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Jan 14, 2010 10:18 AM

wd-50 Review + Photos

Photos of each dish can be seen here:

Evidently finally seeing my review of our first dinner at wd~50 nearly a year after we actually ate it made my boyfriend crave some foams and powders, so before we left for Christmas vacation in our respective home states, we made a reservation to return. The only time we could get on Saturday night, even with a few weeks notice, was 6 p.m. Which means that despite the terrible economy, New Yorkers are still lining up to pay $200 each for dinner.

We were oddly seated in the same exact table as last time, which happens to have a straight view into the kitchen, where we saw chef/owner Wylie Dufresne talking to Chef de Cuisine Jon Bignelli (who we recently saw on an episode of “Chopped” on the Food Network) all night. We started off with a couple of their inventive cocktails to give me the courage to eat the many fish courses (CAVIAR?!) that were coming our way, and then we ate:

• Red snapper, pickled taro, wakame (seaweed), dandelion coulis

All of these things on their own–meh. All of these things together in one bite–harmony.

• Everything bagel ice cream, smoked salmon threads, crispy cream cheese

That’s right–the second dish was ice cream. Perfectly flavored and made to look like a tiny everything bagel. The salmon had the consistency of a Brillo pad, but I didn’t find that to be entirely unpleasurable. The crunchy cream cheese shard really excited me but was sadly entirely lacking in flavor. Next time, I'm asking for a warm cream cheese drizzle over my bagel.

• Foie gras with passion fruit center, chinese celery

We just loved the way the passion fruit spilled out like an egg yolk. This was so rich it was almost hard to eat, which is exactly how I like my food. The passion fruit overpowered everything else, which was good for someone like me who isn't completely sold on organ meats but probably bad for a foie gras connoisseur.

• Scrambled egg ravioli, charred avocado, kindai kampachi

I somehow expected the egg cube to be cold, but the firm outside shell held a warm, almost custard-like eggy inside. Egg and avocado, it turns out, are wonderful bedmates.

• Cold fried chicken, buttermilk ricotta, Tabasco and honey, American sturgeon caviar

Why is there caviar in my comfort food?! I didn’t think it necessarily added anything, and the dish sure didn’t need anything. The chicken appeared to be a terrine of dark and white meat, and the buttermilk ricotta was studded with the crispiest chicken skin.

• Langoustine, licorice-style red pepper, black sesame, shiso

We both loved the way this tasted like it was poached in butter, but we agreed that it need some spice. The carpet of black sesame really made the dish.

• Beef consommé and Bearnaise gnocchi

The menu simply said “beef and Bearnaise”, so I was looking forward to a hunk of flesh and some sauce to dip it in, but things are never that simple at wd~50. Despite the initial weirdness, this turned out to be the favourite savory dish for both of us.

• Lamb loin, black garlic romesco, dried soybeans, basil

Dried soybeans should be in every dish. The crunch of them was so perfect with the melt-in-your-mouth lamb.

• Spruce yogurt, shattered vanilla-mango ice cream, vanilla bean olive oil, mango

Yogurt that tastes like the forest? Yes, please! The spruce taste was so delicate–not nauseatingly pine-y, as we were expecting–that we needed to taste the yogurt on its own to catch it. I could've definitely gone for more of it, but I'm glad it didn't slap me in the face.

• Hazelnut tart, coconut, chocolate, chicory foam

Chicory is about as bitter as it comes on its own, but spread on top of the mousse-filled chocolate skin, it provided a great balance to all of the sweetness. And the salt on top! To think there was a time before salted chocolate. This was definitely my favourite dessert of the night.

• Caramelized brioche, apricot seed shards, buttercream, lemon thyme sorbet

This was delicious, but the Degustation caramelized brioche has ruined me for all other caramelized brioches. Sorry, Wylie.

• Cocoa packets, chocolate-shortbread-covered milk ice cream

The idea of milk ice cream is hilarious to us. So, um, you basically mean ice cream without any added flavorings, right? Thought so. It’s too bad that the cookie overpowered the ice cream, because I’d love to see what that tastes like. The classic chocolate packets–like Fruit Roll-Ups made out of chocolate–were actually better than we remembered them, even after I spilled half of the crunchy chocolate crumbs inside all over my lap.

The thing we think is funny about wd~50 is that the plate in front of you is generally full of familiar flavors, yet you know that the food on it went through several transformations involving plenty of chemicals. You have to ask yourself at some point, “Is it worth it?” I can understand why people who aren’t into novelty would make fun of this sort of food–expensive, tiny, laborious–but I just love the sort of deconstructionism of it. Beef consommé and Bearnaise gnocchi look and feel nothing like a steak with Bearnaise sauce, but they taste nearly identical, and you have to appreciate the craft that goes into that.

It kind of bothers me, actually, thinking that someone couldn’t like this meal. Once you get past the fact that nothing you’re eating looks like its original form, you have to admit that everything tastes great, and taste is obviously the most important attribute. When it comes to molecular gastronomy, I guess, an open mind is a prerequisite to an open mouth.

50 Clinton Street, New York, NY 10002

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  1. Thanks for your great report. I will say that I'm in the camp of disliking WD-50. I don't dislike it because of the reasons you're probably thinking of. I dislike it because I didn't like the taste of many of his items. A couple of my favorite meals have been from chefs who use a lot of molecular gastronomy -- Pierre Gagnaire and Alinea. I loved the food there so much not because of the wow factor but because I thought it tasted really freakin' good. Tastes differ.

    8 Replies
    1. re: Miss Needle

      That's a completely legit reason, although obviously one I can't fathom. Is it that you don't think his flavors compliment each other? Or do you not think the ingredients are of high quality?

      1. re: plumpdumpling

        Oh, I definitely think the ingredients are high quality. It's just not my cup of tea. To me, it seems like he's trying so hard to think out of the box that that comes first before the flavor. With Pierre Gagnaire and Alinea, I thought the taste of food was superb; the molecular gastronomy bit was just icing on the cake. I'm glad that you liked WD-50 so much. This restaurant does have its supporters. But unfortunately I'm not one of them.

        We all have our preferences. I know practically everybody on this board absolutely adores Jean-Georges, but I really don't. While I think the ingredients and techniques at Jean-Georges are superb, I don't really sync with his flavor profiles. Do I think Jean-Georges is a great restaurant? Sure. Everything was exquisitely prepared and service was outstanding. But it's not really my kind of food and I would have rather spent my money going to restaurants like EMP, Daniel or Le Bernardin -- or have a zillion $2.50 lamb burgers at Xian Foods. : )

        1. re: Miss Needle

          I guess maybe my limited experience with molecular gastronomy is an asset, and maybe wd-50 relies on that. I did mention that one of the dishes needed more spice and that the fruit taste overpowered another, but for the most part, I'm so impressed with how unique and challenging each dish is that I can forgive minor flavor flaws. I definitely want to try out Alinea now, though.

          1. re: Miss Needle

            I think you are onto it about WD.Dufresne now does wacky for its own sake.I was quit disgusted when I ate there.Also, the crowd and price are not so great.He was great at 71 Clinton.It is about taste in the end, should not matter the combo.If you close your eyes and eat it and do not know what is in it, how does it taste? Have been to much more acclaimed mol gastros, also, and they can be fantastic.This just is not.And while I am a JG fan, it is slipped noticeably of late.Also, there are some dishes I am not in love with, as well.

        2. re: Miss Needle

          I agree, Miss Needle. I went to wd-50 a few weeks ago and had many of the items in the list above. Some of them were really good (egg and avocado) and others were just so-so. More flash than flavor.

          plumpdumpling: I agree that the passionfruit overwhelmed the foie gras; I was disappointed because I love foie!

          The beef & bearnaise were delicious, but I thought the gnocchi were too big. Too filling for a large tasting menu.

          Overall, we felt that it was way too expensive. We paid, with tip, over $300 and that's without any drinks!

          1. re: Auriana

            I mean, all tasting menus in NYC are way too expensive, right? I thought the size of each dish was pretty reasonable, but we still talked about getting burgers afterward; maybe it's just a matter of levels of gluttony, and ours must be extreme compared to yours.

            1. re: plumpdumpling

              Ahh, that sort of answers a question that came to mind while viewing your photos: was it actually enough food to get full?

              I guess not..

              1. re: ratbuddy

                It's not exactly a SMALL amount of food, but all of the flavors are weird enough that you never really dive into a dish and just lap it all up. It's not comforting, and it's not familiar, which is both why I love it and why I still crave some french fries when I'm finished.

        3. Sounds very much like the tasting I had last summer. Went with a few friends, had the wine pairing and had one of the best meals ever. It was like extremely tasty dinner theater. And we got to go into the kitchen to meet the chef, which was cool.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Ralphus

            It seems like everyone has met the chef! Literally, I can't remember a review where the writer didn't say that. I don't know why I'm so anti-social.