I recently had the opportunity to dine with my wife and a couple close friends at one of Manhattan’s finest degustation spots. Located in the Lower East Side, WD-50 strictly offers tasting menus to their guests. For those of you who struggle making a decision when placing an order, you’re in for a treat. The only choice to be made was to opt for a wine pairing or not. Fortunately, this night I was in great company and we all signed up for the package deal… 13 courses, each paired with wines to compliment. It was time to kick back, relax and trust the professionals. There was no way to anticipate the unforgettable dining experience that Chef Wylie Dufresne was about to deliver in the comfortable, modern, ultra-cool dining room at WD-50.
This is a huge basket of sesame flatbread. I’ve eaten and baked several renditions of lavosh/flatbreads, but never anything so delicate. The crackers were paper thin, almost transparent but still had a firm crunch. Receiving the ‘bread basket’ brought on the first of many ‘How did they do that?’s throughout the night. Overall it was an excellent accompaniment that really went the distance through the course of the evening.
Saffron-Coconut Ice Cream, Caviar, Poppy Seed
The first course was a savoury ice-cream sandwich. Interesting choice. The overall texture was familiar to anyone who’s ever had a Klondike Bar. The contrast between unique flavour and familiar texture was where this dish excelled. The caviar gave the bite a salty, oceanic tone. The Saffron Ice Cream was mild, but pleasant and the Poppy Seed biscuit was on point texturally, exactly how you would expect it to be. Champagne was flowing and it was all systems go.
Cuttlefish, Fennel, Black Garlic-Feuilletine
I’m partial to Cuttlefish over Squid. I think it has a better texture and mild flavour. In my experience, it’s more common on Australian menus. In this dish, we’re told the it has been cooked sous vide. It’s plain to see that it’s been scored beautifully. It’s served chilled and the mouthfeel is sensational, it is firm enough, but chews very easily. The flavour is mild and picks up the fennel and black garlic well. The Feuilletine was as delicate as could be. Champagne is still flowing at this point.
Chilled Egg Drop Soup, Sea Urchin, Mushroom, Radish
Our soup is an asian inspired Egg Drop. The soup is elevated with Sea Urchin Roe, something i always consider a true delicacy. It’s a treat that I rarely encounter. Cold and rich, it gave the dish a rich, briny charm. This is the first chilled egg drop soup I’ve had and at first, I wasn’t so sure. The viscous soup was packed full of flavour. The broth was amazing. Turns out this one was another winner.
Sweet Breads, Cucumber-Lychee, Tonic, Fermented Black Bean
This was my plate of the night. The crispy Sweetbreads and Cucumber-Lychee fluid gel combination was excellent. The subtle tonic and salty blackbean gave the plate dimension. I also must mention that the presentation on the wooden plate was also quite beautiful. Although we did ask, I can’t remember the name of the herb used. It had a coriander-like flavour that was fantastic. (If you know this herb, please let me know in the comments) As we learned,the little ‘melon’ you see is a watermelon gherkin, something i’ve never encountered; tart and fresh.
Sea Scallop, Berbere Granola, Carrot, Marcona
The carrot ravioli is just so memorable. The little package, (folded so perfectly) was filled with a velvety Carrot filling. The puree acted as a sauce for the scallop which I am pretty sure was cured somehow. It didn’t have the slimy texture of a raw scallop. It may have been cooked sous vide and chilled, i’m not sure. The Berbere Granola added some lovely texture where it was much needed.
Pig Tail, Artichoke, Olive Oil Jam, Hazlenut
The Pigtail Terrine was delicious. It appeared to have been bread crumbed and fried. It was served warm. I suspect Agar was used to make the aspic. It was deliciously tender and flavourful. I beleive the black ring was an Olive gel of some kind. The garnishes here were average and unremarkable(this could be because we were now up to our 6th glass of wine) but the terrine was flawless.
Mediteranean Bass, Celery, Macadamia, Grapefruit
Under the celeriac ‘veil’ was four finger fillets of sea bass and more Grapefruit Gel. The brown line is Macadamia. The fish was well cooked, served with crispy skin and arrived hot. It was a good plate, but it was no shining star. An interesting presentation. The best part was the Grapefruit Gel. It was unmistakably Grapefruit flavoured, and had the texture of toothpaste.
Rabbit, Spring Onion, Hibiscus, Thai Basil ‘Nori’
Transglutaminase (Meat Glue) must have had a hand in this one. A perfectly cooked, round medallion of rabbit sits on a Hibiscus flavoured Spring Onion. The Basil ‘Nori’ is crispy and full of flavour and leaves you wondering, “How’d they make this?”.
Cured Duck Breast, Buttermilk, Sweet Corn, Shiso
The Duck was cooked perfectly and had a lovely nitrate flavour. The way ham/bacon/corned beef all have that cured taste. The colour on the duck was unreal. The Corn was sweet and slightly charred. The sourness of the buttermilk sauce played well with the rich Duck breast. The Shiso was made into what looked like shredded Keffir Lime Leaf. It’s minty, bitter, coriander-like flavour really came through. A cool, effective garnish.
White Peach Sorbet, Honey-Milk Crisp, Tarragon
At this point we were all pretty sauced… And on our tenth glass of wine. I remember the Peach sorbet being fantastic. It tasted like it was made in a Paco Jet (a really cool, ultra high-powered blender that shaves frozen foods into a smooth, velvety ice-cream or puree). The Tarragon sauce was much more of a gel than it appears in the photo. The Honey-Milk crisp was sweet and had the mouthfeel of a pork rind.
Popcorn Vacherin, Blackberry, Kaffir Lime, Watermelon
Again, pretty loose by this point. I’m pretty sure we were onto the dessert wines for this course. From what I do remember, the berries were compressed in verjus and the ice cream was excellent(again!). A real unorthodox cheese course. I Really enjoyed the Vacherin.
Key Lime Pie, Ritz Cracker, Cherry
This was the standout dessert. Inside the torched meringue is a ball of custard, and inside of that was a lime gel(I think). I do remember three layers including the white meringue. We were calling it the inception(<– really cool page) of Key Lime Pie. This was a surreal deconstruction of one of my favourite desserts.
Beer, Malt, Pretzel
These were great! The perfect finale to a fantastic meal. I think the cubes were malt flavoured gel, sort of like a Malt ‘Jujube’ that was dusted in sugar. I don’t recall the filling in the pretzel ball, but I do remember them being pretty tasty.
After the meal, our server was kind enough to offer us a tour of the kitchen. The Maitre D’ came by the table once we settled the bill and lead us into the open kitchen… And what a kitchen it is!
We were told the centre island was custom built ocerseas. It is one whole piece and as a result, the rest of the kitchen was build around it. Fish dishes are prepared on this side (You can see the Sea Bass being plated) and meats are plated across on the other side.
The cold station.
This infamous ‘wall of powders’. There are all kinds of compounds that are used to create texture in gels, mouses, jellies, curds, caviars etc. It was pretty cool to really get a good look into this molecular pantry.
Wylie oversees the final plating of all the dishes as they leave the kitchen. It’s very quiet in his kitchen. Movements are smooth, efficient and concise. In the back right corner of this shot is the pastry section. All the desserts are prepared in house by Malcolm Livingston II the Pastry Chef.
Wylie was kind enough to pose for a few photos with us after the meal. As you can see, we’re smiles all around. What a terrific meal and experience that I would recommend to anyone. If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer.
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