This past Friday, I had a nice dinner date with a friend. We went to wd-50, Wylie Dufresne’s namesake restaurant. It was pretty mind blowing. I’m not sure if the food was the most tasty, but come on, this is haute cuisine. It challenges the way you experience food.
Even more awesome was the fact that at the end of the meal, they offered to let us see the kitchen and meet Wylie himself (cue silly fangirl moment). I guess they saw that we were taking pictures of the food pretty intently and maybe thought we were food/restaurant bloggers/reviewers? Either way, definitely one of the most awesome dining experiences I’ve had.
So, lets begin.
We originally weren’t planning on getting the tasting menu, because lets face it. It’s pretty damn expensive. But then apparently Jenny had some fuck-ups with her moving company so they offered to compensate her for losing her stuff. So we kind of charged the majority of the meal to that. There were 12 courses, so this is going to be a long post.
Also, I totally missed the “Please refrain from using cellphones”. Next time I’ll have better form.
For the first course, we had Scallops, corn, leek, barbeque vinaigrette. I don’t think this counts as an amuse bouche? Since, from my understanding amuse bouches are supposed to be bitesized.
The scallops were definitely very tasty. The vinaigrette went well, but sour things like vinaigrette usually go pretty well with seafood. The only thing that was kind of weird, even though it provided added texture to the dish were the little black peppercorn shaped things that topped it. I think it was corn, but I’m not sure. They almost look like those anise peppercorns that my parents use. Seeing those, I was almost a little apprehensive about putting those in my mouth, because if you’ve ever eaten them on accident, they do make your mouth numb. But, alas, they were not. you bit down on them and they were crunchy and hard. I’m not really sure if they enhanced the dish, so I might have left them out, but visually they looked quite pretty.
On an food-unrelated note, Jenny had the side with more lighting, so throughout dinner, I was leaning over to her side of the table trying to take pictures of her food. Lighting was still not great, but it’ll do. I also don’t retouch my photos, which I probably should, but am too lazy to. That being said, my non-macro pictures kind of suck, so apologies ahead of time.
The second course was an Everything bagel, smoked salmon threads, crispy cream cheese. I’m not very satisfied with the first picture, but it’ll do.
This dish was definitely what you’d call “un petit divertissement”. It’s tiny and playful and definitely very fun. Let me explain. The bagel here, is not really a bagel. It’s ice cream. Yes. The bagel is everything bagel with cream cheese flavored ice cream. This completely blew my mind. I was eating it and having a weird cognitive dissonance moment where things in the world suddenly didn’t make sense. It was savory. It tasted wholesome and warm like a bagel, but the texture was creamy and cool. The salmon was the thread you see. It definitely added texture to the plate, and made it more interesting, but the bagel itself was so quixotic that the salmon floss was almost an afterthought to me. This was definitely one of those dishes that make you pause for a moment and just go “huh…” And it’s so small that the moment is so brief that afterwards you’re left wondering if all of that really happened.
The third course was a Foie-lafel, or falafel made out of foie-gras. Previously I had foie-gras at Jean-georges, which was pretty good. I think that’s the way foie-gras should be, so this was interesting to say the least.
So the outside of the foie-lafel was crunchy and the way you’d expect falafel to be. But, as soon as you bit into it, the foie-lafel basically exploded in your mouth with foie-gras. However, there was so much flavor from the other aspects of the dish, that I didn’t get a lot of the foie-gras flavor. Also, I understand the concept of elevating lowly street food to haute cuisine level, but I don’t think this dish worked that well as elevated street food. Street food is tasty because it’s simple, probably bad for you, and unabashedly so. You can only really elevate street food if it’s really made the same way but maybe with the same attitude but maybe more care and precision. This just didn’t have that added sparkle that it needed. It just felt like eating really expensive street food.
The fourth course was a Poached egg in the shell, pumpernickel, caesar dressing, bean sprouts. This dish gave me mixed feelings. For one, I love eggs. I absolutely love them. I put them in a lot of dishes. At home, I can go without any sort of large protein, but I need to have my eggs. This was a beautifully executed egg.
For me, this dish was almost perfect, except for the shell. The shell was edible, but really didn’t taste that great. The waiter said that the shell was made out of some sort of edible clay. Does eating clay sound appealing to you? I don’t think so. I think it would have been fine if the waiter had just told us that the shell was edible but really wasn’t expected to be eaten, because we tried and it wasn’t that great.
But on a different note, the egg! The egg was poached beautifully. The white was cooked through but the yolk was beautiful and runny. The yolk just spilled out of the egg so wonderfully rich, yellow, and gooey. I want to mention that the caesar salad dressing was a nice addition to this egg. It provided some acidity to this dish and balanced out the richness of the egg yolk. For some reason, I don’t remember much about the bean sprouts, but that was probably because I was distracted by the egg. Did I mention the egg was wonderful?
I could really just eat poached eggs all day.
The next dish was a King oyster ‘udon,’ sweetbreads, banana-molassas, pickled ginger. This was definitely a very tasty dish with interesting textures.
So what the hell does “King oyster ‘udon'” mean anyways? It means that the noodles are quite elastic and chewy. They’re noodles but they’re not. Ever notice how noodles have that springy-ness and then melt in your mouth? These noodles had more elasticity and didn’t quite melt in your mouth. I thought this was really interest because it didn’t seem as heavy as pasta or noodles sometimes can feel. Rather, this dish had a very light and snack-like appeal about it. In addition, I love arugula and this dish was topped with it.
Next up was the Tai snapper, onion tart, coffee, asian pear. In six words: fish fruit fine sweet, coffee random.
What I mean by that description was that I think that the fish, pear, and onion were fine by themselves. They even made a pretty tasty dish. However, when you bit into those black coffee crackers that topped the dish, that flavor just seemed so random and out there it was a little bit shocking. I feel that way because there was so much harmony between the fish, pear, and onion. Things were pretty mellow and fine, then you get hit with this harsh strong coffee flavor. It kind of felt like a slap in the face by the chef, a rude awakening after you’ve been lulled into this sense of security by the flavors of the fish, pear and onion.
The seventh dish was Quail, nasturtium yogurt, turnip, nutmeg. So before this dish, Jenny was wondering what nasturtium was. Turns out, its like this little Indian flower that they use to spice things. We ask the waiter about it, and kindly explained it all. And I just wiki-ed it, apparently it is part of the mustard family.
The quail was great. I have no complaints about it. It was beautifully cooked. You can even see the colors and the gradients present in the meat. However, I have one complaint and one thing I wish had more flavor. The complaint: the turnips were bitter. Which, made me not want to eat them after having such a great quail. I can see the bitterness of the turnips going well with in stews to cut the richness of some other ingredient, but the quail didn’t quite have that. The only other thing I would have changed was to have added more of that sourness and flavor from the nasturtium. I think the yogurt mellowed it out a lot, and a strong full-bodied mustard would have worked wonderfully in this dish.
The last of the protein dishes was the lamb loin, ‘red beans & rice,’ chayote squash. I know it must seem like I complain a lot, but I have no complaints about this dish.
This red, dripping, and succulent lamb was probably my favorite out of all the meat courses. Coming from a Chinese background, I do get to eat quite a few lamb dishes, but I’ve never had lamb that hasn’t been fully cooked. But, this dish showed that lamb can be a beautiful medium rare as well. (What can I say, I’m Chinese, we cook the hell out of everything!) It was so pleasant eating this lamb, because it had that wonderful steaky texture but all the lamb flavor you could ever want. In addition, the red beans and rice were actually pine nuts and rice crisps, which went very well with the lamb. At the end I even asked the waiter how it was prepared. Apparently its cooked at low temperatures for a long time to make sure that its completely cooked through but still retains that juiciness and then its fried in the pan to crisp the outside. I’ve got to try that sometime.
The first dessert course was Gjetost, watermelon, plum, live oil. When we asked what Gjetost was, the waiter told us it was a Scandinavian cheese. I looked it up on wiki later and apparently is a brown whey cheese found in Norway, Sweden and Iceland. Yay for Scandinavia! (I’ve got to go there some day just to go backpacking and to eat cheese.)
What I remember of this dish was not the richness of the cheese or how well it balanced, but how much it tasted like cheese cake to me, a deconstructed cheese cake in this case. The Gjetost was quite nice and everything went well together. A fine-tasting dish, but after all the other courses, nothing really stood out about this dish. I guess it also looked nice.
The second dessert course was Apricot, buckwheat, rhubarb, green tea. It was a buckwheat icecream with apricot pudding/curd and green tea mouse and rhubarb bits on the side. This dessert was so intense on the flavor that my mouth is kind of puckering just thinking about it.
The apricot was really strong in this dish that if the buckwheat ice cream hadn’t been there, it would have been way too much. In addition, the sourness from the rhubarb also helped further bring out the apricot. I didn’t really notice the apricot as much, but I vaguely remember Jenny commenting about how strong it was. What really caught my attention about this dish was the rhubarb. I’ve had rhubarb pie before and I’ve generally not liked it because it just seems like such a let down after you see the intense reds and pinks of rhubarb. (I have high expectations after seeing such beautiful colors!) However, give me rhubarb as a topping to my ice cream and I’ll eat it any day.
This next dish was my favorite out of all the dessert dishes. You’ll see why. This dish was Soft chocolate, beet, long pepper, ricotta ice cream.
This dish, in my opinion, wasn’t even the best tasting dessert, but for some reason remains the most memorable. I think this is because visually and conceptually it was so much fun. It kind of looks like a mad man was creating this dessert and then somehow cut himself in the process and decided to sprinkle his blood on the dish. The kind of manic and brashness I got from this dish made me laugh with glee. Taste-wise, I’m going to say I’m not that crazy about beet. For me, I’ve only ever had beet salad and therefore have only experienced beet sour, which I seem to like. The beet flavor in this dish just seems wishy-washy to me. There’s only a hint of the sweetness, which wasn’t enough for me. However, I loved the ricotta ice cream. It was just so smooth and creamy that I almost wish I had a big bowl of it right now. Also, the soft chocolate was really nice touch to it.
Finally at the end were the rice krispy treats and deep fried mochi balls filled with Yuzu? (I think.)
I really liked the rice krispy treats; they were filled with marshmallow ice cream, which I thought was wonderful since they were warm out the outside but cold on the inside. It was like a wonderful surprise, but I think Jenny thought they were too sweet.
I didn’t think the fried mochi was as pretty, but they were definitely a nice way to end the meal. The yuzu and citrus juice on the inside also was warm and more liquid. It exploded as I tried to take a bite of it and I ended up with juice dripping down my chin.
I have a couple last comments about wd-50. I really appreciated how the portions of the courses were small. I think that’s very important to the meal. Earlier I had a bunch of cheese, so I wasn’t that hungry, but I was still able to finish this tasting menu and feel comfortable and not ‘ready-to-puke’ full. In addition, all the waiters were super knowledgeable about the food and super polite. They also wore short sleeved uniforms that gave the place a more dressed down feel. Heck, I showed up in keds, t-shirt and jeans and I wasn’t made to feel awkward about it. It was a very nice and enjoyable atmosphere that had the food of a high class restaurant but minus the stuffiness of some places. For example, no one bothered to pull out your chair when you came back from the restroom but they did pick up your napkin while you were gone and refold it for you.
At the end of our meal, we got to go to the kitchen and even meet Chef Wylie. They also let us take a picture with him.