Most of this post will be dedicated to a recent meal I had at one of my favorite NYC restaurants: WD~50. I first ate here about three years ago, and had an eye-opening experience, but only had a chance to try dessert. I was excited and anxious to get back and try the savory side of things.
There are unfortunately many people out there (mostly cooks) who have made it their business to bash restaurants like WD~50. They argue that the food isn't "real food". That what they do is simply a bunch of plastic bag cookery, gels, and liquid nitrogen. Mere flavorless science experiments rather than delicious, thought provoking food. I was determined to find the truth. I did not set out to prove all these naysayers wrong, just see for myself what all the fuss was about. Here goes...
We were greeted warmly and sat promptly for our 10pm reservation. The place was still packed! Literally, not an open seat in the place (mind you it was a Tuesday night!)
The first surprise to arrive: not bread, but a box of unbelievably delicate rice crisps. They were so thin that if you looked at them funny they would break. The crisps were salty, strangely filling, and satisfying. In the deep of winter I would have preferred a basket of warm crusty bread, but on this balmy summer night, these crackers were a perfect starter.
In good company :-) Couldn't believe how relaxed the atmosphere was. Servers all wore jeans and a smile. Made for a very comfortable experience.
First courses are here! Eggs Benedict - Dufresne style.
Perfectly poached egg yolks had the consistency of a warm ice cream - custard like. Smooth and gooey. Perfectly crisp pieces of non-greasy bacon broke with a crack of your fork. The most surprising treat on this plate was the warm hollandaise encrusted in a shell of english muffin. It was clearly deep fried, and when broken, the rich sauce ran forth. It was beautiful.....Tear.... This dish was fun, fun, fun. There's no other way to describe it. Our brains quickly recognized the flavors, but were fooled when the presentation was turned upside down.
Hamachi, Saffron, Asparagus, Smoked Macadamia Nut.
This one was pretty straight forward. Just delicious flavors here and a beautiful presentation. The hamachi (or Amberjack) was sliced thin and wasn't too just cold. Just warm enough so that its fat melted on your tongue. PS: I hate when raw fish is served too cold! The smoked macadamia nuts had been pureed and rolled into little balls that dotted the plate. Their flavor closely resembled bacon - a lip smacking surprise! The saffron was in the form of little gelled balls (possibly tapioca?) that were folded into a thick saffron sauce. The texture of this in combination with the crisp asparagus was nothing short of brilliant. Texturally, this dish took the cake. So far, nothing but good food!
Next up: Iberico Pork Neck, Smoked Paprika Spaetzel, Peach, Swiss Chard.
If there was ever a dish that said "In yo face" to those naysayers - it'd be this one. This was everything I could ever ask for in a rustic pork dish. The neck was brined I'm sure, then rolled (more than likely, a little meat glue was involved), and then circulated to a pink medium rare. Uhhhhh.... I'm drooling right now just thinking about it. Because neck is a working muscle and the cut was not braised in this particular application, it was not the most tender piece of meat. But WHO CARES! It was one of the most flavor packed pieces of pork I have ever had. Tender filet mignon be damned. Give me some flavor! The chard was fried or dehydrated, maybe both. It had a lovely crunch to it. Like the nori that wraps your sushi. A fork of that with the spongy smokey spaetzel was a pretty amazing bite. The peach sauce offered just enough sweetness and acidity to cut through all the heavy components.
Just when I thought the textures couldn't get any better - they did!
Sea Bass, Artichokes, Forbidden Rice, White Chocolate, and Green Olive.
The bass itself was really nicely cooked - apparently by Wylie himself so we were told. Well rendered crispy skin and medium rare flesh. The artichokes were meaty and acidic from the vinegar in their cooking solution. The black rice was rolled into balls and deep fried - probably one of the more disappointing parts of the meal, these things didn't have any flavor. The briny olives and rich white chocolate flavors played off each other nicely. This dish was good, but in my mind it just didn't live up to the others. Felt disconnected...
Our first dessert (and the first of many quenelles) was set before us.
A celery sorbet with red pepper dippin dots, and two jellies one was a spicy pepper jelly.
This pre-dessert was straightforward and refreshing, a great way to start...
Apricot, Buckwheat, Rhubarb, Green Tea.
The buckwheat ice cream here was mind blowing! How fun to turn such a savory earthy ingredient into a dessert. Bravo on that one! It really was the star of the dish. Playing off of it nicely was a tart apricot jelly and little cubes of compressed rhubarb. The foamed green tea had a great consistency, almost like an un-set meringue. Delicious!
Grapefruit curd, Hibiscus, Sorrel Sorbet and Streusel, Campari.
This one was again quite refreshing, but not spectacular. Nothing really stood out to me as "above and beyond good". In fact, the texture of the curd was a little grainy. Boooo....
Beet, Soft Chocolate, Long Pepper, Ricotta Ice Cream.
If there was ever a dessert made in the form of an entree it would be this one. It looked and ate like the last course of a savory dinner tasting. The beet was in the form of a light mousse that had been dipped into liquid nitrogen just before it was served, and cracked on the plate like a geode. Little puffs of steam poofed out of our mouths as we ate it. The long pepper sauce was spicy and acidic with a slight smokey thang goin on. The ricotta ice cream had a great rich dairy flavor which when eaten with the chocolate ganache - which unfortunately was also a little grainy - like sugar granules. The frozen beet mousse was by far one of the best parts of the night though.
Petit Fours! This one was a marshmallow ice cream coated in rice crispies. Get it? Best rice crispy treat EVER.
This one was a fun bit too. Wylie and his team managed to create a chocolate leather using black cocoa powder, and formed it into a packet, then filled with a chocolate feuilletine.
My end assessment? It was a very good, surprising, and thought provoking meal. There were definitely a lot of top notch items to store away in my flavor memory bank. A couple missed the mark, but hey, it happens. All in all, WD~50 is an experience worth making the trip for. I believe they're doing a lot of excellent "real food". Food that tastes good, looks good, and reels back good memories (like the first time I had a plate of eggs benedict). New stuff isn't bad, if you don't forget the old stuff in the process.
Play with your food,