Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Notes On A Long, Drunk Dinner

wd-50. Iconic New York. Our waiter asks us if we have ever heard of the restaurant before. Is he kidding? wd stands for Wylie Dufresne. Wylie hates oysters and spicy foods. He's married to a food editor from The Food Network. He eats raw cookie dough straight from the freezer. Yes, I've heard of it.

Obviously, if you've never eaten at wd-50 before (and I hadn't), it is necessary to indulge in the $140, eleven course tasting menu. First: raw Spanish mackerel with a dried chip of Chinese sausage. The food came out too fast. I didn't even have time to order a glass of Cremant d' Alsace before it arrived.

Next: Everything bagel ice cream with smoked salmon powder, tiny rings of pickled onions, and a shard of freeze dried cream cheese. A weird dish. The salmon was overpowering. I probably wouldn't eat this again.

All night, the pacing was off. I thought back to El Bulli, thirty five courses in eight hours. By that mathematical equation, the food at wd-50 should have taken around three hours, but it took closer to two. The wine took too long to arrive at our table each time. Service was, overall, inconsistent.

But the dishes got better through the progression. Foie gras torchon stuffed with passion fruit gelee was inspired, if filled with too much passion fruit. Cutting into the torchon released a pool of fruit that overpowered the liver a little but still tasted divine.

A soft boiled egg over caesar dressing blew me away. It came with pickled bean sprouts and an edible brown butter egg shell. My favorite dish of the evening followed, noodles made from king oyster mushrooms (and impossibly endowed with a perfectly noodley and mushroomy texture) with pan fried sweetbreads and banana molasses. It was sweet and filled with the tart undercurrent of vinegar and every competing texture in the dish made me want to eat more.

Then: Tai snapper over an onion "tart" (really more of a soft, oniony disk) with a brunoise of cucumber and several jardiniere of Asian pear and a crust of coffee and cashew, all over a smoked tomato sauce. Everything about this dish worked, from the textures (soft, crunchy, silky, crisp) to the flavors (smoky, bright, sweet, savory). The fish was cooked to medium, most likely prepared sous vide and picked up on the skin side. The coffee in the background reminded me of southern barbecue.

A quail dish didn't hit all the same grace notes. The quail, arranged either with meat glue or just pressed together in a torchon, looked a little more rare than medium rare and came with sunchokes that were cooked too quickly--they reminded me of underdone potatoes. But a rectangle of lamb loin (sous vided again), with some kind of grain that reminded me of corn and that the menu only billed as 'red beans and rice,' was addictive. It was a fine note to end the savory courses on.

And then, celery ice cream. It was impossibly green and impossible to eat. We finished ours only because we felt guilty for the waste. If I never have to eat celery ice cream again, that will be fine with me.

Something about the buckwheat quenelle with apricot puree and poached rhubarb didn't work, either. It tasted nearly medicinal. But these two experimental failures were bolstered by one true success, a thick ribbon of soft chocolate with crispy bits of beat and Chinese long pepper, all served with ricotta ice cream. The plate itself looked like the victim of a serial killer, a pastiche of red and brown splattered haphazardly. If we were dubious at first about the integration of beets in dessert, we were easily won over by the spiciness and the subtle vegetal quality the pepper and beet offered up. It was an incredible dessert.

Before we left, we received one final treat: rice krispy balls and cocoa packets. Bite into a ball and release a pool of sticky marshmallow. Bite into a plastic-looking packet of cocoa and release soft chocolate goo. Eat it all together and it offers up a memory of a s'more on a summertime beach.

50 Clinton Street
New York, NY 10002

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