Monday, August 23, 2010


During our East Coast trip, D and I spent a total of two nights in New York City. During those two nights, we ate dinner at Blue Hill and at Wylie Dufresne's restaurant, WD-50. I am aware that this is completely ridiculous. I justified it to myself (and to D) by pointing out that I hadn't been to New York in over two years...okay fine, ridiculousness persists.

Also, before booking the reservations, I'd already talked to a couple of my high school friends about meeting up for dinner on Saturday. So, when I told D that I wanted to go to WD-50, he was afraid the others might not be up for it. As it turns out, he needn't have worried.

At D's prompting, I dashed off a slightly sheepish email to both friends asking if they'd be up for some over-the-top dining, and within an hour, I had my responses: "fierce!" and "LOVE over-the-top!". I was also further admonished that when one chooses to live in New York City, one commits to a life of delicious decadence, among other things. I love my friends.

We had pre-dinner drinks at one of their apartments in the Village, so it was a short cab ride over and we were still quite happy when we arrived at the restaurant.

Upon arrival, we quickly decided on the tasting menu for all, and started munching on flatbread while we waited for our first course to arrive. Either the flatbread was super yummy, or we were very hungry, because over the course of the evening they refilled our flatbread container I think three times.

The tasting menu soon began, with this dish of "cobia, verjus, arugula, chickpea fry". I thought it was a little bit bland except for the nice texture of the chickpea fry.

Next up was "everything bagel, smoked salmon threads, crispy cream cheese". After tasting this one, we collectively declared the smoked salmon "threads" the exact consistency of pork sung. It was cute but again not super impressive, so I was starting to feel a little let down.

Luckily, the next dish was delicious. It was described to us as "foie gras, passionfruit, chinese celery". The passionfruit flavor came as a kind of curd which was packaged inside the foie gras mousse. The Chinese celery manifested itself in the green crunchy bits on the plate.

This dish was listed as "scrambled egg ravioli, charred avocado, kindai kampachi". The ravioli texture was really well done, but I am not a big fan of very eggy things and I actively dislike avocado so overall I was not that fond of this dish, although it was very well executed.

This "cold fried chicken" (with "buttermilk-ricotta, tabasco, caviar") was spot-on. They'd done the chicken sous-vide and then encrusted it in something that tasted like cold fried batter but I think it was something else entirely. I liked the chicken part better than the batter part. The tabasco-based sauce had a good kick to it and I always like caviar.

As usual, I avoided eating cooked fish. This one was a striped bass, and it came with chorizo bits, pineapple, and a popcorn sauce.

My favorite savory dish was this beef and bearnaise. The dumplings were superb; they were a little more liquid-y in the middle and when you bit them they popped a little. I admit I was a little disappointed at first when this dish came out and there was no actual beef, only beef consomme, but in the end I liked it very much.

The last savory dish was "lamb loin, black garlic romesco, soybean, pickled ramps". The romesco sauce was very thick & pasty; too much so, I think. The lamb was fine, but I really liked the crunchy bits of soybean. As an aside, I'm starting to wonder what it is these days with pickled ramps. I first remember eating them at Moto earlier this year, and now I feel like I see them everywhere.

I'm not sure if this was supposed to be a palate cleanser or a dessert, but it was described as "chewy lychee sorbet, pistachio, yuzu, celery". It was very refreshing and the chewy sorbet was fun to eat (not sure how they accomplished the extra chewy texture). My verdict on this one was that it was successfully creative, as the pistachio and celery both went surprisingly well with the lychee. I felt the yuzu flavor in the foam could have been stronger (I love yuzu).

Everyone else at the table loved this one: "hazelnut tart, coconut, chocolate, chicory". I thought it was yummy but less interesting than the rest of the courses that we'd had thus far. The chocolate flavor was dominant, even when eaten with the chicory foam.

The opposite was true of this dessert, a "rainbow sherbert" made with tarragon, rhubarb, and mandarin orange. I believe there was some olive oil involved as well. The flavors were unexpected and delicious, and the presentation was super cute. I liked it best of all the desserts, but at least one person at our table thought it was too weird and did not finish it.

The last course was entitled "cocoa packets, chocolate shortbread, milk ice cream". The cocoa packets were extremely chewy to the point where they got stuck in my teeth. Interesting, but kind of annoying. The rest of the dessert consisted of shortbread crumb-covered ice cream balls, that we all liked very much.

As we were wrapping up our meal, our waiter asked if we'd like to have a tour of the kitchen! We were somewhat surprised as during the four hours we'd been there, we hadn't seen any other diners go into the kitchen, but of course we accepted immediately. The waiter went and asked his manager, who came by and led us into the kitchen, where he proceeded to give us a rundown of each station and which course(s) it handled.

Finally, he introduced us to Wylie Dufresne himself, as well as chef de cuisine Jon Bignelli, both of whom were very gracious, despite the entire kitchen being very busy. The service had been consistently good throughout the evening, but that tour was really the icing on the cake; we walked out of the restaurant extremely satisfied.

I think I had been expecting something similar to Moto, but instead the molecular gastronomy techniques were used much more subtly, plus the overall feel of the restaurant was much more comfortable and less edgy. My friend said that before we went he'd been slightly apprehensive about the food being too strange (and thus less tasty) but afterwards he concluded that it hadn't been gratuitously weird at all.

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