WD-50 Closing on LES/NYC
Bummer, but again, glad I was able to eat there once anyway. Definitely one of the most inventive meals I've ever had, and afterwards, our waiter brought us into the kitchen to meet Wylie! What a nice guy, he deflected all the praise we had on his team of chefs and sous chefs.
Well, a girlfriend and I visited WD-50 last night, on its 136th to last day of existence. Apart from a dinner at Adara in Montclair (now closed) which I really enjoyed, it was my first molecular experience, as options are limited here in NYC. My friend has had the good fortune of eating at Fat Duck in London several times and with that as a reference point, WD-50 fell somewhat flat to her. I was also not as impressed as I'd hoped.
Generally, my friend and I believe that one of the important aspects of this kind of meal is that it is a fully sensory experience. Both Heston Blumenthal and Grant Achatz place a great importance on food that evokes the senses and how aroma, texture, presentation, and even sound in the case of Blumenthal (iPods served with the meal) can stir memories and create a fully integrated experience that is more than just the food on the plate. To do this, the experience must be somewhat controlled and there has to be a great attention to detail so that one's full focus can be on the experience the chef is trying to create. Here is where we felt Dufresne fell short.
First, the room was so loud we could barely have a conversation. We couldn't hear the server's description of each dish and had to refer to the copy of the menu that had been unceremoniously dropped at the table for reference, a rather unelegant, tri-folded piece of paper that we had to keep unfolding throughout the meal. When the servers did tell us what they were presenting, their descriptions were more detailed than what was on the printed menu, but alas, we couldn't hear or understand them. We did hear snippets of the server at the next table, who was detailing the 'tricks' used to create the various illusions. Without understanding what the chef was doing, and being able to appreciate the playfulness and creativity, it was mostly just weird bites of sometimes unidentifiable food and garnishes on a plate.
The worst offense in our minds, and one which we complained about with our neighbors at the next table, was that the cutlery was all wrong for the food. It was large and heavy and not even very pretty. We literally had trouble affixing the delicate morsels of food to our forks and spoons. With each ingredient so carefully thought out and arranged on the plate, why was the means by the food was to be consumed so overlooked? This was an annoyance throughout the meal.
We had the 12 course and found the presentations lovely, but many of the dishes to be rather bland and underseasoned. Again, we couldn’t fully appreciate what we were eating, and what had gone into its preparation, because we couldn’t hear the descriptions. That being said, we both enjoyed the oyster, after declaring it the one thing on the menu neither of us was looking forward to. The egg yolk mashed potato ravioli was tasteless. The avocado pea soup, my friend complained, just needed some salt, and it did. The black bass dish came with a long, stringy 'piece' of what we thought was some sort of jerky or ‘fruit’ leather, but it was impossible to cut through and very awkward to eat. The bloodless sausage tasted like Soysage. We loved the shrimp grits, the milk braised pork collar and the duck breast. We thought the desserts would thrill us, but those too had problems. The verbena mousse was a sort of granita sandwich and the 'iced' part extended past the edges of the delicious filling in the middle. The granita was awful on its own, but delicious with the filling, and we thought there should not have been any plain granita edges. The top layer of the apple tart tasted distinctly like Play-Doh. Finally, the ovaltine cake arrived, all of its elements completely overwhelmed by too much cardamom.
About the drinks, I have no complaints. We didn't do a wine pairing and I drank The Oldest Profession cocktail (Rum, elderflower, shiso, clarified grapefruit) throughout the meal. It was divine. The coffee was delcious.
We had a fun time and I’m glad I got to go before it closes, but it wasn’t the unforgettable, gastronomic experience I was hoping for.