Sunday, October 02, 2011

wd~50 (New York, NY)

wd50 Restaurant
50 Clinton St, New York, NY 10002
Sun 10/02/2011, 07:00p-09:40p

wd~50 Exterior

Named for the Chef's initials and the street number of the restaurant (and serving as a nod to industrial lubricant WD-40), wd~50 is sort of the grande dame of avant garde cooking in the US, making Wylie Dufresne one of the country's most noted practitioners of the techniques of molecular gastronomy modernist cuisine. WD had been on my dining radar for years now, so I was excited to finally give the place a try.

About the Chef: Dufresne was born in 1970 in Providence, Rhode Island. His father Dewey Dufresne was himself a chef, one who operated a small group of restaurants under the Joe's moniker. The family moved to New York in 1977, and Dufresne eventually went to study philosophy at Colby College in Waterville, Maine, graduating with a Bachelor's degree in 1992. From there, he transitioned to the French Culinary Institute in New York, and after completing his studies, worked at Jean-Georges Vongerichten's first restaurant, JoJo, from 1994 to 1997. He then helped open Vongerichten's flagship Jean Georges, working his way up to a Sous Chef position. The Chef relocated to Las Vegas in 1998, becoming Chef de Cuisine at Vongerichten's Prime steakhouse at The Bellagio.

Dufresne left Vegas the following year, and in October 1999, he opened 71 Clinton Fresh Food (where his father Dewey was a partner), a small, spartan 30-seat restaurant that was widely credited with bringing fine dining to Manhattan's Lower East Side. In 2001, he was named one of "America's Best New Chefs" by Food & Wine for his work there, but would leave the restaurant later that year, replaced by Jason Neroni (the place would finally shutter for good in March 2006). Dufresne thus began work on wd~50, partnering with his old boss Vongerichten and restaurateur Phil Suarez, and the restaurant debuted on April 9th, 2003, just a few doors down from 71 Clinton. wd~50 quickly established itself as one of the City's most influential eateries, and in 2006, was awarded one Michelin star, a rating that it has retained through 2011. In the kitchen, Dufresne is currently aided by Chef de Cuisine Jon Bignelli (Aquavit, Amuse) and Pastry Chef Malcolm Livingston II (Per Se, Le Cirque).

wd~50 Interior
wd~50 occupies the space of a former bodega, which has been transformed into a spare, but warm dining room, anchored by a fireplace in one corner and an open kitchen in the back. Designed by Dewey Dufresne and Louis Mueller, the restaurant seats 67 in the dining room and an additional 7 at the bar. There's also a private dining room-slash-wine cellar downstairs with room for 14.

wd~50 Tasting Menu
wd~50's menu can be described as New/Modern/Contemporary/Progressive American, influenced by a wide range of cuisines and imbued with a healthy dose of avant garde flair. Diners can order à la carte, or do as I did and opt for the Tasting Menu, priced at $140 plus $85 for wine pairing. Click for a larger version.

Sesame Flatbread
Dufresne does away with the traditional bread basket, instead offering up a wooden box of what can be best described as a sesame seed flatbread. It was fantastic, especially in terms of texture--thin enough as to be translucent, with a absolutely delightful crunchiness. Flavor-wise, it was fairly nondescript at first, with the earthy essence of sesame creeping up toward the finish. I finished an entire box by myself.

Lobster, bone marrow, sea beans, sherry vinegar
1: Lobster, bone marrow, sea beans, sherry vinegar
Montagnieu 'Methode Traditionnelle' Earl Famille Peillot NV (Rhône-Alpes, France)
Serving as a sort of amuse bouche, chickpea and lobster were melded to fritter form, then paired with bone marrow powder, glasswort, and a Worcestershire-based sauce. The combination of lobster and garbanzo worked well, joining with the marrow to form a certain substantialness that was nicely offset by a marked vinegar-y tang.

Everything bagel, smoked salmon threads, crispy cream cheese
2: Everything bagel, smoked salmon threads, crispy cream cheese
Montagnieu 'Methode Traditionnelle' Earl Famille Peillot NV (Rhône-Alpes, France)
Dufresne's reimagined bagel was up next, composed of salmon threads, pickled red onion, sorrel, crispy cream cheese, and sesame-topped bagel ice cream. In terms of deconstruction, this was certainly successful. Everything just came together wonderfully, making for a course that was spot on in terms of recalling the classic Jewish-American dish of bagel and lox.

3: Foie-lafel
Estate Riesling Bassermann-Jordan 2009 (Pfalz, Germany)
A falafel, or "crunch patty," is a fried fritter of chickpea (or fava bean), often served in sandwich form. What we had was the Chef's take on the traditional dish, substituting liquid foie gras for garbanzo. This was joined by kimchi tahini (sesame seed paste, a.k.a. "flavor sauce"), tabbouleh, romaine lettuce, and a housemade pita ("pocket bread"). I really appreciated the restrained essence of the foie here, and how it integrated so well with its various accompaniments, with the veggies doing a great job in moderating the heft of the liver. Delicious, and probably tastier than any real falafel that I've had.

Poached egg in the shell, pumpernickel, caesar dressing, bean sprouts
4: Poached egg in the shell, pumpernickel, caesar dressing, bean sprouts
Chardonnay La Fenêtre 2009 (Santa Maria Valley, California)
Chef Dufresne is a noted egg slut, and here he pays homage to this favorite ingredient. The most intriguing item on the plate here was that edible "egg shell," actually composed of brown butter and an edible clay called kaolin. It didn't do much in terms of flavor, but was great for whimsical effect and adding a certain crunchiness to the dish. What was bursting with flavor, though, was a perfectly cooked six-minute egg, all runny and luscious, its gooey richness deftly tempered by the tangy Caesar and refreshing bean sprouts. The pumpernickel, from Moishe's, meanwhile, lent overarching earthy notes that I appreciated as well.

King oyster 'udon,' sweetbreads, banana-molasses, pickled ginge
5: King oyster 'udon,' sweetbreads, banana-molasses, pickled ginger
Côte du Rhône Rose 'Tralala' Domaine Saladin 2010 (Rhône, France)
Here, king oyster (eringi) mushrooms were transmuted into udon form. I loved the noodles' crispness and snap, as well as their subtly savory flair. The udon paired wonderfully with the heady, perfectly fried sweetbreads, while the arugula and ginger served to counteract the considerably gravity of the course. The most interesting aspect here was actually the banana-molasses, which made for a delicate undercurrent of sweetness that managed to somehow work. Banana chips, meanwhile, added some textural fire to the fray.

Tai snapper, onion tart, coffee, asian pear
6: Tai snapper, onion tart, coffee, asian pear
Pinot Noir 'White' Soho 2009 (Central Otago, New Zealand)
Red snapper was paired with cucumber, smoked tomato, coffee-cashew crumble, nashi pear, and a brûléed onion. The fish itself arrived expertly cooked--juicy and tender, with a satisfying, saline savor. Unfortunately, the other ingredients at play just seemed discordant to me, with the onion and coffee contributing a disconcerting astringency that threw me off. The tomato also seemed overly domineering.

Quail, nasturtium yogurt, turnip, nutmeg
7: Quail, nasturtium yogurt, turnip, nutmeg
Pinot Noir 'White' Soho 2009 (Central Otago, New Zealand)
Quail came presented in roulade form. The bird was succulent, supple, and simply delectable; it easily stood on its own. However, the turnips formed a great balance to the savoriness of the meat, as did the piquant nasturtium. The only problem was that three disks of quail wasn't enough--I wanted more!

Lamb loin, 'red beans & rice,' chayote squash
8: Lamb loin, 'red beans & rice,' chayote squash
Grenache 'Nouvelles Fraîches' Chateau Maris 2008 (Languedoc-Roussillon, France)
Our final savory course brought us a perfectly cooked cut of lamb. The meat was thoroughly enjoyable by itself, but I appreciated how it was countervailed by the paired "red beans & rice," which was actually crispy rice chip and mirepoix-cooked pine nuts. Tasty, though I didn't get much from the cayote.

Concord grape, cheesecake, lime
9: Concord grape, cheesecake, lime
Desserts at wd~50 are now the charge of Malcolm Livingston II, who took over the spot vacated by Alinea alum Alex Stupak (who went on to open a taqueria called Empellon, which makes about as much sense as Jordan Kahn opening up Red Medicine). In any case, he started us off with this little pre-dessert. I quite enjoyed the heavy, jammy sugariness of the Concord grape (tastes like Welch's!), which was superbly counterbalanced by the delightful crust of cheesecake and the light tanginess of sour cream and lime.

Apricot, buckwheat, brown butter, quince, green tea
10: Apricot, buckwheat, brown butter, quince, green tea
Gamay 'La Butte' Le Clos du Tue-Boeuf 2009 (Loire Valley, France)
Here, apricot pudding, brown butter ice cream, and quince pieces combined for a multifaceted sweetness that was deftly tempered by the astringency of the green tea powder. Very nice savoriness from the buckwheat streusel as well.

Soft chocolate, beet, long pepper, ricotta
11: Soft chocolate, beet, long pepper, ricotta
Commandaria St. John Keo NV (Lemesos, Cyprus)
Up next was what my server described as the Chef's "Jackson Pollock" dessert, with beet purée dripped and splattered onto the plate in true action painting style. The beet was more for visual impact though, as the star of the show here was that fantastic ricotta ice cream, which beautifully played off the chocolate, while the cocoa nibs helped mix things up texturally.

Rice krispy treats
12: Rice krispy treats
To close out the meal: ice cream coated with Rice Krispies and a fried kalamansi rice pudding fritter. Fun and tasty.

People often liken Dufresne to a "mad scientist" of sorts. The descriptor may have been more accurate in the past, but doesn't quite do justice to the Chef today, as there's a definite method to his apparent madness. There's tons of experimentation going on to be sure, but it's directed, and focused, the result of which is food that's undoubtedly intriguing, uncommonly playful, mostly tasty, and strangely comforting. The cooking is avant garde, indeed, but it seems to be somewhat "old school" in that regard as well. Dufresne doesn't delve too much into overly "smart" taste combinations, and a lot of the food recalls flavor permutations that just make sense. He doesn't venture into the hypermodern or the overtly cerebral, instead stepping around the fine line between preciousness and deliciousness, a dance that seems to be working just fine for him.


Anonymous Andrew Froug said...

Haven't seen "_____ slut" in a while. KevinEats returns to its roots!

Glad to see WD-50 tastefully doing modernist cuisine.

Monday, November 07, 2011 3:22:00 AM  
Blogger James said...

I like the nod to the Simpsons, and what a wonderful account of WD-50 that you made.

Monday, November 07, 2011 3:40:00 AM  
Blogger 12345 said...

We're headed to WD-50 and few other places later this month, so glad to see a review of the tasting menu. Ate there a few years back and really enjoyed the meal. Eating at Daniel and Del Posto also and need one more dinner. Wait listed at Brooklyn Fare, so hopefully that works out. Masa is the only Bruni 4 star we have yet to try, was hoping you could have negotiated a dinner with pictures to help us decide.

Monday, November 07, 2011 10:14:00 AM  
Blogger James said...

I can't believe you liked this place. I'm telling you man, from all the places I've been in NYC, WD~50 was the worst. I'm glad you got to try shake shack and chicken and rice.

Did you try Del Posto or Ko yet?

Monday, November 07, 2011 10:57:00 AM  
Blogger Rodzilla said...

This is still probably tops on my list of places to visit in NY. It may not be considered as inventive as a few years ago, but at least we can be assured WD doesn't let "innovation" come before taste.

I couldn't help but wonder if the foie-lafel name was thought up before the dish.

Great review as always.

Monday, November 07, 2011 8:38:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Andrew: Unfortunately I can't claim "egg slut" as my own; it's actually a Bourdainism. ;)

James: I'm glad at least *someone* got the reference!

Waleed: Nice choices man. I'm probably going to hit up Daniel on my next NYC trip, and Del Posto is on my list too. Brooklyn Fare and Masa, unfortunately, don't allow photos so I won't be visiting them any time soon. And after my middling experience at Bar Masa, I don't think Takayama wants much to do with me.

James: Haven't been to Del Posto, but for Italian your favorite is Marea right? And Ko? No photos. :p

BB: And which of those "best" places was it?

Roddy: Ha! I was thinking the same thinking myself about the foie. ;)

Tuesday, November 08, 2011 6:30:00 PM  
Blogger James said...

Marea was great too. As was Ai Fiori.

I understand the photo issue with Ko, but can't you still enjoy a meal without documenting it?

Monday, November 14, 2011 8:36:00 AM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

I can certainly enjoy a meal sans documentation. However, given that this is NYC we're talking about, there are plenty of other great restaurants that I can dine at that will allow photography, so I'll gravitate toward them.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011 1:55:00 PM  

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