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