November 14, 2012 § Leave a comment
50 Clinton Street
New York, NY 10002
I recently had the luxury of being spoiled with my first elaborate tasting menu at WD~50, a place known for molecular gastronomy, deconstruction of classic flavors, and other whimsical stylings that’s been in NYC’s lower east side since 2003 and held on to a Michelin star since 2006. To many, it’s a culinary mecca of this style of food, and Chef Wylie Dufresne and his talented crew are well equipped to expertly guide you through either a 6 or 12 course tasting menu of their accomplishments. While excited to go here, I was a bit conflicted due to the hype as there’s always that fear of being disappointed at such a high price tag, but if anything, my refusal to build up too much excitement ended up working out in my favor as I was able to experience each dish without expectations.
Also of note, they seem quite accommodating to food preferences and allergies tailoring courses all the way to vegetarian, but not quite to vegan–to quote another similar restaurant on the matter of pairing down a tasting menu to vegan restrictions, “I’m sure it wouldn’t be worth it anyway.” Of course that’s not to say that there’s anything wrong with eating that way, but in an environment that celebrates creativity and diversity of food, you’re best off eating whatever they choose to serve you without hesitance. I ordered the menu with no restrictions, and here is my dialogue of the 12 course tasting that was presented to me in November of 2012.
the duck blind
Scotch, sherry, smoked maple, cocoa oil
First, a cocktail of course. This drink captured the complement of smoky and sweet with the rich depth of maple syrup. Somehow this combination manifested itself into something akin to a really luscious barrel-aged Manhattan. It was quite a lovely drink on its own although perhaps a little rich and sweet to pair with the gentle progression of a tasting menu. I found myself taking my sweet time with it between courses and fantasizing about the possibility for them to offer small cocktail pairings with the menu here to increase the decadence level.
The sesame flatbread was a perfect means to refresh the palette in a very light way, and I found myself able to easily pinch off small pieces as I switched between my drink and the wine tastings or different courses. Not much there to this outside of a small, crisp puff of sesame flavor, but it made perfect sense in this context.
nigiri, salsify, seaweed, sesame
While this appeared perfectly normal and as it should be, the delicate first bite of WD~50 revealed a unique surprise or two. The root vegetable salsify in this dish masqueraded as the bed of rice and imparted a mild, natural sweetness in a creamy, sticky base for the fish reminiscent of rice, but with a different delicate flavor. Sesame and seaweed added their respective flavors via some molecular trickery and appeared as small crisp orbs on top of the fish. The fish itself was as tender and mildly sweet as the salsify itself making for a harmonious paring. This first course was probably one of my favorite bites and I have found myself craving the peculiar retexturing of the salsify a few times since. This bite certainly set the theme that Chef Dufresne is known for–riffs on familiar flavor combinations presented with flawless execution and whimsical stylings.
lobster roe, charred lemon, green grape, coriander-brown butter
Roe manifested itself into creamy, fresh pasta imparting a lightly oceanic flavoring and was complemented by bursts of green grape and crisp brown butter. This was another delicate opening dish that left you pondering how one could turn roe into a luscious facsimile of pasta. Perhaps due to the more quiet flavors of the evening, this dish didn’t stand out to me as much, but it was entirely logical in the course of the tasting and served to slowly amp up the drama and flavor that was set to arrive in short time.
I was the most curious about this dish, and it delivered. The pho broth was full of familiar pho flavors, yet rich with fatty foie gras. The beef tendon was puffy fried like a chicharron and anchored with a rich housemade hoisin sharp with plenty of lime. The fatty foie itself gave a perfect, creamy anchor and was a lovely play in temperatures as well as a creamy disc of cold foie contrasted with the warm, fragrant broth with the resulting flavors being rich and comforting while gentle like the Vietnamese intended. There was just the right amount of uniqueness to elevate the dish while still retaining deliciousness.
amaro yolk, chicken confit, peas ‘n’ carrots
This is the dish that my companion continues to list as his most favorite. At this point in the meal, the textures started to become all the more perplexing, and yet the overall flavor profile delved deeply into simplistic Americana. Green pea shapes were made of carrots coated in pea dust which had the sweet taste of carrots while maintaining the appearance of peas. Ribbons of blanched carrots were quiet in flavor, but had the texture of soft pasta. The yolk hiding inside binding everything was bright yellow and had been tempered to the point of translucency, sticky and rich with tones of bittersweet Amaro liqueur which really stretched the limits of what a simple egg can be. A few soft pieces of chicken grounded the dish and brought it back to something familiar. The result was the flavors of a chicken pot pie or chicken and dumplings; never before have flavors so homestyle and familiar been so elegant and unusual.
veal brisket, za’atar, plum, mustard
Amidst the elegant textures, this dish evoked the memories of Easter ham with mustard flavor in the form of an airy, crunchy cookie that dissolved into a tangy, warm mustard. It was amazing how the shaved veal brisket with za’atar reminded you of Easter ham–salty, yet tender with many soft white fat striations. Mild sweetness of thin plum rounded out the dish. This was another delightful favorite of nostalgic flavors under the guise of dynamic composition at our table.
crab toast, saffron, kaffir-yogurt, arare
The crab toast was a bit more straightforward as far as deconstructing goes, or perhaps I simply didn’t get the reference, but it was a delicious intermezzo nonetheless. Tender peekytoe crab draped in creamy sauce garnished with bright kaffir lime perched on a thin sweet, cake laced with that telltale saffron headiness. Crisp puffed arare (rice crackers) added an extra crunch and element of saltiness. Even when not referencing anything straightforward, WD~50 and their kitchen excelled in creating some lovely flavors with a lovely display of complex textures which is commendable. This was a good example of the menu’s reach and taking the same ideas and applying it to a their own cultivated flavors.
snapper, squash, celery, juniper, cous cous2
This was another dish that for me was untethered by preconceived flavor notions and gave the opportunity to create something unique and push the boundaries of their style. Although to its detriment, in a lineup of 12 dishes this was somewhat less memorable without the nostalgic references but that is not to say that it wasn’t as interesting and delicious as the rest. The snapper was light with a thin brush of char that imparted a smoky flavor. One of the squash variants was fried, thin, and crispy and at times bordering on too salty. Out of everything I tried, that was the only faint criticism of the evening which is pretty impressive to have such a small misstep in the wide variety of elements. This this crisped squash paired with a thicker, traditionally creamy variety. Couscous had been reformulated into dense gelatinous cubes with a citrus element to them. That leaves me wondering where the celery was which makes me smirk at fact that I was so absorbed in taking everything in and enjoying myself that I easily missed a tricky transformation somewhere. This dish transformed fish to fall with warm flavors, and oddy, the snapper seemed right at home in the midst.
squab, tomato hummus, pickled turnips, tzatziki
This dish delighted me at the time as I believe it was my first experience with squab (or pigeon, if you don’t want to try to hide the truth of the matter), and it dressed it up in some lovely, comforting Mediterranean flavors. The pigeon had almost an organ meat quality, or that of a great piece of hanger steak, luscious and rich, and once again ridiculously tender like every other piece of meat that landed in front of me that day. The fried tomato hummus was creaminess encapsulated in a nice crust, reminiscent of falafel yet still full of tahini-hummus familiarity. Yogurt and dill tzatziki favors manifested themselves into a crunchy, airated texture and pickled turnips added that extra layer of welcome acid. This was essentially gyro flavors with pigeon and crackers, and I enjoyed every moment of it.
root beer ribs, rye spaetzle, apricot
This was my personal favorite of the evening if not for its richness but for its extreme dynamics of flavors. The ribs were in a tight, decadent mass of luscious meat with an extremely thin crust. Accompanying flavors were a syrupy, complex root beer sauce, tart apricot smear, and gummy caraway-rich spaetzel. Due to the rye and the richness of the ribs, I was reminded of the warm spice notes of fall as well as a rich pastrami deli sandwich, but this was certainly above and beyond even that. This was a fitting climax to the savory courses, and one that I will easily remember for its ability to harmonize a wide variety of components into something truly memorable.
jasmine, cucumber, honeydew, chartreuse
This course served to cleanse the palette and accomplished it with mildly salty cucumber and herbal notes. The layer of green ice sheltered a creamy concoction underneath, and foam and ground cashew garnished the top. Because I ended up mixing this together after cracking into the ice as if it were a creme brulee, I wasn’t entirely sure which component was which ingredient. Nonetheless, this dish did an excellent job of not only preparing your palette for dessert, but highlighting the mild sweetness of each of its ingredients in a subtle, clever way.
yuzu milk ice, macadamia, jackfruit, basil
This was easily one of my favorite moments of the night in part because I’m a tremendous sucker for yuzu. It has such an appealing blend of citrus, floral, and faintly sweet that it brightens up any dish although this dish took my favorite flavor to new levels. The milk ice possessed a whipped spumoni-like texture that was beyond light and luscious that dissolved into a tart & tangy sharpness that made my inner cheeks reflexively twitch a tiny bit with the sournerss. Ground macadamia nuts added a lush tropical crunch, and basil sauce enhanced the herbal notes while jackfruit took a candied, chewy consistency. More brightness was found in the tart, thick lemon-curd esque garnishes of berry and yellow on the plate. By the time I was scooping the last melted bites of everything mixed together on the plate I was able to appreciate how the flavors had come together into one tropical, bright, and tart note.
s’mores, bitter cocoa, meringue, black currant
Why settle for one dessert when you can have three? One mild and calming, one tart and floral and one rich with spice and chocolate? In this case, what appeared a marshmallow was actually ice cream that was somehow smoky as a s’mores marshmallow should be, but deceptively cold and speared with an edible graham cracker stick. The chocolate underneath incorporated all the classic s’mores flavors with a rich crunch with a fudgy layer on top. All of the chocolatey richness was balanced by the deep berry notes of the currant, and there was a pleasant tingle of peppery spice hiding somewhere in the chocolate. The only fault that some of the marshmallow roasted on the base of the plate was sticky and difficult to consume, but the messy factor was half of the fun.
white chocolate, gjetost (not pictured)
At this point, I was becoming too full to eat so much as another thing and wasn’t expecting more that I neglected to take a picture. Small white chocolate spheres were dusted in what I presume was a tart, freeze-dried raspberry coating giving them the outward appearance of raspberries. The inside was rich and creamy, coating your tongue with the slightest note of tangy goat cheese. It was lovely, but I couldn’t get past a small taste as I was beyond indulged at that point.
The pacing of the courses was great, and it felt as if they took notice to the amount of time it took us to complete each course and adjusted accordingly. Considering the price tag and what could have easily been a stuffy atmosphere, WD~50 felt very casual and friendly, and the service was on point while maintaining an easygoing attitude. Often, my dishes were presented with a speedy explanation to get through many of the elements in such as I way that I would miss some information, but I was content to leave most of the experience up to my perception. One complaint some may have is that this is a small space and as a result you are very close to your neighbors, but in our case it led to enjoyable conversations with the couples around us about the food which branched off into other delightful small talk at times.
The one drink I had was excellent, and in addition I had some tastes of the wine pairings as well. The wine was expertly chosen to be as unique and intriguing as the food itself and I was able to try some unique wines that greatly added to the experience. My only wish is that perhaps it would be better if they offered the opportunity for a half pour pairing so you can sample everything without ending so blissfully intoxicated that it becomes difficult to truly appreciate what you are consuming.
The beauty is the ability of each component to both stand alone and interact with each other in different ways. Half of the deconstructed presentation relies on your ability to put the flavors together properly, but when everything is so well thought out that it all intermingles in every combination, every bite can be a different exploration. Sometimes the flavors are inspired by classics, other times, they are their own unique dish. Half of the fun is trying to determine the inspiration, the nostalgic taste memories that have become something else so much more complex and identifying how they have changed it. Even without this level of the diner’s attention, the food is most importantly delicious enough to stand on its own.
What became apparent to me quite quickly in this meal is the level of passion and care that went into the creation of the food and I delight to know that they take pride in evolving and exploring new techniques and different styles. I appreciate the two different menus so that you can check out what you missed or explore newer creations. Of course, all of this decadence and painstaking execution comes at a price. The 12 course current menu is $155, but they also offer a $90 5 course “from the vault” sampling of tried and true dishes. Wine pairings are $85 for the 12 courses and $55 for the 5 courses. Also of note is that for $25 you can snag two items from the menu at the bar with the option to add more for $15 each. If you want to try some of these dishes out without full commitment of a $155 or $90 tasting menu, it’s a great option. Is it worth it? I believe strongly that if you have an interest in this sort of thing, the enjoyment and memories of a fantastic meal have the potential to persist for a lifetime.
Have you been here as well? What courses look the most appealing to you? I’d love to hear your thoughts.