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,
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
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
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
Next up was
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.
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
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
Desserts were numerous, lovely, interesting, and delicious. They
Parfait, Bittersweet Chocolate Cream, with Saffron Sauce, that had a
savory/bittersweet wafer which was delicious;
Roasted Banana, Milk Chocolate Ice Cream, and Curry;
Spice Bread Panna Cotta,
Warm Papaya, with Tarragon;
Five Pears, Five Ways;
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,
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.