wd-50

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So much has been written and blogged about wd-50, Wylie Dufresne’s humorously named restaurant on the Lower East Side, that many of you may feel like you’ve already been there without having been there. That’s certainly how I felt when we sat down for dinner last Tuesday, an anniversary dinner marking two years with Craig. Our relationship is built on whimsy and caprice and a shared love for “America’s Funniest Home Videos,” so what better place to celebrate than a restaurant that serves pizza pebbles and foie gras tied in a knot?

This won’t be a review of wd-50 because (a) I don’t consider myself much of a critic and (b) this isn’t the kind of place you want to pick apart and analyze. It’s like going to Disney World and afterwards writing an essay about the deeper meaning of Splash Mountain. Needless to say, this is a place where the food is as entertaining as it is delicious; sometimes more so.

Take those pizza pebbles I mentioned in the first paragraph:

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These pebbles, as far as I can remember, are made by mixing variously powdered pizza components–tomato powder, parmesan powder–with a garlic-infused oil. The resulting pebbles are presented with dried slivers of shitake on a pepperoni emulsion. Now tell me you don’t find that amusing. The sheer inventiveness, madness even, behind these pebbles led Craig to declare: “It’s like Willie Wonka food!”

So who cares that both of us found the pebbles a bit too pasty or, for that matter, not nearly as good as just a slice of old fashioned pizza. That’s not really the point at wd-50: this is the place where you pay the chef to play with your food.

And play he does. As mentioned, he ties foie gras into a knot and, as you can kind of see in the photo, covers it in what we presumed were Rice Krispies:

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He deconstructs Eggs Benedict–frying the hollandaise in little miraculous cubes coated in powdered english muffin:

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Does it taste better than a normal Eggs Benedict?

“No,” declared Craig, the world’s foremost authority on Eggs Benedict–a passion he takes quite seriously. “But I love the way those cubes of Hollandaise burst in my mouth. It was a weird, awesome surprise.”

There were many more courses (this is a good place to tell you we ordered the tasting menu) and they were all fascinating in their own ways. This Alaskan King crab tail was served in a broth perfumed, quite powerfully, with cinnamon:

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The cinnamon aroma was so powerful that it worked almost like a fat, enhancing the experience of the dish except, in this case, much more dietetically.

Our favorite course of the night was actually one of the desserts: a toasted coconut cake with brown butter sorbet.

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Here, each component was so spectacular that if you served only that cake or only that sorbet it would’ve been sensational. Together, and accompanied by all the artistic flourishes on the plate (which, admittedly, it’s hard to see in my flashless photo) it’s a real work of gastronomical art.

And art, really, is what wd-50 is about. It’s about raw creativity, experimentation and risk-taking. It doesn’t always work–sometimes it outright fails (I didn’t mention the chicken liver spaetzle that Craig ruined by likening it to Lolita’s cat droppings)–but when it does work it can be more wonderful than a safer, more restrained vision. I admire Wylie Dufresne for his ingenuity and fearlessness. Thanks to him and his wild imagination, I will never look at pizza, foie gras or cat droppings the same way again.

9 comments

  1. We came all the way from Germany to eat at “wd 50” (OK, not really. But it was THE restaurant where we definetely wanted to eat in NYC) and it was pure heaven. Not only the food (we actually loved the pizza pebbles) but also the excellent choice of corresponding wines. Service was excellent und relaxed, too. Only the AC was way too cold, but, hey, it’s still America ;-)

    Here’s what we wrote (in German): http://gotorio.squarespace.com/start/2007/11/12/wd-50-new-york-understatement-a-la-lower-east.html

  2. Eek, those pizza balls remind me of when my mom used to yell at me as a kid for kneading my bread into little balls at dinner. :/ I’ll take a good ol’ slice any day.

    And, a very happy anniversary, Adam and Craig. If you were straight, I’d date you both. :)

  3. This is the sort of beyond-ludicrous wastefulness that makes some people vote the other way.

  4. Here is an interesting query for those of you who have eaten at WD-50. When I lived in New York, I read the rave reviews of the food back when it first opened, but I have to say, as is the case here, when I see the photos of the plates, the dishes look very unappetizing and unappealing; lots of squiggles and blobs and smears in “brown” tones. I just don’t find these photos appetizing at all; there just seems to be something esthetically missing to me with the color palate that this restaurant uses, and even the shapes used in the food….it always looks to me too much like what the previous poster mentioned about the “pizza balls;” his plating is reminiscent of what would remain on the dish after a toddler finishes playing, “schmooshing”, molding, and smearing his food. Regardless of how tasty the morsels may be (and I admit to being curious how the “fried” mayonnaise made there tastes), I don’t think I could get past the appearance of the food. Don’t get me wrong; I do appreciate a minimalist approach to food plating, but something about the shapes and colors here….

    Then again, I am not a fan of Joan Miro’s art either, and the plates from WD-50 seem to me to look remarkably like his paintings.

  5. Congrats on finally making it, Adam! My bf and I went there for our fourth anniversary, and several years later, I can still remember every course. How often can you say that?! To previous posters, I would say that all of our plates looked appetizing and well constructed, even when the food failed (we went during the era of the infamous cocoa-dashi broth with lemon yogurt noodles). However, WD is not one to decorate his plates with superfluous elements. Perhaps people don’t find the pictures appetizing (aside from the fact that a poorly lit picture taken quickly at a restaurant is very different from sitting there with the plate in front of you) because the presentation is non-traditional. Is your typical torchon of foie beautiful? Or is it that you’re just not used to having it tied in a knot or injected full of beet juice?

  6. RL, how is this wasteful?

    I am guessing that your statement is an attempt to bring up the guilt some have issues with around enjoying creativity, which is the most God-like thing one can do, IMHO, when instead they should presumably be rejecting their good fortune in favor of wearing a haircloth shirt so they can suffer like all the other poor people on the planet. Please explain how that helps anyone.

    Don’t you think there are better ways to express our compassion? Ways that do not judge the good fortune of others, and that celebrate creativity? Plus, how do you know WD-50 and all it’s patrons are not donating money or working on generating abundance for all who are less fortunate?

    “Wasteful” is commercial chains that serve gargantuan

    portions of factory produced ‘food’ that is going mostly into the trash after the patrons eat their fill. I’ve worked in restaurants like that and THAT’s where you’ll find waste that will give you a moral crisis. There is virtually no waste in high-end restaurants because the ingredients and produce are of such quality – and expensive because they come from small producers who are growing real, actual food without subsidies from the chemical fertilizer companies who are trying to give us cancer so that we’ll spend lots of money on pharmaceuticals, etc… pardon my rant – and the chefs generally have such respect for the food and where it’s come from, and for their own skill as cooks, that the last thing that happens is waste.

    Since I doubt not much food was thrown away from

    that meal, I’m again guessing that you just don’t approve of creativity and people playing with their food. I don’t know why as food prep is as old as the hills and has always been here from the time the first caveman figured out how to bake bread on a rock. Isn’t play is one of the very best ways to learn? And it’s also simply, fun. Do you not allow yourself to have fun? Surely that can’t be ‘working’ for you? Would you really like to live in a world where no one plays outside the lines? And no one learns from it?

    I think that one of the very best ways to celebrate the good fortune of having abundance is to enjoy it to the max. And share what it is possible to share with those less fortunate. This blog shares quite a lot. Each person shares what they have to offer and to place a random and personal judgement call on someones good fortune or skill level, is not something that any other has a right to do.

    Pointing out true waste is a very helpful thing but show where there is waste here, please. Perhaps I should have asked you that before going on and on but you left it open so I intuited your meaning. Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.

  7. I am Wylie’s aunt, therefor I am totally biased However, while I appreciate that my nephew’s approach to cuisine is not for all palates, I cannot understand the comment about waste. Wylie’s goal is the opposite..that one comes away from the table satisfied, but not gorged, and with the memory of many flavors one may have never tried before.

    I appreciate june 2’s defense, and of course agree with it whole heartedly. For those of you who don’t “get” the passion and creativity behind Wylie’s plates, perhaps McDonald’s is more your speed.

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