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Friday, August 8, 2014

New York Food Friday: WD-50

A review of WD-50 in New York City
When I heard that avant garde molecular gastronomy mainstreamer Wylie Dufresne planned on closing his first establishment WD-50 at the end of November, I knew that I had to make it there before I missed the opportunity. I have been pining about going here since they opened almost 11 years ago, and never had the chance due to lack of money and my inability to secure a good reservation. When I found out I was popping up to NY for a quick trip to visit my folks, I figured this was as good a time as any to try. After a lot of phone calls, wait lists and obsessive Open Table stalking, I was able to get a good reservation.
A review of WD-50 in New York City
The decor was clean and modern, with high backed booths and wooden tables. The paint scheme seemed a tad bit Mardi Gras, but it wasn't overdone. The bar at the front of the restaurant was gorgeous with its marble top and tall seats. But honestly, I wasn't there for the decor.

What we came for was the tasting menu. Because I'm a big fan of going big or going home when I'm trying food, I opted for the 13 course tasting menu for $155. What I decided not to do was the corresponding wine paring for $95. After what happened with all the alcohol at The Catbird Seat, I decided that 15 glasses of anything, no matter how small a serving, would be way too much for me.
A review of WD-50 in New York City
Instead I opted for a house cocktail called the Citrus Hystrix made with gin, kaffir lime, raspberry brandy and egg white. The drink was really heavy on the citrus and the raspberry brandy got lost. I did enjoy the egg white whip which made the whole drink much lighter. It was a solid cocktail and went really well with the meal.

Like most tasting menu restaurants, I feel like I cannot fully review the menu. If you go, you probably won't get the same things I had, and if you did, they might be presented completely differently. What I can do is talk about what I ate, and the overall experience of being surprised dish after dish.
Our first course was an oyster in an edible shell. The shell was made out of an edible clay and squid ink. The shell itself didn't really have a taste and crumbled into a few pieces the second I tried to pick it up. The oyster was beautiful and sweet, a perfect bite of the sea. The oyster was garnished with snow pea, hazelnut and preserved lemon.
The scone course was a mashed potato ravioli that was covered in a egg yolk. I was baffled by the magic of how runny yolk could be encapsulated and wrapped around potatoes. It was served with caviar that went really well with the creamy potato. Underneath the ravioli were some tiny flash-fried potatoes. They were crisp but too tiny and really weren't my thing. But when you put a little bit of everything in your mouth at once, you get "breakfast."
The soup course was an avocado-pea soup with smoked crab and pistachio. The crab was really tender and flavorful; the best thing about the dish. The soup itself was cold and rather bland on its own, but really worked when taken in with the crab. I still wish the soup had a little more life in it to make it stand up against the beautiful smoked crab.
Following the soup was sous-vide cuttlefish sliced into thin strips like pasta. It was served with extremely tender carrots, a tad bit of chamomile and what tasted like middle eastern spices dusted with schmaltz (chicken fat). This whole dish worked really well together and the flavorful chicken fat gave the cuttlefish a nice burst of flavor. The sauce was so well balanced that I couldn't resist scraping up every last bit!
The next dish was a lovely strip of charred chicken liver pate with honeydew melon and injera (Ethiopian bread). This was my favorite dish of the evening! The chicken liver was so flavorful and creamy that it would make a Bubbie proud! The injera was served crisp like a cracker and was a nice vehicle for scooping up the liver. The melon was a tad bit confusing at first, but the sweetness balanced out the iron flavor associated with liver.
Following the liver was my other favorite dish of the night. On the menu it was listed as "shrimp and grits" but in reality there were no grits. The shrimp was cooked and chopped in such a way that the shrimp itself became the bite size grits. This dish had the most amazing mouth feel. I think they only added a little drop of corn flour for flavor. The mildly hot pickled jalapeƱo also added a nice kick. As a southern transplant, I was impressed with the shrimp and grits, making it one of the best renditions of this staple I have ever had!
The last of the seafood course was tilefish with a parsnip jerky, pickled ginger puree and nori mustard. The tilefish was fatty, tender and tasted like butter. The fork just broke it apart and it melted in the mouth. I love tilefish and I wish I saw it on more menus. What really surprised me was the parsnip jerky, which if they didn't tell me was a vegetable, I would have thought it was meat. The nori mustard was dehydrated and served like a cracker, but it tasted more like nori than mustard.
Up next was pork collar with tamarind, spicy parsnip and a poppy seed crisp. The collar itself was very stiff and meaty, and the mixture of the fat and the sauce was not as thick and juicy as I was hoping. The spicy parsnip didn't seem to go with everything else; it was too strong and overpowered the pork. The poppy seed was very strong and like nothing I ever had before. This wasn't my favorite pork dish, but at least it was interesting.
The duck dish really made up for the pork. The duck breast was cured and the skin was served crisp, making the inside bright pink and delicate. Duck is still one of my favorite things to eat so I'm really happy that this dish was so well put together. The dish was served with "curds and whey" but not in the Little Miss Muffet way. The bottom of the bowl was slathered in a whey consomme and there was a cheese curd under a nice bit of sliced sweet potato. The whey was really fatty and quite tasty. The black rice puff served on top reminded me of cocoa puffs!
The first dessert course was an oat meringue cookie with a banana, strawberry and yeast mixture inside. This tatsted more like a protein powder than a dessert and distinctly reminded me of what I would eat before a 10 mile run. The best part was the strawberry and elderflower topping, which was sweet and fresh.
The next dessert was pretty confusing, but once I figured it out I got into it. The piece on top looks like a cookie but it's actually rhubarb ice that was so strong and sour, that I just had to remove it and eat the rest without it. Underneath the sour ice was a verbena mousse on top of buckwheat with camellia oil. Overall this was very herbal and light. The buckwheat cake on the bottom of the mousse was lovely, and reminiscent of an oatmeal cookie in flavor. I'm not sure if I would order this if I saw it on a menu, but it was very interesting and nice to experience.
My favorite dessert was the Ovaltine cake with a wafer wrapped around cardamom ice cream with a sheep's milk cream. The tube was crunchy, chocolatey and really complemented the spiced ice cream. The cake was thick and tender and soaked up the sheep's milk, making it gooey. I really loved this dish and wish I could've just had this one three times in a row.
Our final bite was cookie dough ice cream. In actuality, it was cookie dough on the outside with vanilla ice cream in the center like a bon bon. This was so creative and tasted exactly like something I loved as a kid. I really enjoyed this play on a childhood favorite!

As expected, the service was excellent. Our waitress was knowledgeable, helpful, funny and even let me look around the kitchen when I was done eating. The whole staff worked well together and the pacing of the courses was perfect.

And while the food and service was great, what I really enjoyed was the conversations with the couples sitting next to us. The tables are close together so cross-table interaction is encouraged. On one side was a lovely Canadian couple who appears to travel around looking for food and wine adventures. They have even visited Nashville in the past! On the other side was a lovely couple of New Yorkers, via Australia and Greece. Everyone was kind, friendly, talkative and exactly what I love! If you go, make friends with those sitting next to you.

I'm so happy I finally got to try WD-50! They are open until the end of November if you feel like trying to get in, or you can try Wylie's other space Alder, or wait for whatever comes next!

WD-50 on Urbanspoon

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