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Restaurant Review: wd-50
January 13th, 2010 by plumpdumpling

Evidently finally seeing my review of our first dinner at wd~50 made my boyfriend crave some foams and powders, so before we left for Christmas vacation in our respective home states, we made a reservation to return. The only time we could get on Saturday night, even with a few weeks notice, was 6 p.m. Which means that despite the terrible economy, New Yorkers are still lining up to pay $200 each for dinner.

We were oddly seated in the same exact table as last time, which happens to have a straight view into the kitchen, where we saw chef/owner Wylie Dufresne talking to Chef de Cuisine Jon Bignelli (who we recently saw on an episode of “Chopped” on the Food Network) all night. We started off with a couple of their inventive cocktails to give me the courage to eat the many fish courses (CAVIAR?!) that were coming our way, and then we ate:

wd-50 red snapper with pickled taro
Red snapper, pickled taro, wakame (seaweed), dandelion coulis

All of these things on their own–meh. All of these things together in one bite–harmony.

wd-50 everything bagel ice cream
Everything bagel ice cream, smoked salmon threads, crispy cream cheese

That’s right–the second dish was ice cream. Perfectly flavored and made to look like a tiny everything bagel. The salmon had the consistency of a Brillo pad, but I didn’t find that to be entirely unpleasurable. The crunchy cream cheese shard really excited me but was sadly entirely lacking in flavor. Next time, I’m asking for a warm cream cheese drizzle over my bagel.

wd-50 passion fruit foie graswd-50 passion fruit foie gras
Foie gras with passion fruit center, chinese celery

We just loved the way the passion fruit spilled out like an egg yolk. This was so rich it was almost hard to eat, which is exactly how I like my food. The passion fruit overpowered everything else, which was good for someone like me who isn’t completely sold on organ meats but probably bad for a foie gras connoisseur.

wd-50 scrambled egg ravioli
Scrambled egg ravioli, charred avocado, kindai kampachi

I somehow expected the egg cube to be cold, but the firm outside shell held a warm, almost custard-like eggy inside. Egg and avocado, it turns out, are wonderful bedmates.

wd-50 cold fried chicken
Cold fried chicken, buttermilk ricotta, Tabasco and honey, American sturgeon caviar

Why is there caviar in my comfort food?! I didn’t think it necessarily added anything, and the dish sure didn’t need anything. The chicken appeared to be a terrine of dark and white meat, and the buttermilk ricotta was studded with the crispiest chicken skin.

wd-50 langoustine
Langoustine, licorice-style red pepper, black sesame, shiso

We both loved the way this tasted like it was poached in butter, but we agreed that it need some spice. The carpet of black sesame really made the dish.

wd-50 beef consomme and bearnaise gnocchi
Beef consommé and Bearnaise gnocchi

The menu simply said “beef and Bearnaise”, so I was looking forward to a hunk of flesh and some sauce to dip it in, but things are never that simple at wd~50. Despite the initial weirdness, this turned out to be the favourite savory dish for both of us.

wd-50 lamb loin
Lamb loin, black garlic romesco, dried soybeans, basil

Dried soybeans should be in every dish. The crunch of them was so perfect with the melt-in-your-mouth lamb.

wd-50 spruce yogurt and mango
Spruce yogurt, shattered vanilla-mango ice cream, vanilla bean olive oil, mango

Yogurt that tastes like the forest? Yes, please! The spruce taste was so delicate–not nauseatingly pine-y, as we were expecting–that we needed to taste the yogurt on its own to catch it. I could’ve definitely gone for more of it, but I’m glad it didn’t slap me in the face.

wd-50 hazelnut tart
Hazelnut tart, coconut, chocolate, chicory foam

Chicory is about as bitter as it comes on its own, but spread on top of the mousse-filled chocolate skin, it provided a great balance to all of the sweetness. And the salt on top! To think there was a time before salted chocolate. This was definitely my favourite dessert of the night.

wd-50 caramelized brioche
Caramelized brioche, apricot seed shards, buttercream, lemon thyme sorbet

This was delicious, but the Degustation caramelized brioche has ruined me for all other caramelized brioches. Sorry, Wylie.

wd-50 cocoa packets and milk ice cream
Cocoa packets, chocolate-shortbread-covered milk ice cream

The idea of milk ice cream is hilarious to us. So, um, you basically mean ice cream without any added flavorings, right? Thought so. It’s too bad that the cookie overpowered the ice cream, because I’d love to see what that tastes like. The classic chocolate packets–like Fruit Roll-Ups made out of chocolate–were actually better than we remembered them, even after I spilled half of the crunchy chocolate crumbs inside all over my lap.

Rating One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

The thing we think is funny about wd~50 is that the plate in front of you is generally full of familiar flavors, yet you know that the food on it went through several transformations involving plenty of chemicals. You have to ask yourself at some point, “Is it worth it?” I can understand why people who aren’t into novelty would make fun of this sort of food–expensive, tiny, laborious–but I just love the sort of deconstructionism of it. Beef consommé and Bearnaise gnocchi look and feel nothing like a steak with Bearnaise sauce, but they taste nearly identical, and you have to appreciate the craft that goes into that.

It kind of bothers me, actually, thinking that someone couldn’t like this meal. Once you get past the fact that nothing you’re eating looks like its original form, you have to admit that everything tastes great, and taste is obviously the most important attribute. When it comes to molecular gastronomy, I guess, an open mind is a prerequisite to an open mouth.

wd~50
50 Clinton Street
New York, NY 10002 (map)


30 Responses  
  • Jack writes:
    January 13th, 20102:16 pmat

    I’ll admit that I only read the last part of this post and mainly just looked at the pictures, but my problem isn’t being open-minded but more so open-wallet-ed (no that’s not a word but if I use it enough maybe it will be).

    It’s all a means to the same end, so why would I pay more for something that is smaller and looks more artistic, and in the end really has nothing to show for it (i.e. it’s all gone once you eat it)? If I wanted to get my car fixed and the mechanic said that he could either fix it in his shop for a good price or he could send it back to Germany to be fixed for 10x as much .. why in the world would I go with the latter?

    • plumpdumpling writes:
      January 15th, 20102:30 pmat

      You, my friend, aren’t nearly enough of an elitist. It’s the same with the knockoff designer bags on Canal Street. Sure, they look exactly the same, but you know they’re different. And what about purebreed dogs? They have more health problems and cost a bazillion times more than a mixed breed yet provide the same level of doginess, but you feel special when you own a purebreed. It’s like you wanting to live on Bedford Ave. when Graham Ave. is cheaper and less crowded when it comes time to get on the subway in the morning.

      Also, we like the craft of this kind of food. Anyone can plop a giant hunk of fried chicken on a plate, but you have to put some care into fried chicken like this.

  • Christine @ Fresh Local and Best writes:
    January 13th, 20103:22 pmat

    I’ve heard lots of amazing comments on WD-50, and I’ve been very slow to visit. This place looks simply amazing! I’ll have to save it for a very special celebration!

    • plumpdumpling writes:
      January 15th, 20102:39 pmat

      Don’t save it! Go tonight!

      Although if I was invited to a friend’s birthday party in the private room in the basement of wd-50, I’d be awed. Very special occasion indeed.

  • Tessa writes:
    January 13th, 20103:24 pmat

    Oh, man. Your food posts make me go all, “Well, if I too had that kind of money to blow on something other than bulk legumes, I could maybe give up the veganism thing…”

    And then I think about foie gras… and… no.

    But! I continue to enjoy reading! And seeing! And imagining!

    • plumpdumpling writes:
      January 15th, 20102:41 pmat

      Hey, bulk legumes are something special in their own right. I really want to get into cooking my own lentils, especially; I’m tired of giving the Indian place down the street $9.25 for what must cost them pennies to make.

      Of course, I’ll probably add foie gras to my lentils.

      • Tessa writes:
        January 15th, 20103:22 pmat

        Dude, I think lentils are DELICIOUS*, and it’s totally worth learning to cook them.

        If you’re not up for the overnight soaking bit, just get the red lentils. They cook down speedier and mushier, although they won’t give you that lovely fancy Puy texture.

        *and foie gras as well, actually, when I used to be able to forget where it came from

  • nat @book, line, and sinker writes:
    January 13th, 20106:38 pmat

    wow!!!! i love the pictures and continue to be shocked (and downright appalled) at your food fortitude! you will really try anything. as you may have gathered from our lunch during which i couldn’t eat a sandwich with mustard, this meal would have been a challenge for me.

    when we go out again, let’s meet at the peanut butter sandwich place. :) just my speed.

    • plumpdumpling writes:
      January 15th, 20103:46 pmat

      I have to tell you that Kamran didn’t recognize Nat as being part of the name Natalie and totally accused me the other night of having meals with some unknown manfriend.

  • Julie writes:
    January 13th, 201011:01 pmat

    Is it ever weird to take pictures of your food while dining out? I mean, does anyone ever look at you oddly?

    Not that it matters or that you should care. Just wondering if anyone else in the restaurant notices, or if everyone in NY is doing the same thing when they plunk down $200 for dinner, even in this bad economy.

    :)

    BTW, this is the first time I’ve meandered over to your food blog. Not bad. Not bad at all. You never disappoint me, my dear.

    Cheers!

    • plumpdumpling writes:
      January 15th, 20106:22 pmat

      I’m so glad that food blogging is so popular, because you catch people taking photos of their food almost everywhere you eat. I used to feel pretty self-conscious, but I’ve found that if I just ask the waitstaff if it’s okay, I feel free to do whatever I like. I’m pretty discreet, though, and don’t use a flash or stand on chairs to get a better angle or anything.

      Thanks for meandering. Columbus is becoming quite the dining town, so I expect you’ll have one of these things any day now.

  • Tracey writes:
    January 14th, 20101:04 amat

    I should have expected that the Everything Bagel Ice Cream would be tiny, but I didn’t. I was picturing everything-bagel-sized Everything Bagel Ice Cream.

    I don’t know if I could get past getting only a little taste of a bunch of amazing things, when all I ever want is a HUGE plate of my favorite flavor. Like enough for leftovers so I can have the exact same great thing again for the very next meal.

    Did you leave wishing you had a carryout container full of charred avocado and dandelion coulis to eat at midnight?

    • plumpdumpling writes:
      January 18th, 20103:37 pmat

      I don’t think that even you, my dear, could handle an entire bagel-sized glob of everything bagel ice cream. It was intense.

      It’s sort of funny that Kamran and I get home from a really great meal sometimes and ask each other if it’d be crazy to go out and get some burgers, but the novelty of not being a glutton is a fun juxtaposition to my everyday eating habits.

      Also, these aren’t comfort foods. As surprisingly delicious as a salmon Brillo pad is, I never want a whole plate of it.

      • Tracey writes:
        January 18th, 20105:52 pmat

        That makes sense. So, here’s an idea. How about a restaurant that serves up super-hearty portions of comfort foods with teeny-tiny add-ons of fancy food? Like, for instance, a heap of Cheesecake Factory-esque mashed potatoes with a Salmon Brillo pad on the side? That way, you get to fill up AND enjoy some intensely unique flavors?

  • Bachelor Girl writes:
    January 14th, 20104:02 pmat

    I need more information about this “everything bagel ice cream.” Are you telling me that bagel is made entirely of ice cream? Do you have any more photos of it?

    • plumpdumpling writes:
      January 17th, 201010:10 pmat

      All of the photos look just like that one, ’cause yeah, it’s just solid ice cream. And in case you’re confused like Tracey was, it was only a little bigger than a silver dollar. I read in New York magazine that they take an actual everything bagel, soak it in milk to extract the flavor, and then use that milk to make the ice cream. It tasted EXACTLY like the bagel, which is one of my favourite foods, but it sure was strange eating ice cream for a starter.

  • Heesa Phadie writes:
    January 14th, 20106:59 pmat

    Ugggggggggggggghhh….I so hate you right about now! :P Okay….okay…let me qualify that….I’m so jealous of you. There is nothing there that I wouldn’t want to try. I tell you want….next time I can may it to NYC…would you be my guest there?

    • plumpdumpling writes:
      January 17th, 201010:11 pmat

      Obviously! I’d guess that the menu will be changing any time now, so come on over.

      • Heesa Phadie writes:
        January 18th, 20108:45 amat

        Heheh :) K….I’ll let you know when I get there!

  • Jim writes:
    January 20th, 201011:29 amat

    What you said at the end about deconstructed food, or molecular gastronomy, whatever it is you like to call it, is good to me. But I would like to add (verbatim) something I heard Greg Achatz say in an interview: There’s an aim of performance about this type of food. Someone who can’t even really begin to appreciate the specialness of a dish like the beef and gnocchi doesn’t take all aspects of food in to consideration. Texture and appearance are both very important aspects of dining, as well as the very under-used sense of smell. To have your expectations challenged is great and I’m sure an intended part of the experience.

    • plumpdumpling writes:
      January 22nd, 20103:47 pmat

      It’s interesting that you bring up smell, because it made me realize that I can’t remember the last time I leaned over and put my nose to a plate. If it’s not something like citrus or cinnamon that can’t help but smack you in the nose, I probably don’t notice it. I should change that.

      “To have your expectations challenged is great” is exactly right. My immediate reaction to the beef consommé was, “?!?!?!?!”, but two seconds later, I was just awed. Thanks for your insight, as always, Jimbo.

  • High/Low writes:
    January 21st, 20105:27 pmat

    Congrats on your Top 9! The meal looks both interesting and tasty…I still haven’t been to wd-50 but thanks for the virtual meal!

    • plumpdumpling writes:
      January 22nd, 20103:49 pmat

      Thanks! I can’t believe you of all people haven’t been there. I was under the impression there wasn’t a restaurant you hadn’t seen!

      • High/Low writes:
        January 22nd, 20104:36 pmat

        hahaha! Sadly I only have a stomach that fills up too quickly and a bank account that’s never full – too bad it’s not the other way around! =)

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