WD-50, NYC 2

April 2, 2007

wd17.jpgOn March 31, 2007, Andrea, Tony, Linda and I dined at WD-50. (My previous blogpost on this experimental restaurant was December 11, 2006.)  We were promptly seated in a nice booth, which provided a private atmosphere, quite different from the first time when the two of us were right next to the tables on either side. A basket of the delicious, thin sesame crisps was put on the table; it was refilled during the meal as needed. We ordered the March 2007 tasting menu & wine pairing. It was $115 each, plus $65 each for the wine.

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The first course was: 

Hamachi, preserved lemon, kohlrabi, almond powder 

Cava Avinyo Brut NV Reserva (Penedes, Spain).

The lemon purée was terrific and dominated the dish; I know that hamachi can stand up to a strong flavor, but it didn’t seem to here. The Spanish sparkling wine went well and cut into the richness of the dish.

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The second course was: 

Shrimp and tarragon macaroons 

Served with the same Cava Avinyo Brut 

The macaroons were super light, as was the flavor of the shrimp. The tarragon filling was delicious and complementary. A more assertive wine might have brought out the flavor of the macaroons.

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The third course was: Foie gras in the round 

Riesling Kabinett ‘Erbacher Marcobrunn’ Von Simmern 2004 (Rheingau, Germany) 

This dish was a bowl of little balls or pellets. Some were foie gras which had been made into a terrine and then processed back into little pieces; mixed in were larger balls of puffed rice rolled in dark Valronha chocolate. There were also pellets of a green herb. There was a dash of balsamic vinegar. The four of us had four different opinions as to what were the dominant flavors, but none of us thought the dish was a success. The wine was lovely, but its light sweetness was not needed as the foie gras flavor had mostly been lost in the processing.

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The fourth course was:

 Sweetbreads, cabbage-kaffir, water chestnuts                                                 
Gruner Veltliner ‘Gebling’ Buchegger 2005 (Kremstal, Austria)

Our waiter made a point that this course was all classic cooking techniques. The sweetbreads had been braised before being coated with a chamomile flour and deep fried; their flavor really came through. Frying really perked up the waterchestnuts, also. The wine was ok, but lent little to the dish. Andrea would have preferred something that would perk up the course, like a gewürtztraminer. A red wine would have gone well, too.

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The fifth course was: Beef tongue, fried mayo, tomato molasses

Also served with the Gruner Veltliner  

The fried cubes of mayonnaise were delicious. The tongue was sliced too thinly to let its flavor come through. A red wine would have been better. The order of the courses seems wrong. The langoustine (yet to come as the seventh course) should have preceded the sweetbreads and been served with the grüner veltliner, ending the dry white wines.

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The sixth course was:

Miso soup, sesame “noodles” 
Poulsard Stephane Tissot 2004 (Arbois, Jura, France)
 

(Wikipedia, says: “Poulsard (also Ploussard) is a red wine grape variety from the Jura wine region in France. It has thin skins which produce pale red wines which usually oxidise easily becoming even paler, often rosé coloured.”) .

This is a signature WD dish. One squeezes the tofu noodle dough out of a little plastic bottle and the noodles cook in the warm miso broth. The wine didn’t go well at all; the strong miso flavor needs something like a sherry.

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The seventh course was:

Langoustine, popcorn, hibiscus, endive 

Also served with the Poulsard   

I really liked this course, but it should have come earlier. The hibiscus was in little glassy flavor buds, which gave a spark to the langoustine without dominating it. The popcorn was puréed and smeared across the plate. There is a similarity to polenta. I would have preferred a rich white wine with this dish. Andrea thought that a white or a red less harsh than the Poulsard would have been better choices.

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The eighth course was:

Squab breast, beets, sorrel, coconut pebbles 

Bonarda ‘Vista Flores’ Kaleido 2005 (Mendoza, Argentina)  (http://www.chowhound.com says: “Many know that Malbec is a famous varietal in Argentina but fewer know that the Bonarda varietal is actually the most widely planted grape in Argentina. The origins and nature of Bonarda are a bit controversial. Some feel it originated in Italy but there are actually three different Bonarda types in Italy, and it is unsure whether Argentina Bonarda is the same or not. Some also think Bonarda may be the California Charbono.”)

 The squab meat is chopped finely, formed into a beignet and coated with puréed beet. There was beet with the coconut pebbles, which I liked a lot, but two of us don’t like coconut. WD is apparantly working hard to develop pebbles as a garnish and has a big repertory available. I didn’t like the Bonarda.

 

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The ninth course was:

Black currant parfait, green tea, elderflower 

The green tea powder provides a bitter counterpoint which I liked and Andrea did not.

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The tenth course was:

Soft chocolate, avocado, licorice, lime 

Albana Passito ‘Frutto Proibito’ Fattoria Paradiso 2003 (Romagna, Italy)  (www.epicurious.com says: “An Italian term used both for a method of making sweet wines and for the sweet wines made this way. Passito wines begin by laying freshly picked grapes on mats (or hanging them in bunches) so that they can partially dry. This process eliminates much of the grape’s water and concentrates its sugar and flavor components.)

We all loved this dessert for its contrasting flavors and textures. The Passito was a good pairing.

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The eleventh course was:

Coffee cake, ricotta, maraschino, chicory ice cream  

Commanderia St. John NV (Lemesos, Cyprus)

Wikipedia tells us that the Cyprus wine trade dates back to 2,300 BC! It goes on: “Commandaria wine infamously won the Battle of the Wines (the first recorded wine tasting competition staged by the French king Philip Augustus in the 13th century The event was recorded in a notable French poem written by Henry d’Andeli in 1224.)

This dessert was enjoyable also. The wine was okay, but good for its curiosity value.

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The mignardises were melt-in-your mouth meringues and tasty corn nougats.

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After we had paid the bill, we were offered five minutes in the kitchen. The chef, Wiley Dufresne, was hard at work, but posed for one photo with Linda. Our excellent waiter, Geoffrey, who had been a chef himself, had been full of information on the cuisine and the wines during the meal, answering a lot of Andrea’s questions. Now he explained each of the stations in the kitchen: who did what where. It was interesting, but confusing to me. The restaurant is not open for lunch which gives them plenty of advance time for the exotic preparations. He had told us that about 30% of the diners have the full tasting menu, but that 50% had ordered it that evening.

We had had a wonderful time trying all the concepts, but we were very frustrated that the overall meal wasn’t really satisfying. It is clear that Wylie’s interest is in being an experimental chef. He is too absorbed in his food technology. It is strange that he persists with his little balls of foie gras when none of the four of us, nor any other blog post I have seen, like it. He seems uninterested in wine, which is too bad as the wines can bring out a lot in each dish, and many of them needed it. Even for an eleven course tasting menu the portions were small; in some cases, particularly the tongue, the thinness detracted from the character of the ingredient. He has served the miso soup long enough to have learned that it requires an unusual wine. As a chef he had arranged the menu to provide an alternance of textures, but this doesn’t work at all with the wines, which need to progress from light to more robust.  

My Googling to find the wine descriptions uncovered this from A Year in Food, a blog regrettably no longer being posted. I agree with its thoughts:

“Ultimately though, no matter how you do it, WD-50 is far more of a cerebral eating experience than a visceral one. It requires appreciation for a postmodern whimsy, an eye for novelty and a willingness to surrender preconceived notions. Yes, there will be small portions and uneven dishes, but many more that will genuinely provoke thought. There will be experiments that fail, but some that strike gold. This edgy style of eating isn’t for everyone, or even most, but for those rare dreamers and jaded diners out there, those mad scientists and wacky candy magnates in our midst, Wylie will keep producing his odd magic to inspire them.” 

Another blogger three weeks earlier had the same menu.

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