After reading Frank Bruni's 3-star review, I decided we had to give WD-50 a try. I had expected it to be weird, extremely cutting-edge, and was happily surprised that is was not. It was creative but not crazy. The food varied from very good to excellent. I do not, however, feel that it justified 3 stars from the Times (it was given 2 stars by William Grimes a few years ago and I think that would still be appropriate). Still, I was thinking that we might like to go back and try more of the dishes. Until I got the bill, and realized we were spending more than we did at Dovetail, Bar Blanc, Allen and Delancey, and Olana, all of which we were much more impressed by. There was no amuse bouche, and although tables around us were given petit fours (one little chocolate thing per person), we were not, and I haven't a clue why, but it just made a very bad "last impression".
I'm glad you had a good-excellent meal -- I wasn't as fortunate, and was honestly dumbfounded by Bruni's review. I had just been there a week or two earlier with my family, and we all had the tasting menu, plus a few things off the regular menu. We had gone several years ago and had an absolutely fabulous meal -- the "concoctions" were delicious, flavors spot on, textures unique and pleasing, and really enjoyed the whole night. More recently, though, we left very disappointed. Sure, there were new items, but we felt the majority didn't really achieve anything more than "different form of food item with similar, but mediocre taste." THere was one fish course in particular that was nearly inedible because of what seemed to be very poor quality fish, not just bad flavor combos (we were kicking ourselves afterwards for not sending it back). We also had an issue with the bill -- after ordering two things off the regular menu and saying they can be brought out anytime, they said, "Actually, the kitchen strongly suggests we bring it out in relation to the tasting." Fine, we figured they'd just bring it out when it made sense for the meal -- well, they did that, plating it for everyone as if it was part of the tasting menu (an unnecessary, but nice touch), but then charged us 3 times the stated cost of the item on the regular menu (and this happened twice, so we got charged an unexpected $45+ come bill time)! I called that night to complain, mostly that we weren't told that we'd be charged this way and after a 10 minute wait, they called me back with apologies and adjusted the bill. While they were nice about it, I don't think it should have happened at all -- bad wait service at a 3 star restaurant? Sounds like this was an oversight with your petit fours, as well -- things like this are very hard to swallow when you're paying premium prices (sure Mamouns can overcharge me for a falafel -- it's all good when it's under $4 a pop...NOT at $125 a head)... The cost, combined with the mediocrity of our whole meal (only the coconut cake stood out of about 10 courses), we all decided that we were "done" with WD50. I feel a little bad because I do respect what Dufresne is attempting to do and it has made for some very exciting, very innovative, very tasty meals -- but it fell very short last time and I'm wondering if "the thrill is gone (with the tastes)". Clearly Bruni and you (fortunately) had a very different meal than my family -- unfortunately, I won't be going back for a long while to find out if our experience was a freak one-shotter or just the way it now is at WD50.
The tasting menu was IMO too expensive, and we usually prefer to choose dishes that appear interesting to us, so we ordered a la carte. The quail was very good, though the bananas did nothing to enhance it, the corned duck was excellent, the wagyu beef was excellent though the gnocchi with it were odd-tasting and tough, and the pork belly was very good, though not fatty enough (how do they get such lean pork belly?), more like a pork loin, but very tasty anyway. The coconut cake was great, the cherry-covered chocolates good but not great. So, as much as I enjoyed it, I think to justify 3 stars every dish should have been exceptional, and the prices are awfully high for the level of quality, the negligible ambience, and the out-of-the-way location.
my husband and i went for my birthday recently and had a very delightful, delicious, and memorable meal. many things on the tasting menu didn't really appeal to me, and my husband is adventurous, but always is concerned about value and is not as broad in what adventures satisfy him as i am -- so i chose for us a little more carefully.
we did get an amuse bouche, which i believe was the same thing that was the first course on the tasting menu (although the current description isn't familiar, maybe it changed?). in any case, i remember we enjoyed it, but i don't remember what it was.
i decided that we'd order 3 starters, 2 entrees, and at least one dessert.
our first course, which they split into two plates for us, a nice and unexpected touch, was the smoked eel. i loved it, and loved all the flavors and textures. my husband thought it was OK, but it was the dish he was most disappointed in. caveat: he's not very fond of "smoked".
our next two starters they brought out together, and we traded plates. they were the bone marrow and the foie gras. the bone marrow was OK, but nothing either of us would order again there. i'd never had it, and i expected something different. i would maybe try another time elsewhere. it was just a little bland. but the foie gras with fennel, malt, and sherry jam was the up there with the best things we've eaten ever. i always love foie gras, and usually much prefer seared and any mousse preparation. however, the sum of it's parts on this dish with the flavors and textures transported this dish to sublime.
for mains, we had the duck breast and the pork belly. i was disappointed in the pork belly, and didn't eat much (and i was excited about it). i didn't enjoy it's texture, or it's flavor. i was expected soft/melt in your mouth like buta kakani, and it was more like thick sliced boczek (polish cured pork belly, like bacon, lightly smoked) and firm. my Polish husband enjoyed it and the mustard, and i was bored. the duck, however, was delicious, and i happily ate the majority of that dish. the duck was perfectly cooked, med-rare and melt in your mouth tender, with crisp, juicy, fatty skin. the pomelo molasses was a wonderful companion, and i really enjoyed the almond "polenta" as well. i will say that the spaghetti squash with nori didn't quite go, and i would have done spaghetti squash with something else. it did not add to the dish, but it was easily ignored.
we decided on two desserts, both the gianduja and the coconut cake. the gianduja by itself was too sweet, but compiled with the desserts other components worked beautifully. the coconut cake was a knock-out -- for me, not so much for the cake (i don't usually like coconut unless in savory/curry dishes), but combined with it's parts (and the other parts alone) were wonderful. the brown butter sorbet and smoked cashews stole the show for me.
they also gave us a dessert on the house (mentioned the birthday in the reservation). it might have been the passionfruit tart or some tropical mousse. i didn't like it, but i don't like tropical fruit. the husband did, so fine.
and the petit-fours, which is the chicory ice-cream that is the last course of the tasting menu, were again, sublime. perfectly balanced chocolate, coffee, chicory, sweet, salty. bite sized pleasure.
we didn't drink with dinner, but we did have a cognac with dessert.
all in all, our bill, with tax and tip, was about $200 or a little less. which we found to be a great value for the food we had.
Thanks Rrems & Charlie B's for posting your thoughts on WD-50! Your comments really helped me decide what to order Sun night.
My b/f and I enjoyd both the corned duck and foie gras appetizers. We liked the kick of horseradish in the corned duck, without which I think the dish would have been rather bland. I loved the playful presentation of the foie dish, for such a traditional/high-end item I think WD did a good job of deconstructing what foie “should” look like and how it “should” be eaten. Taste-wise, the foie by itself was really salty, but not when eaten with the jam, and quite delicious.
We chose duck again for the main course, and it was cooked to pink perfection. I agree with Charlie B on everything about this dish, except perhaps that I really, really loved the almond polenta. So creamy and what interesting texture! The Wagyu was also cooked beautifully and meltingly good. Unlike Rrems, I actually enjoyed the coffee gnocchi but when eaten together with cipollini onions. The slightly bitterness of the coffee was counterbalanced by the sweetness of the onion, and both elements shared an earthiness (very clever WD). The beef itself was great, but even better eaten together with the coconut cream. I thought the coconut cream enhanced the richness of the beef, but the b/f thought it detracted from the flavor of beef... well, I appreciated the subtle sweetness. However, I was a little distracted by a slightly weird tacky texture that’s left in my mouth from the thickened coconut cream.
Dessert was good… not mindblowing, but good. I liked that you can actually smell the coconut, but agree that the sorbet was better than the actual cake. Did not like the salty coconut cubes… weird. I had a problem with the cherry covered chocolates too. The outer cherry membrane was plastic-like, with little taste of cherry. But the chocolate mousse on the inside was good. Their chicory ice cream was awesome though. Totally memorable conclusion to the evening. Perhaps, the best thing I’ve eaten the whole night.
A few things I didn’t like about the restaurant itself. The décor was serious and rather disjointed. Color scheme was dark and a weird color combination. It just didn’t set the right mood. And the tables that seat 2 were set too close together, very uncomfortable. Otherwise, service and food was very good.
I agree that not getting a mignardise when everyone else gets one is pretty lame!! (Did the other diners order the tasting menu?) But I'm really glad to hear you had an otherwise decent meal.
I get the sense that it makes such a huge difference whether you try the tasting menu or go a la carte, how you feel about the place. WD 50 is one of my favorite restaurants in the city, though my sister and other folks whose taste buds I respect hate it. My sister and I both like experimental / playful food (we used to play ice cream laboratory when we were kids, mixing into vanilla ice cream everything from peanut butter and crackers, to pickles and grape jelly). I almost always do the tasting menu; she always went a la carte. The a tasting menu is more innovative (in your words, "weird... cutting-edge"); the a la carte dishes are less so.
If someone is going because they think they are getting something really interesting and odd, I could see them being disappointed by the a la carte. On the other hand, if someone prefers not to have food that's weird and cutting edge, I could see them being disappointed by the tasting menu.
I'm just glad you got the right fit!
Most of the people seated near us did not have the tasting, so that does not explain the lack of mignardises. I'm pretty adventurous, and I've tried a lot of "molecular" cuisine, and it can either be a revelation or a horror. Based on what I've read, the tasting menu just sounded too experimental, while the a la carte dishes sounded just unusual enough to be interesting, and that's pretty much how it turned out.
I was just there for the tasting menu, and was somewhat underwhelmed. A few dishes were really good (loved the wintergreen parfait), and some of the deconstructions were fun (the pizza pebbles are a cute idea), but i would say at least 3/4 of the dishes were basically typical constructions in spite of a few outlandish ingredients. I was really hoping for something that was more interactive and more of a mind game, as well as some more ambitious flavor profiles. As it is I'm left feeling that "molecular gastronomy" is a little bit of a scam. I could have had a genuinely great meal (and a genuinely filling one!) for that kind of money.