-savory flavor that the carrot confit might have added to the belly. With the belly unimpressive and the hibiscus in its own world, I was left to commiserate with the finely-made confit.

    Our final main course was a beautifully presented plate squab breast, crispy squab skin, sweet potato jus, and golden beets encrusted in ruby beet chips. The jutting crispy squab skin paid tribute to Albert Portale's architectural cuisine without requiring a building permit. While I found the beet in beet a little precious (although the contrasting textures of sharp and smooth were pleasing), the squab was succulent, and the potato jus added to the gamy flavor, sweetening without losing wildness. This was a dishes that I endorse without qualification.

    At this moment, despite the success of the squab I was troubled. The meal did not compare with meals at Moto, Alinea, and Avenues. Would my Gotham friends see me as a hopeless Second City rube? Perhaps the New York Department of Health doesn't permit philosophers in the kitchen.

    The miracle of Pastry Chef Sam Mason squelched a well-honed prairie suspicion. The quintet of desserts proved that some startling unions are blessed. (Four desserts are usually served, after pleading caffeine sensitivity, I was sent an alternative).

    Often the more creative a chef, the more s/he hopes to capture the flavors of childhood. Some succeed, but occasionally one is glad that our toys have been put aside. Chef Mason served a plate of celery sorbet, peanut butter crispies, and pickled raisons. Ants on a log: a stalk of celery, smeared with Jif, plumbed with raisons. This is every mother's healthy snack. Mason transformed each ingredient, everything but the memory. And how they were transformed: the celery became sorbet, the peanut butter, cereal, and the raisons, pickles. What was a childhood compromise becomes an ageless delight.

    When one sees "rice and beans" on a contemporary menu, one knows that the rice and beans will be steeped in irony. Here rice was a luscious, light, luxurious sorbet surrounded by an azuki bean jelly and lines of emerald bright cilantro puree. Both the beans and the cilantro deepened the cool, mild rice. This is how tastes should be combined: the sweet starch of the azukis played off the herbaceous coriander. Bravo.

    I begged for Chef Mason's parsnip cake, served with carrot cream and carrot paper (a crispy carrot skin or the thinnest vegetable flatbread imaginable). Every cake deserves a scoop, and the chef's choice was a luscious coconut cream cheese sorbet. Although most non-chocolate desserts have a puckery fruit base, this wily cake was constructed in tones of dairy and roots. It was not the most colorful dish on the menu; its color was in its taste.

    My companion was served the milk-chocolate-hazelnut parfait cake with an orange reduction. Once again I begged (I'm rather good at this), and was rewarded with a forkful of mastery. Chocolate, nuts, and orange are made for each other, and this pastry proved the rule.

    As we reached the end of the meal, we wondered about the "cocoa cotton balls." WD-50 is not Moto, so our closing amuse was not a Mississippi boll (with weevil sprinkles?), but a delicious truffle filled with what was a cross between cotton candy and a malted milk ball. It was the fitting end to a string of desserts that I wryly dub my favorite recent meal.

    Chef Dufresne is a cook with guts. I admire that. He is willing to stretch boundaries, to puzzle, and to offend. And his style of presentation with separated ingredients and not stewed together permits diners to work with and around his presumptions. Perhaps his cuisine will provoke glorious amazement if he can imagine his meals on his diner's tongues.

    Chef Mason, a native Floridian, is an artist of another sphere. Should I be offered the opportunity to invest in an imagined hotspot - Mason's Dixie? - I would sell a kidney, confident that he could whip up another on pain perdu.

    50 Clinton Street
    Manhattan (Lower East Side)
  • Post #6 - October 13th, 2005, 8:41 pm
    Post #6 - October 13th, 2005, 8:41 pm Post #6 - October 13th, 2005, 8:41 pm
    However, in the eight dishes selected by Chef Dufresne for the Tasting Menu the tones were off. (The chef was not in the kitchen the night that we dined at WD-50, but the problems were not with the execution, but with the conceptions).

    While I too did not love WD-50, I thought the meal was excellent and I suspect I enjoyed the meal more than you enjoyed it. I think the meal compares in quality to Moto (but not as good), although with less glitz. With the exception of the hamachi dish, I did not find a single flavor overwhelming the flavors of dishes. My greater problem was with the service (although not a major issue) and the fact that I did not love a couple of the courses, whereas at Alinea and even Moto, I believe I loved (or at least highly respected) every course.

    The 12-course menu I was served began with a poached oyster, celery root and freeze-dried banana (Wylie seems to love freeze-drying) and mustard. I thought this was an incredible beginning to the meal with the flavors meshing quite well together.

    I also thought that the next course, the foie gras with candied olives, pea "soil," and beet juice, was excellent. I think this is the only course where we received instruction on how to savor the dish ("slice into the foie gras to expose the beet juice"). I enjoyed the combination of flavors, particularly the candied olives. While I agree that the beet juice alone did not assist the foie gras, I thought that the addition of the candied olives made for both excellent flavor combination and texture. And in my service, I was probably helped by the fact that my pea soil was not too salty.

    The shrimp canneloni was not one of my favorite dishes, although I was not overwhelmed with the flavor of preserved lemon. Instead, I found the dish to be slightly bland and the chorizo did not provide the kick I hoped for.

    As for the beef tongue, I agree that the tongue did not have the meaty texture I had hoped for, and I hardly had enough tomato molasses on the dish to savor (although I found the little bit I had to be uninspiring). However, I thought that the fried mayo added a nice texture to the dish and somewhat bridged my lack of interest in the tongue and the molasses.

    Unlike you, I loved the carrot-coconut "sunnyside up." I loved the texture and the flavors -- somewhat tropical. I love the combination of coconut, cardamom and carrot. In fact, I myself make a carrot cake with cardamom and a coconut buttercream.

    The hamachi was my least favorite course. I do not believe my piece of hamachi was top quality, and I found that the coffee flavor overwhelmed the delicate flavors of the hamachi and gnocchi and even the fragrant nasturtium.

    Although the lamb belly course did not excite me, the squab breast with golden beets and sweet potato juice was phenomenal -- both in texture and taste -- my favorite non-dessert course.

    Instead of the celery sorbet, I had a tomato sorbet with olive oil in, once again, freeze dried form with bits of crunchy toast. The tomato sorbet was excellent -- as if the tomatoes had been freshly picked, and which when paired with the olive oil powder made for quite a nice combination. The tiny pieces of toast gave the dish a nice texture. Simple yet pristine.

    I too loved the rice and beans -- entirely different from Mr. Cantu's presentation.

    And the milk chocolate-hazelnut parfait with orange reduction was simply perfect -- the light and creamy chocolate-hazelnut mixture paired with a crunchy cookie base (think of the base as having the texture of a Kit Kat candy bar).

    To me, where WD-50 fell apart was in its service -- early on well paced, then long gaps and finally the feeling later in the meal like we had overstayed our welcome, even though a few dishes were still to be served. Having only dined at WD-50 this one time, I cannot tell if this is typical. However, I look forward to my next trip to New York to discover what new and interesting concoctions Wylie has stirred up.
  • Post #7 - October 20th, 2005, 5:01 pm
    Post #7 - October 20th, 2005, 5:01 pm Post #7 - October 20th, 2005, 5:01 pm
    As a follow-up to this discussion, and in case anyone plans to visit WD-50 in NY, I thought I would add a link to a page on the restaurant's website which includes fantastic pictures of some of the dishes.
  • Post #8 - November 13th, 2005, 10:58 pm
    Post #8 - November 13th, 2005, 10:58 pm Post #8 - November 13th, 2005, 10:58 pm
    WD Redux New York City Entry #34

    What kind of art is culinary art? Is cookery performance art or plastic art? Is a chef a musician or composer? Do we judge the process or the product? Both views have appeal. Any chef who oversees a staff had better develop, if not recipes, at least procedures, so that dishes night to night will taste similar. Yet, diners who return to a restaurant often discover that what is lovely one night is loopy the second and lost it the next.

    On the performance side this suggests that kitchens have on and off nights. Even on a night one dish may be perfectly timed with a just balance of ingredients, whereas the next order is ignored for thirty seconds with just a bit too much salt. Cooking is not robot work. There has been no Robot Coup. Even in those establishments in which chefs play with chemistry sets, men and women are key. Performance is not that of chefs alone, but of their cooks who labor often with light oversight.

    However, a product may change as well, not simply a function of performance. Put aside the fact that some dishes are better than others (to particular diners and to culinary audiences), but the materials that form the dish change. The veal, morels, or apricots delivered on Tuesday may have a different quality as those on Thursday. An August orange has a different taste from one picked in February. A product delivered on Friday may be a little off by Monday. Add to varying ingredients is that conscientious chefs keep experimenting, even if the menu hides the change: Anjou in place of Bartlett, a surprising sprig of tarragon, or chanterelles substituted for porcini.

    The recognition of the restaurant as a moving target came to mind in my second visit to WD-50, about a month after the first. On that first occasion, I was mightily impressed by the Sam Mason's desserts, and was occasionally dismayed by the lack of balance in Chef Dufresne's entrees. Tonight seemed a reversal in form. How to explain? One plausible explanation is simply that of presence. While not always perfectly formed, several of Chef Dufresne's creations bid fare for his stature as one of the most creative chefs outside of the hothouse of Chicago cuisine. Chef Dufresne was absent the first night, present the second. Pastry Chef Mason was present the first, absent the second. Could oversight make that much difference. Of course, a restaurant that plays on the field of WD-50 should not be dependent on the chef's proximity, otherwise the restaurant should charge bargain rates on "Chef's Night Out."

    I prefer to believe that Chef Dufresne, a culinary-mind-in-progress is learning, tasting, testing, and improving, and this was not simply a case of Cooks-Gone-Wild when the master is away.

    As much as my main courses improved, I was disappointed by the amuse, which had the unbalanced tastes of the chef's earlier dishes. The sardine with freeze dried corn and whiskey caramel was a brief taste in which the whiskey overwhelmed the sardine, adding a rather bitter/sweet accent to the pungent, slightly salty fish. The sardine should have been on center stage, not the liquor.

    Our first appetizer was a revised reprise of the dish I was served the first night, "Foie Gras Mousse with Beet liquor on a bed of green pea/bayleaf soil. I had not been much impressed by the saltiness of the soil my first night, but this was far milder. The dish looked quite similar, but the flabbiness of the flan seemed more silky tonight. Yet, despite the surprise of beet jus spilling from its foie gras puck, I'm not certain that this is a grand innovation, but it was a signal improvement.

    Our Shrimp cous-cous, papaya, bruleed avocado, crispy kaffir lime was not beautifully presented, a somewhat dull, beige pile of faux grains (shrimp grains), but the mixture of papaya, avocado brulee and lime added pungency to the subtle shrimp pellets. As in the previous dish, Chef Dufresne plays with our expectations. I'm not persuaded that the fact that one can refashion shrimp into grains means that one gains from doing so - other than a fleeting sense of amusement - but in taste this dish succeeds in its own terms.

    For our third appetizer Chef Dufresne presented his hanger tartare, peaches, bearnaise ice cream, and amaro (the last, I believe, is an Italian herb and root cordial). While the slice of steak tartare did not astonish me, the peaches with rich ice cream were excellent accompaniments. If the center of the dish was somewhat unprepossessing, these secondary flavors were harmoniously constructed.

    Of the main courses, my favorite - and the best dish from Chef Dufresne's kitchen in my visits - was his Seared Cod with Smoked Mashed Potatoes, Japanese Pickled Mushrooms, and Red Bell Pepper with a Grapeseed Oil Reduction. Perhaps it was no coincidence that this was the chef's most traditional offering. It was perfectly prepared and conceived. That cod is not by itself a particularly rich or charming fish made the combination all the more impressive. The smoky flavor melded with the pickling and the biting pepper. It was a triumph, and I imagine that when some of the smoke and mirrors of Cuisine Agape are forgotten, we will be left with wonderful memories like this.

    Also successful was Chef Dufresne's lamb chop (cooked souvide and then quickly roasted), with tamarind-cashew, cranberry beans, parsley root, and baby cilantro. The cranberry beans didn't impress me much, but the rest of the plate certainly did. The lamb was as perfectly prepared as at any classical establishment, but its accompaniments were Chef Dufresne's inspiration. The tamarind cashew was delightful with the lamb, and adding cilantro, a herb that awakens the most jaded taste bud, was most welcome.

    I was less impressed by the root vegetable lasagna with a sweet and sour mushroom broth. Denying ourselves starch may be a culinary strategy, but lasagna is beloved for a reason. This plate seemed chill and harsh, made less appealing through a sweet and sour broth. Chef Dufresne routinely denies us the warmth of pasta, but why do so in this post-Atkins age? The dish was vinegary and mean.

    Odd, too, was "Pork Belly, Sauerkraut Spaetzle, Swiss Cheese Consomme, and Romaine." Again the chef takes a beloved comfort food - here the corned beef sandwich - and extracts the comfort, denying us our pleasure. Yes, this spare dish deconstructed Katz's Deli, but to what end? Katz's version would be mine any day. Perhaps Swiss cheese consomme scores high on the Cute-O-Meter, but if chefs wish to create homages they should equal what they are honoring.

    Desserts were something of a muddle. The PBJ combined a sourdough wafer with a lovely, rich grape sorbet. Crispy crunches and a peanut "dirt" completed the effort. While I loved the sorbet, the nutty dust left me cool. Our chefs wish to reclaim their childish delicacies, but when they have to do so it must transcend. Chef Achatz did this at Alinea with his famed, funny PBJ (his grape robed in peanut butter), but Chef Mason seems all jammed up.

    Better was the eggless lemon curd with a huckleberry smear and basil meringue. These flavors and textures work together in a splendid melding of herb and fruit. A happy ending.

    Had only we stopped there. The last dish, butternut squash sorbet (with pumpkin seeds, I think - my notes are incomplete) over chocolate soil seemed filled with off-tastes, salty and bitter notes that never met in triumph. This autumnal dessert needs work before winter appears.

    The conclusion was, as before, a splendid Cocoa Cotton - a truffle of cotton candy: a true and delightful tribute to carny cuisine. As with the great clowns, one leaves WD-50 with a grin.

    Despite my mixed responses, I enjoy dining at WD-50. Chefs Dufresne and Mason make me think. They do not permit diners to sleep and chew, but to masticate their ideas. I hope to return, not because the third time is the charm, but because the charm of WD-50 can be seen when dishes stumble as well as when they fly.

    50 Clinton Street
    Manhattan (Lower East Side)
  • Post #9 - July 18th, 2006, 6:50 pm
    Post #9 - July 18th, 2006, 6:50 pm Post #9 - July 18th, 2006, 6:50 pm
    We recently ate there again, as well, and didn't enjoy it nearly as much. We wanted a lighter meal, so we didn't get a tasting menu (either time) We had 2 apppetizers and 2 fish dishes (leading our server to double check that we were omnivores, since one of the fish dishes had a duck component). My fish dish was extraordinarily salty, and I sent it back. They made it again, and the same thing. We ate it, but it had too much salt. The salt seemed to be in clumps, they must have tossed large-crystal salt over it. In fact, the server suggested that was what it was. I don't care why it's too salty. It's too salty. My husband's dish was much better.

    One of the things we had liked the last time was sitting in a row of tables, talking to our neighbors. I don't imagine everyone does that, but it was fun. This time we sat at a 4-top on the other side of the room, and while we were happy to talk with one another, missed being part of the crowd. It felt a bit isolated over there.

    Oh well :)

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  • Post #10 - July 18th, 2006, 9:08 pm
    Post #10 - July 18th, 2006, 9:08 pm Post #10 - July 18th, 2006, 9:08 pm
    Sounds like WD-50: highly variable. Perhaps salt was the dish of the night!
  • Post #11 - June 19th, 2008, 3:39 pm
    Post #11 - June 19th, 2008, 3:39 pm Post #11 - June 19th, 2008, 3:39 pm
    What a difference 2 years make, or how I dined well at WD-50 and offended Wylie, all on a quiet Monday.

    As an unabashed fan of crazy cuisine, and having introduced my brother to the experience at Moto during a recent visit to Chicago, it was clear we needed to enjoy WD-50 when personal affairs took me on a recent trip to Manhattan. In part I was there to offer moral support to a friend whose father had passed on, and I could think of no better way to provide that support to a fellow who recently became the patriarch of the family than to liquor him well and subject him to silly, but delectable fare. It worked quite well, too, for he quickly changed from a weary individual, tormented by issues of equity, succession, lawyers and wills, into a google-eyed kid with every other sentence starting with "wow."

    As you might expect on a quiet Monday at 630, service was attentive, the place was quiet, and best of all, Wylie was there running the show. We opted for the 12 course tasting menu with wine pairings, and spent about 4 hours a table.

    While it is clearly unfair to all concerned, part of the point of this meal was to compare it to Moto and so I shall. Both rooms are quiet, comfortable and attractive in a somewhat restrained way. They appear roughly the same in size.

    Service at Moto is more showy, more fun. Our waiter warmed to our table as the night went on and we clearly showed a strong interest in the food, wine, and chef, but in the end Homaru's more extravagant personality shows both in the showiness of the service and the extravagant, ambitious and sometimes downright loony concepts embodied at Moto. WD-50 was much more about the food.

    The 12-course menu had a distinctly Asian caste to it for most of the courses. The amuse was a sashimi-like little filet of fluke, topped with a touch of fruit and dessicated vinegar, and with a swoosh of limey jelly off to the side. Enjoyable, and forgettable - nothing great, nothing bad. I did have a bit of a personal problem with the vinegar powder because my eyes told me it was cocoa and my tastebuds told me different. I have never experienced such a contest between two senses.

    The next course established a visual theme for much of the meal - strings and beads. Or perhaps it was worms and necklaces. In any case, I was delighted by the appearance of this dish - pizza pebbles with pepperoni and shiitake. My picture does not do it justice, but is at least somewhat evocative.


    The pizza pebbles combined the bread and cheese into something that tasted okay, but was too grainy for me. The pepperoni cream connected the beads, and the shiitake wafers were the flavorful highlight. An impressive dish to behold, but one of my least favorite to eat.

    The wine pairing for the amuse and pebbles was a Rosat Cava from Avinyo. Bubbles to activate the taste buds and a fresh, ever so slightly sweet taste. Good stuff.

    From here, things improved markedly.

    Is Knot Foie a little dig at us Chicagoans? Hard to say, but it is a pun one can take many ways. As well as another lovely dish to behold.


    The rope was a creamy, dreamy string of silky foie gras, coated with little rice krispy pebbles. At the tail you start with little beads of flavor - one savory and one sweet, and then a wisp of cilantro frond (not what it was called, but that is what it was). Delicious. The pairing was a Arabashiri "Rippling Stream" Sake that proved a great match for the foie gras.

    The next course was a Hamachi Tartare with wakame, sake lees tahini and grapefruit shallot. Really a terrine of tartare if you will. Like the knot foie, this dish was carried by the exquisite flavor of its main ingredient as much as by the combination of other flavors, though in both cases the whole was delightful if not totally necessary to my enjoyment. The match was a Cotes du Jura Chardonnay (identified by the waiter as from southwestern France, but I chose not to quibble) that was, as you can imagine from the dish, crisp and free of oak.


    I am told that Eggs Benedict is a signature dish at WD-50, so I was pleased to be able to enjoy it. It did hit all the high points that I expect in molecular cuisine - an amusing riff on comfort food, presented in an unrecognizable form but delivering an amped up, exaggerated and wonderful version of the flavors one expects in the "real" Eggs Benedict.


    What the plate holds is an english muffin puff with a liquid Hollandaise center, a tiny cylinder of egg (two of each) a wafer of (freeze dried?) bacon and some tiny chive garnishes. It is not easy to combine all the bits into a single mouthful, but it is well worth it. Surprisingly, the wine pairing was a Finger Lakes Pinot from Miles Wine Cellar (actually made at or with Fox Run, though in my visits to Fox Run I have never had anything like this). It was the equal of the eggs, and so much better than any Finger Lakes red I have had before that it hardly can be compared. It was fresh and fruity, but had the proper rich, barnyard undertones and a lovely finish.

    Work and soccer call, so I will leave you there. I hope to return for the other mains and the glorious desserts tomorrow.
    Feeling (south) loopy
  • Post #12 - June 19th, 2008, 10:24 pm
    Post #12 - June 19th, 2008, 10:24 pm Post #12 - June 19th, 2008, 10:24 pm
    What a coincidence, dicksond! My girlfriend and I happened to be in NYC this week and enjoyed the same menu as you on Wednesday evening. So far, we have to agree with nearly all your comments :)
  • Post #13 - June 23rd, 2008, 4:05 pm
    Post #13 - June 23rd, 2008, 4:05 pm Post #13 - June 23rd, 2008, 4:05 pm
    Glad to hear we are in agreement, Puppy.

    On to the rest of the mains.

    The Eggs Benedict were followed by a wonderful dish - Crab Tail, soybean noodles and cinnamon dashi.


    Of all the dishes, this one and the Foie Knot were the most harmonious - working seamlessly as an ensemble, though each of the components was also delicious. A grilled crab claw, tender and delicious, covered with a large soy noodle (just laying on top), with chiffonade of basil, floating in a delicate dashi (light miso) broth scented with cinnamon. The weird result was that it all seemed smoky to us. We asked and were told nothing had been smoked and the grilling was done on a flat top, so I can only conclude that with a little browning, a touch of miso, a touch of cinnamon, and a bit of basil you can create a flavor and aroma that has similar aromatics to wood smoke - go figure. Anyway, it was very nice.

    The next course returned in a pleasingly whimsical way to strings and beads - chicken liver spaetzle, pine needle, radish, cocoa nib. The appearance most reminded me of a bowl of worms, or maybe one of those dishes the Klingons eat on Star Trak.


    The spaetzle were basically light liver dumplings, so you better like that. The pine needle flavor was intense and mysterious, coming from something that was combined with the cocoa nibs rubbed around the top of the bowl. You could not see anything, but you definitely knew when you got some. The nibs added an earthiness that enhanced the earthiness of the liver in the spaetzle. The crisp radish rounds were overshadowed by the other flavors. Lastly, either I ate this all wrong or the proportions were way off, because all the rest of the dish was gone and I still had quite a few worms (or are they larvae?). Not bad for me, since I like liver dumplings, but while I enjoyed this dish, it did not come together as well as I would have liked. Some of my dining companions were more underwhelmed, but I bet they do not like liver dumpling soup either.

    The next dish was even more controversial. Half our table liked it a lot with the paired Old Vines Grenache, and the other half (including me) was underwhelmed. Beef Tongue (brined and cut thin) cherry-miso sauce (think fruity barbecue sauce), fried quinoa and palm seeds.


    Too sweet, no smoke, not too interesting. Might have liked the quinoa and palm seeds but the cherry-miso overwhelmed everything. Sugar, salt, a touch of fruit, bam in your face. I admit that I am not a great fan of fruit paired with meat, or sweet meat sauces, in general so maybe this had a high bar to get over with me.

    This made it all worthwhile.


    I guess it was Wylie's idea of a palate cleanser, with bright, fresh flavors and a certain simplicity. Described on the menu as Yogurt, olive oil jam, rhubarb, the tuile is made of olive oil and filled with a slightly tart, slightly sweet yogurt. The dried rhubarb, olive oil jam, nuts and the string holding it all together added interesting flavor notes, but that olive oil tuile with the yogurt filling was delicious and a revelation. I plan to try playing around with slightly sweet olive oil preparations - use the most fruity stuff you can find - at home. Very slightly sweet olive and greek yogurt, probably using some very floral honey, sounds great.

    Jasmine custard, black tea and banana - quite nice, not terribly memorable. We had returned to the wormy theme and a bit of cognitive dissonance here, though the camera has exaggerated the effect. The bubbly things are actually just crisps of caramelized sugar. The black tea makes an appearance as a black dust at the top. Banana bits are mostly hidden under the custard.


    More memorable was the Toasted Coconut Cake, carob, smoked cashew and brown butter sorbet.


    As with all the olive oil tuile, there are some great ideas in this, in addition to the perfectly rendered coconut cake. The smoked cashews were a great touch, though it might have harmonized better if they had dialed back the smokiness of the cashews, or used less of them. However, they held up well against the toasty coconut, and the rich nuttiness of the brown butter. The carob swooshes played a decidedly supporting role in this production.

    Dinner finished with a little dessert plate to go with coffee. I had lost control of the group by this point, so you will need to believe me that this dish looked a little different when delivered.


    Seemed like slightly chewy chocolate sachets filled with freeze-dried chocolate, served with little puffs that were a sophisticated take on the old Good Humor Toasted Almond bars - toasted almond coating around a Yuzu ice cream center. The sachets were grainy for me, and the puffs were fine, okay, not so special. The last wine was a sparkling rose and it very much brought us full circle back to the cava we started with.

    After dinner, our server took us back to kitchen to meet Wylie. The kitchen was beautiful, almost empty and eerily quiet. They were mostly putting together desserts by then.


    After a brief discussion with Wylie I asked him what he did to put Schwa out of business, and he replied (quite seriously) that all he did was eat there once, then turned on his heel and was gone. So much for my attempt at levity.

    We walked back across town having been entertained, and full but not overly so. Of 12 dishes, there were 6 that were truly wonderful either in their entirety or in at least one major component (Foie, Hamachi, Eggs, Crab, Yogurt tuile and coconut cake), and only one that really did not work (tongue with that cherry-miso stuff). Unlike Moto in its early days, and more like a more traditional restaurant, I found the appetizers and desserts to be stronger than the mains (by which I mean the meat courses). The one place that I think WD-50 was head and shoulders above Moto was the wine pairings. The Pinot and Sake in particular were good matches and lovely on their own. But the adventurousness, extravagance and theatricality were much more muted than what is provided by Cantu and Achatz. In principle, if you dial back the craziness I would expect to get a consistently more delicious meal. Can't say that was the case, so for me WD-50 sits in a strange no man's land - not traditional, but too conservative to be truly adventurous; not settling for perfect execution and routine deliciousness (settling?), but not delivering a sufficiently stimulating overall experience to make me overlook the weaknesses of some of the compositions.

    In the end, that is more harsh than I mean to be. It was in some respects a great meal, but it did not provide quite the level of intellectual challenge and stimulation, or the consistent deliciousness I look for in such a meal.

    Still, it is worth a visit without a doubt.
    Feeling (south) loopy
  • Post #14 - June 11th, 2014, 11:30 am
    Post #14 - June 11th, 2014, 11:30 am Post #14 - June 11th, 2014, 11:30 am
    Wylie Dufresne Says He Is Forced to Close WD-50

    WD-50, a Lower East Side landmark for modernist cooking and one of the most influential restaurants in the world, will close at the end of November. Wylie Dufresne, the chef whose imaginative vision has propelled the restaurant for 11 years, announced Tuesday evening on Twitter that Nov. 30 “will be our final night of service” at the 50 Clinton Street spot. “Come celebrate with us for the next 173 days.”

    In a phone interview Wednesday morning, Mr. Dufresne, who turned 44 last week, explained that the pioneering restaurant had succumbed to a classic New York City story: A developer, Icon Realty Management, is planning to put up a new building on the site. “It’s a real estate thing,” the chef said.

    I had two glorious meals at WD-50 and look forward to trying whatever WD has in store next.
  • Post #15 - June 11th, 2014, 11:46 am
    Post #15 - June 11th, 2014, 11:46 am Post #15 - June 11th, 2014, 11:46 am
    One can also eat at Wylie's more informal Alder, which, I assume, will still be open.
    Toast, as every breakfaster knows, isn't really about the quality of the bread or how it's sliced or even the toaster. For man cannot live by toast alone. It's all about the butter. -- Adam Gopnik
  • Post #16 - June 11th, 2014, 3:20 pm
    Post #16 - June 11th, 2014, 3:20 pm Post #16 - June 11th, 2014, 3:20 pm
    Had a really great meal at wd~50 as highlighted here. I hope Wylie does find another location for his trendsetting restaurant.