Note: WD~50 closed at the end of November 2014, giving way to a condo development. Chef Dufresne still has his casual restaurant Alder nearby, but at present he has no known plans to ressurect WD~50.
I probably spend far too much time seeking out the newest restaurants—which often aren’t that great anyway. Either they haven’t worked out the early jitters, or they just aren’t destined for excellence.
The Great Recession still casts a long shadow, and it’s harder than ever to find exciting new restaurants. That doesn’t mean I’ll stop looking, but perhaps it’s time to shift the balance a bit towards old favorites that are overdue for a fresh look.
WD~50 has been on my revisit list for a while, not because anything has changed, but simply for the pleasure of discovering the latest creations to come out of mad scientist Wylie Dufresne’s laboratory. His food might not be to all tastes, but in the avant garde niche he occupies, his work is without peer in New York City.
A few years ago, people wondered if Dufresne could keep the place going, but on a Saturday night, at any rate, it was packed. He has held a Michelin star for five years running, and two years ago Frank Bruni gave WD~50 a much deserved and overdue promotion to three New York Times stars.
The food is expensive, with most of the entrées over $30. Most of the bottles on the wine list are in three figures, and there is hardly anything under $65.
I’m not necessarily complaining about how expensive WD~50 is, merely putting the restaurant in context. Dufresne’s cuisine is well worth the tariff. It is also labor intensive, and Dufresne has only five services a week in which to cover his fixed costs: he doesn’t serve lunch, and he is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.
The restaurant sells a lot of tasting menus at $140, up from $105 just three years ago (though I think it had fewer courses then). We had it, and so did the tables on either side of us. At a restaurant where so much of the food is unfamiliar, it is better to try a dozen items, as you do on the tasting menu, than to guess which two or three you’ll like.
Our tasting menu was one hit after another, with only one dud among twelve courses. I’m not going to try to describe every one, but I’ll list them all and describe the highlights. (The staff deposited a printed souvenir copy on our table before it began, so that we could follow along.)
The bread service (above) might seem initially disappointing, but sesame flatbread is surprisingly addictive. Before the end of the evening, it was all gone.
1) Veal brisket, honeydew, black olive, fried ricotta (above left)
2) Everything bagel, smoked salmon threads, crispy cream cheese (above right)
These dishes, like everything else on the menu, derive their success from unusual and often surprising combinations of ingredients that just happen to work perfectly. The “everything bagel” is actually a small donut-shaped circle of deep-fried cream cheese.
3) Foie gras, passionfruit, chinese celery (above left). When you see a disc of foie gras on the plate, you assume it’s a terrine. In fact, Dufresne has managed somehow to stuff the foie with passionfruit, which runs out when you cut into it.
4) Scrambled egg ravioli, charred avocado, kindai kampachi (above right). No Dufrene tasting menu would be complete without an egg dish, and this one was masterful.
5) Cold fried chicken, buttermilk-ricotta, tabasco, caviar (above left). We didn’t much care for the cold fried chicken. I’m sure Dufresne has a reason for serving it cold, but it was beyond our comprehension.
6) Striped bass, chorizo, pineapple, popcorn (above right). The striped bass was perfectly cooked.
7) Beef and bearnaise (above left). I think this was meant to be a neighborhood-appropriate play on matzo ball soup.
8) Lamb loin, black garlic romesco, soybean, pickled ramps (above right).
9) Chewy lychee sorbet, pistachio, yuzu, celery (above left).
10) Hazelnut tart, coconut, chocolate, chicory (above right).
12) Rainbow sherbet, rhubarb tarragon, orange, olive oil (no photo).
I have less to say about the desserts individually. Alex Stupak is the pastry chef, and he is every bit Dufresne’s match and alter-ego in the mad science department.
We wrapped up with Cocoa packets, chocolate shortbread, and milk ice cream (right), which took the place of the usual petits-fours.
The standard wine pairing is $85. We didn’t want to drink that much wine, nor was there a particular bottle that caught our fancy, so we asked the sommelier to choose four wines by the glass, and space them out over the two-hour duration of our meal, which he was perfectly happy to do. Like everything else at WD~50, his choices were off the beaten path, but excellent nevertheless.
Although WD~50 is a casual-looking place, the service is as polished and professional as at almost any three-star restaurant in the city. If you haven’t visited, you must. If you haven’t visited lately, it’s time to go back.
WD~50 (50 Clinton Street between Stanton & Rivington Streets, Lower East Side)