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The Payoff: WD~50

Yesterday, Frank Bruni upgraded WD~50 to the three stars that some of us believed it deserved all along:

[Chef Wylie Dufresne] pushes hard against the envelope of possibility and the bounds of conformity to produce food that’s not only playful but also joyful and even exhilarating, at least when the mad science pays off.

It pays off more frequently now than in the past, when his attitude was cheekier, his judgment wobblier and too many of his creations gratuitously perverse.

Foie gras with anchovies? Venison tartare with edamame ice cream? I’d often shake my head, drop my fork and glance longingly toward the exit.

When William Grimes reviewed WD-50 in The New York Times shortly after the restaurant’s opening in 2003, he gave it two stars, saying that for all Mr. Dufresne’s ingenuity, he demonstrated “a certain contempt for the pleasure principle.”

But most of the dishes I tried over the last few months were knockouts, their measured eccentricities in the service of something other than eccentricity itself. These dishes validate the kind of experimentation that culinary pioneers like Mr. Dufresne undertake, and they reflect a thoughtful, mature equilibrium between what’s merely edgy and what’s truly enjoyable.

I’ve quoted Bruni at more length than usual, so that I can ask a question: has the restaurant really changed that much since the original two-star review? Or have Bruni’s tastes just caught up with what Dufresne was doing all along? It’s difficult to say, because there remain plenty of people who still think that the cuisine at WD~50 makes no sense at all.

In all of Bruni’s re-reviews, he tries to exaplain how the restaurant is different than before. But usually there is something far more specific—a change of chef being the obvious example. Bruni does admit that the restaurant “isn’t right for everyone or every mood,” a rare concession in a three-star review. Is there any restaurant that’s right for everyone or every mood?

Eater and New York Journal both took the three-star odds. We both win $2 on our hypothetical one-dollar bets.

          Eater        NYJ
Bankroll $68.50   $84.67
Gain/Loss +2.00   +2.00
Total $70.50   $86.67
 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Won–Lost 32–14   33–13

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