A Year In Food

From New York to Costa Rica to Europe to California: 365 Days of Dining Out

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Apr. 2.

WD-50 and Foie gras

Beef tongue and Duck breast

Ravioli and Parfait


WD-50 - 50 Clinton St., Lower East Side
Hamachi, freeze-dried corn, marjoram (paired with Cava Brut, Avinyo, Non-Vintage (Spain)); Foie gras, grapefruit-basil crumble, nori caramel (paired with same Cava Brut); Rainbow trout, pork belly, cider meringue, miso paper (paired with Sauvignon Blanc, Groom 2004 (South Australia, Australia)); Beef tongue, fried mayo, onion streusel (paired with same Sauvignon Blanc); Mackerel, smoked banana, parsley, juniper (paired with Semillon, Sileni Estates 2000 (Hawkes Bay, New Zealand)); Slow poached egg, parmesan broth, tomato (paired with Langhe 'Verbeia' Gatti Piero 2001 (Piedmont, Italy); Lamb belly, green daikon, black bean, chocolate powder (paired with same Langhe); Duck breast, pickled leg, parsnip pudding, rye berry (paired with Garnacha, Artazuri 2003 (Navarra, Spain); Grapefruit in grapefruit; Carrot-lime ravioli, coconut tapioca (paired with Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise, Domaine de Fenouillet 2003 (Rhone, France)); Milk chocolate-hazelnut parfait, orange reduction (Commanderia St. John NV (Lemesos, Cyprus)); Royal Blush (vodka, Cava Brut, lime juice, cherry puree)

Wylie Dufresne = Willy Wonka. That’s the closest analogue between a New York chef and a Roald Dahl character I can come up with at least. Both of them are foodie iconoclasts, challenging the diner with every new invention, using ingredients like dares. Both, at least judging from Wylie’s stoic pacing around the semi-open kitchen, approach their crafts with an equal mix of seriousness and playfulness. And both have the ability to send you soaring if you take the right bite.

I mean, what else can you say about a menu that currently features components such as pumpernickel cocoa, toast oil, edamame ice cream and kimchee spaetzle? WD-50 is undoubtedly a singular experience, a crucible to divide the foodies from the fearful. The portions are small, the combinations are unexpected and the results are varied. But it’s also an adventure and a culinary challenge, and one I expect to remember for a long time.

Vince and I both got the tasting menu, a series of nine courses (plus some smaller offerings) that were delicious, intriguing, original and mildly disappointing. Among my highlights were the foie gras with its bizarre nori caramel filling and fascinating grapefruit-basil crumble, the uniquely flavored carrot-lime ravioli in coconut tapioca, the great beef tongue with fried mayo and the completely novel slow-poached egg which a waiter told us was cooked precisely at Wylie’s specification of 147 degrees. I’ve never been served an egg at an upscale restaurant, but its accompanying salty parmesan broth and soft noodles were both kooky and wonderful. This is exactly the kind of strangeness I was hoping for.

Other dishes emphasized their deconstructionist aspects more, where one ingredient stood out above the others. Among these, I especially enjoyed the light cider meringue, the pork belly and the freeze-dried corn more for their distinct tastes than their contributions to their respective entrees. But some of the dishes felt like missed opportunities altogether, ending up too traditional and predictable for WD-50’s mission. These included the mackerel, the grapefruit puree in grapefruit sorbet and at times, even the duck breast. All of them were good but failed to register. I think this may have to do with toning down the tasting menu to make it at least somewhat more mainstream.

I also questioned getting the wine pairings. At $45, the seven glasses we got were overall good for the price and paired well with the food. It’s hard though, after being simultaneously baffled and charmed by something like parsnip pudding, to find too much wonderment in yet another Spanish red. The creative cocktail menu seemed a more novel route of navigating through the courses, and one I would attempt next time.

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. 8/10


Anonymous Roma said...

Well that was interesting but did not make my mouth water. I was more interested in the writing. Your write up on the Indian place out in Queens,now that made me hungry. Was it really worth the money??

1:04 AM  
Blogger Lonesome Hero said...

It was worth it for me to go once. I don't think with all of the other restaurants out there I'll get back to WD-50 anytime soon, but for that one unique experience, I'm definitely glad I went.

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