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wd~50 - The First Restaurant Where I've Been Served By the Executive Chef

willscarlett Feb 21, 2012 02:09 PM

Many thanks to those who weighed in on my recent posts where I sought advice on whether to attend wd~50, Ko or someplace else altogether, as well as what to order at wd~50. My girlfriend and I ended up attending wd~50 and the experience was spectacular.

I just wanted to share the review that I posted on Yelp, as well as expand upon it, since Yelp cut me off at 5000 characters.

wd~50 is the first restaurant where I've been served by the executive chef.

My girlfriend and I ate here last night for a belated Valentines Dinner. I got lucky and snagged a 6:00 reservation on a Sunday night two weeks ahead of time. However, due an F train running on the A/C line and a non-running M train, we were forced to take a cab from Canal Street and proceeded to spend the next 30 minutes sitting in traffic on Canal, Houston and Bowery. I did call the restaurant and let them know we'd be late, to which the manager was very appreciate and gracious. Our cab driver finally let us out of Chrystie Street and told us it'd be faster to walk, so we hoofed it for the last half mile.

We finally arrived 20 minutes late. After arriving we were warmly greeted by the host, who expressed his apologies for the traffic and subway difficulties. After we checked our coats, he then explained to us that they had two tables available for us. The first table had the main door on one side, the coat room on the other side, looked out onto the sidewalk and was flanked with bar patrons. Ehh, not really a desirable table at all. The second table he offered us was the CHEF'S TABLE, RIGHT OUTSIDE THE KITCHEN!!! Seriously? Hmm, maybe being late was a good thing. He then explained that if we disliked hustle and bustle, it probably wouldn't be a good table for us, but we always like seeing the kitchen and its activity, so it'd be great. We sprang for that table, after he made sure it was ok with the chef and it was.

After we sat down, Chef Dufresne came out and introduced himself, saying how nice it was that we were able to join them. That was the first of several interactions we had with him that night. He is a very friendly, accommodating, down to earth and not snotty or pretentious. Chef de Cuisine Bignelli also came out and said hello to us.

Onto the menu. Our servers were very helpful making menu suggestions. Our server also said that we were free to take as many pictures of the kitchen activity as we liked and that after dinner, we could even have our picture taken with Chef Dufresne.

As for what we ordered, for our appetizers, I pretty much stuck to what people on here suggested. We had the Cold Fried Chicken, Eggs Benedict and Bay Scallops. Before any appetizers arrived, we were served Parmesan Crisps, which were light, crispy and flavorful. To drink, I had the Tommy-O 2.0. Delicious! Bartenders here really know what they're doing. Definitely come here for drinks instead of dive bars or bad "hidden" speakeasies. Ok, certain NYC speakeasies are still worth it, but not many. The bartenders at wd~50 definitely have their act together.

The Cold Fried Chicken was served first and plated individually for each of us. I was in heaven with my first bite. It was served room temperature and wasn't greasy or fatty, yet had a nice crispy outside. The meat was succulent and tender. The buttermilk-ricotta and caviar balanced out the chicken nicely and had some cottage cheese flavors too. It also had some tabasco syrup on the bottom which I wasn't a huge fan of, as it was spicier than I like. Overall tho, quite good.

As for the Eggs Benedict, the dish is a unique interpretation. The deep friend Hollandaise sauce is still in liquid form within the shells, the ham is crispy and the egg yolks were uniquely rendered, almost like a custard or pudding.

The Bay Scallops themselves were quite good and still retained a lot of ocean flavor. The dish was also served with a cauliflower puree, capers and preserved lemon. Individually, all the flavors in this dish were quite good, but when the scallops were mixed with the cauliflower, capers and lemon, something wasn't right. Individually tho, great scallops and cauliflower puree.

Just a side note that it was the Eggs Benedict and Bay Scallops that Chef Dufresne personally served us.

Moving on to our main courses, I had the Lamb Shoulder and my gf had the Tilefish. Both entrees were excellent and the portion sizes were perfect. Flavorwise, the lamb dish had items I'm not usually a fan of - polenta and endive, but I loved what was done with them in these dishes, especially the endive marmelade. The poached endive was pretty good and the pistacchio polenta was like no other. The Tilefish dish was pretty interesting as well. It contained a Manhattan Clam Chowder broth (which was good and had a smoky flavor), a New England Clam Chowder puree, oysters and then deep fried oysters that were rendered as crackers. The tilefish was perfectly cooked and not dry. The dish was a home run all the way.

Chef Dufresne came out after we'd finished our mains and asked how everything was. Hmm, other than excellent?

For dessert, we had the Liquid Churro and the Chocolate, each of which I can still taste. The churro was sweet, lemony and had hints of cinnamon, while the chocolate was served with beet, long pepper, ricotta sorbet. The chocolate ganache ribbon was decadent, the ricotta sorbet creamy and sweet. Beets and peppers were interesting choices as well. We were also served Rice Krispie Treats, which were crispy and had a yummy frozen marshmallow center.

After dinner, the manager gave us a tour of the kitchen, where we talked more with Chef Dufresne, who also signed menus for us and took pictures with us. He may only have one restaurant, but he's in the kitchen five nights a week and he actually cooks. How many executive chefs are in their kitchen and cooking five nights a week? We saw him preparing the majority of our dishes as well. People say the a la carte items are less experimental than the tasting menu, but if Chef Dufresne can blend his gastronomic techniques seamlessly to enhance his food, then more power to him. Flavor comes first here, not spectacle.

We also chatted more with the manager, Chris, for a bit after Chef Dufresne went back to work and took a picture with him for being so incredibly gracious and accomodating.

Sitting at the chef's table really made our evening and we were able to take a ton of pictures of the kitchen activity. Upon walking to the bathroom, I noticed how the vibe in the rest of the restaurant was completely different from where we were sitting We felt like rock stars for those two hours, with a front row seat to the kitchen's show. Chef Wylie meticulously poured over each plating and both he and Chef Bignelli were always tasting food before it was served.

Chef Dufresne also has a great sense of humor. At one point, another of the hosts came up to him and they were discussing something that looked important. Suddenly, Chef Dufresne points at us and says, "Well, would you like me to ask these people to leave?" We hadn't even had dessert yet and were like "Uhhh..." I was thinking, "Did I take too many pictures?"- but then he says "I'm just messing with you!!!" We all had a good laugh over it.

As someone told me, flavors here are polarizing and may not be for everyone. I'd never heard of swiss chard sorbet before. Just have an open mind and don't ready too many blogs on this place. We almost didn't come due to so many divided opinions. In the end, food and service were five stars.

After interacting with Chef Dufresne over the course of the evening, I'd like to suggest to some other chefs who are uptight and don't allow photos to loosen up! Maybe while eating a plate of figs... in San Francisco...

-----
WD-50
50 Clinton Street, New York, NY 10002

  1. uhockey Feb 22, 2012 03:17 AM

    ....lots of chef's serve and very few don't allow photos. As a matter of fact I cannot think of a single Bay Area Chef that does not allow food photos. I realize you're likely referring to Chang and while I don't like the policy (or Ko as a restaurant) he doesn't mind photos in the rest of his growing empire.

    That noted, great report overall. Looking forward to dining there on Sunday evening.

    http://endoedibles.com

    13 Replies
    1. re: uhockey
      willscarlett Feb 22, 2012 04:31 AM

      Pretty neat to know that lots of chefs serve. Which other ones do? I just have never been served by a chef before, but I'm still young and have a lot of meals to have.

      I was just joking about Chang and Ko. I've read older reviews, back when photos were allowed, where people say he got somewhat snippy when you'd snap away. I did take photos at the Noodle Bar tho, but found the food to be inferior to places like Ippudo or Totto Ramen. It was probably on par with Rai Rai Ken or Minca Ramen, but the prices at the latter two places are better than Momo Noodle Bar.

      I've been to the Bay Area twice but only briefly for a day during each visit. Not hating on the food out there, I'm sure it's great!

      Hope you have a nice meal on Sunday, let us know how it is!

      1. re: willscarlett
        uhockey Feb 22, 2012 08:48 AM

        Grant Achatz - Alinea
        Corey Lee - Benu
        Blaine Wetzel - Willow's Inn
        Josh Skenes - Saison
        Carlo Mirarchi - Roberta's
        Michael White - Marea
        Tim Cushman - O ya
        Brian Voltaggio - Volt
        Michael Voltaggio - ink.
        Dominique Crenn - Atelier Crenn
        Chris Kostow - Restaurant at Meadowood
        Nancy Silverton - Osteria Mozza

        To name a few.

        I think that as a solo diner the chef's often like come out to say hello, deliver a dish, ask how you are enjoying the evening but a lot of the smaller chef-driven chef-owned spots (like wd~50) often make it a point to visit their diners and often deliver a dish even if it is just mignardises.

        As to reporting back - I have a decent enough track record of doing so - and quite long-windedly as well.

        http://endoedibles.com

        1. re: uhockey
          willscarlett Feb 22, 2012 10:03 AM

          Come to think, I was served by one of the chefs at EMP once, but it Humm wasn't in the kitchen that day and it wasn't his Chef de Cuisine.

          I checked out your blog... good reviews! Looking forward to seeing more.

        2. re: willscarlett
          n
          nextguy Feb 22, 2012 01:19 PM

          Oddly, in New York I don't think I have ever eaten at a restaurant when the executive chef of a high-end restaurant was even in the kitchen, much less served by one. And I have eaten at quite a few places now and not on odd nights (ie. Sunday, Monday). I realize that in a well run kitchen this does not matter, but odd nonetheless. Contrast this to LV, Paris, and especially in Chicago where EVERY restaurant I ate at the chef was in the kitchen.

          1. re: nextguy
            p
            peter j Feb 22, 2012 01:48 PM

            Eric Ripert, Jean Georges Vongerichten, Cesar Ramirez. and Daniel Humm all work in the kitchen on a regular (and in the case of Ramirez, daily) basis.

            1. re: peter j
              willscarlett Feb 22, 2012 04:05 PM

              In Jean Georges' case, he has so many restaurants, he can't be cooking at all of them all the time, unless he really only cooks at Jean Georges. Same with Gordon Ramsay. He isn't even the executive chef at his flagship restaurant in London.

              1. re: willscarlett
                p
                peter j Feb 22, 2012 04:12 PM

                Yes he's always been in the Jean Georges kitchen everytime I've been there over the years. I haven't seen him at hs other less expensive restaurants.

                1. re: peter j
                  willscarlett Feb 22, 2012 04:22 PM

                  How about Nougatine? Since it does share the kitchen with JG.

                  1. re: willscarlett
                    p
                    peter j Feb 22, 2012 04:32 PM

                    I think Nougatine has the basement kitchen. I've only seen JG come out of the open kitchen serving the formal restaurant, but who knows, maybe he pops into the basement kitchen as well.

                    1. re: peter j
                      willscarlett Feb 22, 2012 05:13 PM

                      I'm actually not sure. My gf has eaten at Nougatine a bunch of times and told me that the two restaurants share the kitchen. One day, I'll dine there and find out for myself.

            2. re: nextguy
              uhockey Feb 22, 2012 03:04 PM

              Agree with Peter here - you have had incredibly bad luck.

              Humm, Vongerichten, Ripert, White, Mendes, Kaysen, Kreuther, and many others are in their kitchen for both lunch and dinner service. Chang and Batali obviously less so. Perhaps I've just gotten lucky, but that is one heck of a string of luck if so.

              ...and I find it interesting wrt Vegas. You must be eating at a lot of local places instead of big strip places. I was lucky to see Gagnaire at Twist - never once seen another of the "big names" in their restaurant except for Andres and Myers during opening week at the Cosmo

              http://endoedibles.com

              1. re: uhockey
                n
                nextguy Feb 23, 2012 04:14 PM

                Well I have bad luck in New York :p

                As for Vegas, I have eaten at Robuchon and Savoy and was not implying that Robuchon and Savoy were in the kitchen. Like at Robuchon, the executive chef is Le Tohic and he was in the house.

                Anyways, must have been nice for the op to be served by WD himself.

                1. re: nextguy
                  f
                  foodwhisperer Feb 23, 2012 04:27 PM

                  Robuchon is overrated. I never had a good meal in any of his restaurants, New York, Las Vegas, France. As far as executive chefs or head chefs coming to the table, the only one who impressed me and was a Grand Chef and a nice guy was Andre Soltner from Lutece.

        3. sgordon Feb 21, 2012 05:22 PM

          Wow. I've dined at WD-50 probably 30+ (maybe 40+) times and not only have I never been served by Wylie personally, I never even realized there was a "Chef's Table" to begin with. (Not that I need to be served by him, mind you - I prefer dining at the bar usually, anyway... just curious, really.)

          3 Replies
          1. re: sgordon
            willscarlett Feb 22, 2012 04:36 AM

            How come you prefer dining at the bar? I only ask because on that Sunday night, the bar area was packed with people dining at the bar and people standing around the bar area in general. Looked a bit cramped.

            I've never been served by any chef and the first kitchen tour I ever had was at Eleven Madison Park. I think Wylie only served us because we sat at the Chef's Table, which the manager noted is usually reserved for Wylie's friends, but can be requested if it's available. The Chef's Table is also hidden behind the opposite side of the booth that is closest to the kitchen, so it's not really visible, unless you have a table along a wall that provides you with a diagonal view of the kitchen.

            I think a lot of what we received that night may have been due to sitting at the Chef's Table, but the manager noted that if people seem interested or ask, they will give them a kitchen tour, etc. The manager also said for people sitting at the Chef's Table, those things happen automatically. We still asked tho.

            1. re: willscarlett
              sgordon Feb 22, 2012 08:51 AM

              Well, I like dining at the bar if I'm actually seated at the bar - not just milling about. Also, specifically if Jafrul is working since he knows us at this point and he's good conversation - the new guy who replaced Tona (don't know his name) who looks like a younger hipper more handsome Rainn Wilson, I don't know. Good bartender, for sure, just don't really know his personality. Not as outgoing as Jafrul, at least not the one time we were there and he was working the bar.

              I'm not crazy about the bar tables, though - the ones up by the window. If the bar area is crowded with drinkers you can feel a bit claustrophobic back there.

              They do give kitchen tours to anyone who asks, though - yeah. I've never asked for one (not like I'm going to learn any tricks I can recreate at home without first purchasing an immersion circulator and a centrifuge...) but I've dined with people who did.

              1. re: sgordon
                willscarlett Feb 22, 2012 10:48 AM

                A bartender who knows you can certainly make for a grand evening. I was at Please Don't Tell a few weeks ago and the bartender there, Jeff, was awesome.

                The bar table by the window was the initial table we were offered. When we arrived, it wasn't too bad, but the bar area was pretty packed when we left.

          2. brancron Feb 21, 2012 03:15 PM

            I was there last Wednesday, and I found it to be extremely disappointing. Let me go dish by dish.

            Cold fried chicken: low quality and very small American caviar, overly spicy/sticky sauce, bland buttermilk-ricotta mash, and salty cold chicken. Not good.

            Aerated foie: the foie gras had an unpleasant artificial tartness (I thought it might be malic acid or something similar to it). The beets were good, but could not improve the texture or flavor of the foie.

            Eggs benedict: the "fried hollandaise" had again that artificial tartness that was very unpleasant. The egg yolk cylinders had an unpleasant texture and had a very weak flavor.

            Pork cheeks: thinly sliced, their flavor was that of low-quality pepperoni. I was honestly shocked. And the fried pickle mayonnaise had the same unpleasant tartness as did several of the dishes we tried.

            Duck breast main: the duck appeared to be cooked sous vide and then seared, but it wasn't seared long enough to render the fat properly, so there was a sad blubbery layer to content with. The parsnip consomme was sweet and slightly parsnipy but had no depth at all, and was doused with an unctuous spicy oil. The black sesame dumplings were undercooked in parts (as if they'd been dehydrated), and the red cabbage tasted like some sort of sour German slaw.

            The desserts were good, but I won't describe them.

            What I find difficult is that I was expecting to love WD-50. I've been to many of the more "modern" restaurants and generally I love experimental, boundary-pushing flavors and textures. But there was just something off here, something that can't be attributed to oversight or to a kitchen in the weeds (we were there at 6:30 with a very quiet diningroom and Wylie in the kitchen). The textures were off, many elements were strangely and unpleasantly tart, and no ingredients tasted strongly of themselves—the duck, the eggs, the pork, the foie, all of these tasted like weak versions of themselves. I don't understand why this was.

            -----
            WD-50
            50 Clinton Street, New York, NY 10002

            12 Replies
            1. re: brancron
              Miss Needle Feb 21, 2012 08:15 PM

              If you've read the boards, you'll find that it's a very divisive restaurant. I also love more "modern" restaurants, especially since two of my favorite meals I've ever had were at Pierre Gagnaire and Alinea. But I also agree with you that it didn't really agree with me too well -- not because of execution issues but more that I felt that the chef was trying to be creative for the sake of being creative. From the dishes you list, the aerated foie is the only I've had. As I was eating it, I was just wishing for a plain terrine or seared lobe. To be fair, it's been a while since I've been there. I'm open to trying it again at some point but not in a super rush to get back there, especially as it is not an inexpensive venue.

              1. re: Miss Needle
                uhockey Feb 22, 2012 03:19 AM

                I think we would get along - identical top retaurant choices and while I'm planning to eat there Sunday I've always been under the impression that Wd~50 was more style than substance. We shall see, I guess. I do like the current menu.

                http://endoedibles.com

                1. re: uhockey
                  Miss Needle Feb 22, 2012 12:48 PM

                  Based on your other reports and your blog, yes, I do think we have very similar tastes. I'm really interested in what you think when you dine there on Sunday.

                2. re: Miss Needle
                  willscarlett Feb 22, 2012 04:27 AM

                  Are there any other restaurants in NYC that do what wd~50 does?

                  1. re: willscarlett
                    k
                    kathryn Feb 22, 2012 06:04 AM

                    Unfortunately, not really.

                    1. re: willscarlett
                      p
                      peter j Feb 22, 2012 06:20 AM

                      Maybe Gastroarte (formerly known as Graffit until a copyright dispute forced a name chage) though I haven't been there yet. It's another divisive restaurant but not as high profile as WD-50..

                      Here's the New York Times review:
                      http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/20/dining/reviews/20Rest.html?_r=1

                      Website:
                      http://gastroartenyc.com/index.html

                      1. re: peter j
                        sgordon Feb 22, 2012 08:39 AM

                        I'm a fan of WD, as everyone knows, but I was less than enthused with Gastroarte/Graffit. It seemed to me that all the accusations levelled at WD in their early days - style over substance, pretension without pleasure - were perfectly appropriate descriptors for Graffit. There just wasn't anything terribly playful or fun about it.

                        WD grew out of that, though, and became a really enjoyable restaurant IMHO. So perhaps Graffit will do the same if they stay open long enough. They're not really in my geographic stomping grounds, though, so I don't know when I'd be back.

                        -----
                        Gastroarte
                        141 W 69th St, New York, NY 10023

                        1. re: peter j
                          Miss Needle Feb 22, 2012 12:52 PM

                          Yes, I agree that Gastroarte is probably the closest thing to WD-50 in NYC. Here's a thread about it on CH.

                          http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/818669

                    2. re: brancron
                      willscarlett Feb 22, 2012 04:25 AM

                      I can certainly understand why you didn't like what you had. The buttermilk-ricotta mash wasn't my favorite, nor was the fried hollandaise, but overall I really liked my meal. I tried very hard to keep an open mind. Desserts were pretty yummy too.

                      I didn't have the Aerated foie since I'm not a foie fan and while I will eat duck, I generally find it to be a bit gummy so I passed on that.

                      1. re: brancron
                        p
                        peter j Feb 22, 2012 06:15 AM

                        I thought the cold fried chicken was an interesting and balanced dish, but agree about the aftertaste in the foie gras.

                        1. re: peter j
                          ellenost Feb 22, 2012 07:02 AM

                          That's disappointing to hear about the foie gras since that is one of the dishes I am most looiking forward to trying.

                          1. re: ellenost
                            p
                            peter j Feb 22, 2012 07:24 AM

                            It's not a terrible dish, it just wasn't what I expected.

                            But don't take my word for it. If you were looking forward to the foie gras you should definitely try it.

                      2. ellenost Feb 21, 2012 02:25 PM

                        Great report! Looking forward to my dinner at WD-50 next weekend!

                        7 Replies
                        1. re: ellenost
                          p
                          pauliface Feb 21, 2012 03:24 PM

                          I"m planning to post a trip report on my visit to NYC last weekend.
                          However, we ALSO went this last Sunday night, and were caught in the same traffic as you.

                          We went with the tasting menu, and Chef Wylie did not serve us personally. But for us it was the culinary highlight of the weekend (well, maybe after my Mamoun's falafel). Much better than Eleven Madison Park, of which I was previously a huge fan, I might add.
                          WD-50 was a fantastic meal and a delightful overall experience.

                          More to come...

                          1. re: pauliface
                            willscarlett Feb 22, 2012 04:22 AM

                            You were there last Sunday? Pretty nifty. What time was your reservation? I ate at Eleven Madison Park last September and wd~50 was probably the first yummy upscale meal that I enjoyed since Eleven Madison Park. I like the food equally at both restaurants, but the service at EMP ruled over wd~50. I also find the venue space at EMP to be a bit big and impersonal. I wish it were more cozy.

                            1. re: willscarlett
                              k
                              kathryn Feb 22, 2012 06:09 AM

                              You might feel differently if you had been seated at one of the banquette 2-tops at WD-50. It is the type where the server has to pull out the entire table for people to scoot in.

                              I had to endure the inane conversation of the couple next to me for the duration of our meal, and they were seated so closely, it was very difficult to block out. "Oh my god! Can you, like, believe this! This food is, like, sooooooooo craaaaazy. I could, like, totally eat this, like, all day, like, every day. Oh my god! My parents would soooooo not go for this," etc.

                              1. re: kathryn
                                loratliff Feb 25, 2012 03:49 PM

                                Hahaha, I've sat in that seat and heard almost that exact conversation there.

                                But getting to meet Wylie and see the wonderful kitchen there more than made up for it.

                            2. re: pauliface
                              ellenost Feb 22, 2012 06:58 AM

                              I'll look forward to reading all of your reports. Glad to hear that WD-50 was one of the culinary highlights of your weekend.

                            3. re: ellenost
                              willscarlett Feb 22, 2012 04:20 AM

                              Thanks! Be sure to report on your dinner too. Are you planning on doing the tasting menu? I found that sharing three apps and then ordering two entrees and two desserts was the perfect amount of food.

                              1. re: willscarlett
                                ellenost Feb 22, 2012 07:01 AM

                                We'll be ordering "a la carte" since there are so many dishes we want to try that are not on the tasting menu. I was planning on 2 or 3 apps, one entree and 2 desserts just for myself :-). I know at least one of my dining companions will be ordering more food than me.

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