As part of my chef brother’s visit to NYC, we went to WD-50, a restaurant by Wylie Dufresne on the Lower East Side. What attracted us to the place was its supposed molecular gastronomy style, with inventive dishes that would catch you off guard. Our expectations were high, and, as it usually happens with high expectations, not at all met.
The place itself is nothing exceptional. The restaurant is on Clinton Street, a street known among foodies as one of the top streets for a good and inventive taste. The decor is nothing special. Aubergine walls, interesting lamps, diner style wooden tables with leather sofas. Comfy. They have a kind of open kitchen, which is cool. I just never understand how they manage not to have the entire restaurant smell like oil. This never happens when we cook in our kitchen.
They have two tasting menus. A bigger and newer one with 13 dishes that goes for $155 – plus an optional $95 for wine pairing – and a smaller one with dishes “from the vault”, for $90 – plus $65 for the wine pairing. We chose the smaller one. Our waiter explained that they brought back their highlights from older menus to build this one, and it sounded promising. There is also an option to select two items from either menu for $25, and additional courses for $15.
They brought each of us a printed version of the menu, great for note-taking. It already explained the 6 courses that we were about to taste, so no big surprises there. It also listed the wines that would accompany it if we had chosen the wine pairing. We preferred to choose a pinot noir from California, Limerick Lane. The wine was great, but there was a severe flaw when our waiter served it to us. Due to the lack of space at the table, he opened the bottle and poured it into the decanter away from our table, so we could not see it. Although we of course do not think that they could switch it, it is a primary lesson in serving wine to open the bottle and decant it in front of the customers. We complained.
The first course was the amouse bouche. We found it strange that it was listed as a course. Most tasting menus bring those smaller dishes as surprises, which psychologically makes us feel that we are getting more value for our money. For the majority of the table, it was a little clam with potatoes and chorizo.
For the seafood allergic, a coconut ice cream sandwich with saffron, american sturgeon caviar and fresh mint. What was great about it is that it didn’t taste like coconut at all.
The second dish was one of the highlights. A small appetizer with foie gras and anchovy. A mix that we would never imagine to work, but mouthwatering! We are foie gras fans, so it’s hard not to please us there, but this was a bold try! The foie gras comes in a square form with the thin-sliced Spanish boquerones on top of it. It came with a tarragon and citrus sauce and cocoa nibs. As we found out, cocoa nibs are raw chocolate, and very similar to coffee beans. After we eat it, a dark chocolate taste stays in the mouth, and lingers there until something else comes along. An experience!
Next up was a soup course which is made with a malted chestnut broth, salmon threads, celery root, and chestnut oil. We are not usually soup people, but this one was so flavorful and soothing that delighted us. The chestnut broth is really creamy, perfect for the winter. The salmon threads are dried, dehydrated salmon that have been shredded into stringy strands. When stirred into the soup, they add a salty, fishy twist, very unexpected.
After that, a turbot – kind of a white fish -, with salsify – kind of a carrot -, coffee-saffron sauce and smoked bulghur – kind of a couscous. The “kind of” dish. We did not know most of the ingredients, so our waiter explained it to us comparing it to other stuff. We thought it was tasteless, not a lot of flavor there. Very disappointing.
As the final salty dish, a pan roaster lamb loin with hibiscus-date sauce, pearl barley, fresh cucumber, shallots and aged goat cheese shaved on top of it. The cheese was very good (of course, cheese fans…). The lamb was tasty and pinkish, as we like it, but half of it was fat, which resulted in a rather small dish for the main event of the tasting. I loved the barley. But again, it was nothing that surprised us.
What really came as a surprise was that the desert was so much better than all of the other dishes. There was a milk chocolate pudding, with black bean puree, plantain sorbet – which, we did not know, is kind of a banana -, soy and plantain sauce, roasted and crumbled peanuts, and little malted puffs made from soy. This was a great dish! We took a while to figure out which was which. In fact, we continued to discuss it the day after our dinner… The design was very prettily made. The peanuts gave the perfect salty taste to match with the sweet. The puffs melted in our mouths. This made us crave for more.
And more came in the final course. Our menu only said mignardise. It’s always good to learn something while we enjoy ourselves, and we did at this one. Mignardise is french for a bite-sized pretty desert served at the end of the meal. The lack of molecular gastronomy was partly balanced by this desert: blueberry leather packed filled with cheesecake (!!!). What came were literally leather packets when you looked at it, almost like little ketchup packets, completely brown and plastic like, therefore the leather part. But it actually is made of and tastes like blueberry. When you take a bite, inside comes the cheesecake part, but it is dehydrated, and nothing you would expect. It is sort of powdery and chalky, which is kind of weird at first, but delicious!! This made up for the disappointment in some of the other dishes, and was the highlight of our meal.
Although the food was good, and we have nothing really to complain about it, the restaurant lacked the tasting menu experience that is expected when you pay big bucks for exactly that. The dishes came really fast, and although the explanation was perfect and the waiters polite, they lacked a certain amount of human warmth. Since they included the amouse bouche and the mignardise in the menu, there were no surprises or bonus dishes. It can be argued that they are straightforward about what they will serve, but it is always nice to have a little unexpected. Since our expectations were high, it was sort of a disappointment not to have an extra.
- Environment: ***
- Service: ***
- Food: ***
- Presentation: ***
- Rating: ***