WD-50, NYC 7
August 14, 2012
We had been to WD-50 six times over the last six years. This time was to be different. Before, there had always been a mix of familiar dishes and a few new creations. But in celebration of the restaurant’s ninth anniversary, chef Wylie Dufresne had announced that there would be an entirely new menu as of May 10, 2012. We were looking forward to the experience.
Blair and Karyn joined Linda and me at WD-50 on July 26, 2012, in celebration of my 72nd birthday the next day. We were seated in the booth just to the left of the opening into the kitchen where we could watch some of the plating activity.
There is no longer an à la carte offering. Everyone in the dining room is expected to have the new $155 tasting menu, although there are other options at the bar. We declined the wine pairings, ordering a bottle of 2002 “Art de Vigne” Jacques Picard Brut Champagne. It was followed by bottles of 2006 Domaine Robert Arnoux “Les Procès” 1er Cru Nuits-Saint-Georges and of 2001 Viña Ardanza Reserva Especial “La Rioja Alta.” The first was quite elegant; the second was more robust. Both were very good.
We were given menus with short course titles, which I have used below. Each dish was described in detail as it was served, but the descriptions were complicated and the room was noisy. Loud music has been added along with the new menu, but it wasn’t always playing. Fortunately Wylie had given an interview to Serious Eats in which he described many of the techniques and ingredients of the new menu, although preserving some of his secrets of modern molecular cuisine. I have relied on his interview for some of the details below.
The first course was
NIGIRI, SALSIFY, SEAWEED, SESAME
A slice of good tuna was garnished with trout roe marinated in ponzu, seaweed spheres, sesame and lime zest. It was on top of faux sushi rice which was really a piece of puréed salsify, a vegetable presumably chosen for its somewhat oysterlike flavor. This was fun. It is usually served with lightly grilled mackerel instead of tuna, which would have been more interesting.
LOBSTER ROE, CHARRED LEMON, GREEN GRAPE, CORIANDER-BROWN BUTTER
The steamed noodles were made from lobster roe and egg yolk; they had little flavor and an odd texture. Underneath were charred lemon, grapes, pickled onions and lobster meat. The dish was finished with a lobster shell broth, grape juice, and brown butter solids with coriander seed. More lobster roe was sprinkled on the dish. The flavors here were good, but too subtle for me.
I think that Wylie created this dish so he could enjoy the pun in the title as the combination makes no culinary sense. A round slice of foie gras torchon terrine was served in a shallow bowl of clarified pho, the well-known Vietnamese beef and rice noodle soup lightly flavored here with star anise creating a refined version. Alongside was a faux rice cracker, a chicharrón, made from deep-fried beef tendon, which added needed crunch. Dwarf basil leaves added color.
AMARO YOLK, CHICKEN CONFIT, PEAS ‘N’ CARROTS
Underneath was a mound of very rich confit chicken leg meat topped by an duck egg yolk slow-cured with amaro, a bitter Italian digestif. There were steamed carrot ribbons and small carrot balls covered with dehydrated pea powder. The lusciousness of the inside made the ordinary outside irrelevant to me, which may have been the point. This has been called Wylie’s Chicken Pot Pie.
VEAL BRISKET, ZA’ATAR, PLUM, MUSTARD
Veal briskets were cured for six hours in maple syrup, honey, salt, and za’atar, an Arab herb and spice mixture. Then they were cooked sous-vide, thinly sliced and served with plum slices, pickled spring onions, green garlic and excellent, appropriate wafers made with mustard and egg whites. This was a surprisingly excellent course, the best of the evening in my opinion. The veal had a lovely flavor, like an elegant corned beef, enhanced by the other garnishes, while the wafers added flavorful light crunch and bite.
CRAB TOAST, SAFFRON, KAFFIR-YOGURT, ARARE
Peekytoe crab lumps were mixed with lemon, lime, chives, and pickled chiles. Underneath was a saffron cake; on top were yoghurt with kaffir lime and arare, Japanese rice “snow pellets.” This was nice, but the complexity was more than this small dish and the mild crab meat could absorb usefully.
SOLE, BLACK LICORICE-PIL PIL, FRIED GREEN TOMATO, FENNEL
Two cones of rolled sole, treated with Activa, were served with vinegary pickled baby fennel and fennel fronds. The sauce dots were licorice-flavored fish and olive oil emulsions. Green tomatoes were ground, bound, breaded and fried. This didn’t work for me.
LAMB SWEET BREADS, NASTURTIUM-BUTTERMILK, ZUCCHINI, PISTACHIO
Lamb sweetbreads were braised in chicken stock with spices and aromatics giving them an almost gamy flavor. The sauce underneath was made from nasturtium blossoms and buttermilk. The garnish on top was pistachio brittle and nasturtium leaves with a flavor that was like mild horseradish. We thought that this dish was interesting and very good.
Boned pork ribs were marinated for 24 hours in Fitz’s root beer, then bound into a cylinder and cooked sous vide at 72°C for 20 hours. After cold smoking, the cylinder was sliced and coated with the root-beer scented braising liquid combined with pork stock, cooked down to a glaze. The flour for the spätzle was made from dried rye bread. The garnish was shio kombu seaweed, dried apricots, candied ginger, mustard greens and preserved lemon. We really liked this dish. The meat was meaty and luscious. The other flavors, including root beer, were well chosen to enhance it.
JASMINE, CUCUMBER, HONEYDEW, CHARTREUSE
Cucumber ice cream is covered with chartreuse and salted honeydew with a cover of a thin, solid skin of cucumber purée. On top are crumbled smoked cashew nougatine and scoops of jasmine cream. I really liked this. All the ingredients were working well together.
YUZU MILK ICE, HAZELNUT, RHUBARB, BASIL
A yuzu milk ice was placed in a vacuum, which caused its internal bubbles to expand it to five times its original volume. It was then refrozen and was very light. The garnishes were small strawberries, poached rhubarb, basil purée and hazelnut crumble. Nice.
S’MORES, BITTER COCOA, MERINGUE, BLACK CURRANT
A graham cracker was topped with a faux marshmallow made from meringue ice cream. The swirls were bitter dark chocolate sauce. The stick was made from beer, starch and sugar. Cute.
WHITE CHOCOLATE, GJETOST
The mignardises were a mixture of white chocolate and a caramelized Norwegian brown goat cheese.
The service was always very good and the pace just right. The noise and new selection of music was not to our taste, but we had a good time. Of course, I was eager to see what Wylie was up to, but I was hoping for more successful creations. Many of the dishes seemed designed to show off technical virtuosity rather than great flavor and texture combinations featuring top quality ingredients. Sometimes there was success in both, as in the veal, lamb and pork courses. Sometimes there was downright silliness, as with the Pho Gras or buying good local sole and then treating it with Activa to try to make it appear to be gelatinous turbot. In reading Wylie’s Serious Eats interview, and the captions for the accompanying slide show, the number of chemicals mentioned is disturbing: agar agar, gellan gum, frozen acetate, Activa transglutaminase, xanthan gum and glyercine. (And that doesn’t include the ones kept confidential, if any.) We did not have the same digestive issues we had following our recent meal at Quique Dacosta, but that was forty dishes. Linda did feel a light effect from Wylie’s chemicals the next day. I hope that, as “modern” or “molecular” cuisine progresses, the chefs can resist the temptation to use more and more of them. We have always enjoyed modern cuisine, but it seems that there are limits, varying for each individual, to how much chemistry the body can absorb in one sitting.
We certainly admire Wylie for what he has been able to accomplish over the last nine years and for his initiative in launching the new menu. It will be interesting to see what reactions he gets to the new menu from foodies, critics and the general public over the next year. We enjoyed it, but I wish that we coud be more enthusiastic.
The restaurant’s website:
To see all of our WD-50 blogposts click here.
To see Wylie’s interview and slide show click here.