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WD~50, New York, NY, tasted February 20, 2004 — A surprising side effect of eating out a lot is realizing that a lot of restaurants are serving basically the same crap. And often it doesn't matter that the repetitive dishes and preparations are good. They just lose some of their magic when you have them with only slight variations over and over again at restaurants lauded for their "creativity". I know some combinations are "classic" and just plain tasty. But sometimes it's nice to get a breath of fresh air. And while not every dish we had was a home run, wd~50 was not only a breath of fresh air, but has stuck in our minds for months now as a very exciting place to eat.

We ordered a series of appetizers and then some entrees. After we munched on our basket full of flatbreads, things started off with Rabbit Sausage, Avocado, and Grainy Mustard Paper. The rabbit sausage was nice. The mustard paper tasted incredible. The avocado was super creamy. And the pickled rack of rabbit was cute. After a second pass on the rabbit it was very saucy and herby. This was followed by Butternut Squash-Tamarind Soup, Scallop "Cous Cous", and Lemon Paper. This soup was pure sweet essence of squash. The "cous cous" however was more of a novelty than a great addition. It distracted me a touch from how good the soup was. The lemon paper was cool and cool tasting.

Next up was Gambon Shrimp, Onion-Clove Compote, and Red Pepper. I found this dish fantastic. Peyman was not in sync with my opinion so of course we had to order another one. I found the second one just as delicious. Peyman slowly came around. After the shrimp was Foie Gras and Anchovy Terrine, Citrus Chutney, and Tarragon. This dish didn't quite work. The chutney overwhelmed the foie gras a bit, and the anchovy flavors in the mix were just odd. I'm not a guy who's into clichés. I don't need my foie gras to always be paired with peaches, or figs, or some other sweet fruit. But that said, the anchovies were still out-of-place (at least in this particular preparation).

After the foie gras we got Venison Tartare, Edamame Ice Cream, and Crunchy Pears. The venison was chocolaty, chewy, and had a yummy consistency. Even better was the Smoked Eel, Cucumber, Pumpkin Seed, and Lime Chips. I have never had eel that was this delicately smoked. The foie gras combo may have been odd, but this dish worked! The lime was like little fireworks on the finish, and the crushed toasted pumpkin seeds were awesome. More seafood arrived in the form of Sardine, Lentils, Soy Caramel, and Nori Froth. The sardine was good. The soy caramel glaze was special. The nori froth was subtle.

Many of the restaurants considered on the "cutting edge" these days all have an affinity for small jokes throughout the meal. Grant Achatz formerly of Trio in Chicago (now Trio Atelier since he left) would send out "Salad" which ended up being a granite of various lettuces (it was actually quite good) but that's not the point. Wylie Dufresne the "WD" in wd~50 did not name this next dish "Corned 'Beef' on Rye". Instead of focusing on being clever he just took a look at the interesting flavor combinations existing in a traditional sandwich and played with them such that they took on a new dimension. The dish was called - Corned Duck, Rye Crisp, Purple Mustard, and Horseradish Cream. The duck was crunchy, with a "rare" meaty flavor, and a wasabi surprise. Fresh and delicious.

Next up was Snapper, with Chestnuts, Daikon Radish, and Juniper Berries. The fish was very very good. The lemon peel flavor was special. The daikon just ok. And the juniper berries gave the dish a sort of Japanese quality. Root Vegetable "Lasagna", in Green Lentil Broth. This wasn't my favorite, just a lot of stuff going on, though the broth was great. More duck came in the form of Duck Breast, Pomelo, Sunchoke, and Roquefort. The roquefort came in the form of a foam which had a little bit of a bitter aftertaste that seemed beyond the pale to me. We also got the Short Ribs and Flatiron Beef, Lily Bulb Puree, in Black Olive Consommé. The short ribs were good. The olive sauce was interesting, but the beef was delicious.

One of the most memorable dishes we had was next, the Pork Belly, Black Soy Beans, and Turnips. The pork belly was like pork "foie gras". It was glistening with incredible fat, and the sauce was a perfect and subtle complement. The serving was pretty enormous. I couldn't imagine eating the entire thing even if I had only eaten one appetizer beforehand.

Desserts were numerous, lovely, interesting, and delicious. They included: Pinenut Parfait, Bittersweet Chocolate Cream, with Saffron Sauce, that had a savory/bittersweet wafer which was delicious; Rum Roasted Banana, Milk Chocolate Ice Cream, and Curry; Spice Bread Panna Cotta, Warm Papaya, with Tarragon; Five Pears, Five Ways; Beet Cake, Chocolate Sorbet, and Beet Caramel - the beets combined beautifully with the chocolate; and Carrot-Lime Ravioli, Coconut Tapioca, Lime Sherbet, and Cumin - a hyper-original (at least to my eyes) combination where the tanginess and the cumin were delicious together. These little orange cubes looked like jewels. Beautiful. Oh yeah, I can't say this definitively as I must have been so distracted that I forgot to write it down, but if memory serves, the chocolate petit fours were unbelievably creamy. The ingredient that gave them this intense buttery beauty? Foie gras (I think).

I don't need crazy ingredients, wild presentations, or cleverness to make me excited about a meal. Originality comes in many forms, and sometimes simple dishes, prepared with incredible attention to detail really raise the bar. They somehow make it look easy as they don't rely on any tricks. The beet and chocolate combination for dessert didn't exist to shock. The combination was on the plate because the ingredients tasted wonderful together. And the innovation we experienced at wd~50 was equal to or above any of the exciting meals I've ever had. Yes, some of the combinations weren't quite right. But the ones that were made me swoon. Over the years I expect Dufresne to get an even better sense for how to innovate and even more consistently deliver unparalleled combinations of flavor, texture, and beauty. In some ways wd~50 is like a diver who decides to do the dive with the greatest difficulty multiplier. They don't nail it quite as often as someone doing a lesser dive, but you have to give them credit for trying to do the hard stuff. Innovating, exciting, staying accessible, and ultimately delivering great flavor is a delicate balancing act. wd~50 deserves credit not only for trying the hard stuff, but for delivering on it so often. I really can't wait to go back.










Tastingmenu is focused on superlative restaurant experiences from two perspectives: behind the plate and behind the stove. Tastingmenu is written by Hillel (professional eater) and Dana (up-and-coming professional chef) in Seattle, Washington.

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  Garlic has long been credited with providing and prolonging physical strength and was fed to Egyptian slaves building the giant pyramids. Throughout the centuries, its medicinal claims have included cures for toothaches, consumption, open wounds and evil demons. A member of the lily family, garlic is a cousin to leeks, chives, onions and shallots. The edible bulb or "head" grows beneath the ground. This bulb is made up of sections called cloves, each encased in its own parchmentlike membrane. Today's major garlic suppliers include the United States (mainly California, Texas and Louisiana), France, Spain, Italy and Mexico. There are three major types of garlic available in the United States: the white-skinned, strongly flavored American garlic; the Mexican and Italian garlic, both of which have mauve-colored skins and a somewhat milder flavor; and the Paul Bunyanesque, white-skinned elephant garlic (which is not a true garlic, but a relative of the leek), the most mildly flavored of the three. Depending on the variety, cloves of American, Mexican and Italian garlic can range from 1/2 to 1 1/2 inches in length. Elephant garlic (grown mainly in California) has bulbs the size of a small grapefruit, with huge cloves averaging 1 ounce each. It can be purchased through mail order and in some gourmet markets. Green garlic, available occasionally in specialty produce markets, is young garlic before it begins to form cloves. It resembles a baby leek, with a long green top and white bulb, sometimes tinged with pink. The flavor of a baby plant is much softer than that of mature garlic. Fresh garlic is available year-round. Purchase firm, plump bulbs with dry skins. Avoid heads with soft or shriveled cloves, and those stored in the refrigerated section of the produce department. Store fresh garlic in an open container (away from other foods) in a cool, dark place. Properly stored, unbroken bulbs can be kept up to 8 weeks, though they will begin to dry out toward the end of that time. Once broken from the bulb, individual cloves will keep from 3 to 10 days. Garlic is usually peeled before use in recipes. Among the exceptions are roasted garlic bulbs and the famous dish, "chicken with 40 cloves of garlic," in which unpeeled garlic cloves are baked with chicken in a broth until they become sweet and butter-soft. Crushing, chopping, pressing or pureeing garlic releases more of its essential oils and provides a sharper, more assertive flavor than slicing or leaving it whole. Garlic is readily available in forms other than fresh. Dehydrated garlic flakes (sometimes referred to as instant garlic) are slices or bits of garlic that must be reconstituted before using (unless added to a liquid-based dish, such as soup or stew). When dehydrated garlic flakes are ground, the result is garlic powder. Garlic salt is garlic powder blended with salt and a moisture-absorbing agent. Garlic extract and garlic juice are derived from pressed garlic cloves. Though all of these products are convenient, they're a poor flavor substitute for the less expensive, readily available and easy-to-store fresh garlic. One unfortunate side effect of garlic is that, because its essential oils permeate the lung tissue, it remains with the body long after it's been consumed, affecting breath and even skin odor. Chewing chlorophyll tablets or fresh parsley is helpful but, unfortunately, modern-day science has yet to find the perfect antidote for residual garlic odor.  

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