wd~50 tasting

25 Jan

When I pulled open the wooden doorway to the restaurant, I did so with familiarity.  Odd, it seemed, to be opening such an acclaimed door with familiarity, but that is what I did.  It was a bit before eight on Friday, January 23rd, and I had come back to dine at wd~50 with different eyes.  For, my first meal at wd~50 was eaten from merely a foodie’s perspective.  After having staged at the restaurant for five days less than three weeks before my second experience, however, I came with a different understanding of what the food there was.  For this reason, I was fully equipped to enjoy the bountiful tasting menu offered by the artists of the kitchen.

            One thing that I knew I could count on was the lavash.  I have mulled over the idea of serving lavash as bread many times.  My favorite explanation for it, besides that it is delicious, is that classic bread would seem outlandish at wd~50, like the cat among a line-up of primates in the childhood game, which thing does not belong?  Since I came hungry, this was a welcome snack.

            I went all out, ordering the tasting menu, as I have desired to do for a while.  While I took in the off-beat and fun atmosphere of the dining room, I enjoyed a great cocktail that served as a take on the classic Manhattan.  The “bourbon bounce,” was a rich mixture of bourbon, sour cherry, and bitters.  I liked the tang of the cherry against the deep bourbon and bitter combination, and it was a credit to the innovative cocktail list that the restaurant offers.

            My first dish was a shrimp amuse buche with bulgur, tikka masala carrots, hops, and honey foam.  While the shrimp’s flavor could have been a touch less fishy, the dish was a winner overall, and I was surprised by the smooth texture of the sous-vide shrimp.

            Next came a dish that I had been longing to try since I first spun the ice cream base for it during my internship.  The “everything bagel” with smoked salmon threads, pickled onions, and dehydrated cream cheese was crazy.  Eaten all together, the dish tasted exactly like a trip to a great Jewish deli.  Even if there was an overabundance of the dry salmon-threads, the dish rocked, and I enjoyed it with due chutzpah. 

            My first main tasting course was a scallop and beef tendon dish with parsley puree and endive.  This dish was innovative in its pairing of the two proteins; the smoky/beefy flavor from the beef contrasted interestingly with the sweet scallop.  The only part of the dish that was maybe less desirable was the dehydrated tendon part; it was strangely elastic, and it had an artificially charred taste.  In its entirety, however, the dish was very delectable.

            The following course was decadent and sharp; smooth and punchy.  If you have never experienced a liquid passion fruit center flowing out of a velvety foie gras cylinder, the time has come.  It was a surprising dish, with its volcanic interior, and it was accompanied by thinly sliced Chinese celery and dehydrated cake-like bits.  A bite with all of the plate’s components was a well-composed masterpiece.

            Oh, pasta courses—how I shirk them in my daily life.  If I could have wd~50’s truffled carbonara all the time, though, they would become a part of my omnivorous repitoire.  This dish was whimsically plated; the whole plate was covered in a piped web of soft-cooked egg yolk, topped with puffed orzo, parmesan puffs, julienne black truffle, black pepper crème fraiche, and bacon bits.  Allow me to mention off-hand that the dish happened to taste as spectacular as it looked.  All of the elements of a carbonara were there, but in a crunchier dimension.  I cleaned every last molecule of yolk off of my plate with ease. 

            It seemed like it would be a difficult task for the subsequent dish to equal the caliber of the pasta, but I was delighted by what I was served next.  A small bowl boasted a bounty of thin, noodle-y lobster legs, cooked to perfection.  They came with a zingy puree of kimche and banana, which was a combination that, like many others at wd~50, was as harmonious as it was original.  Charred lily bulb, Brussels sprouts leaves, and cashew were also present, and although the crunchy/chewy texture of the bulb was a bit cacophonous against the tender lobster, the flavor was great.  As much as I like contrast, it would have been better if the lily bulb did not take longer to chew than the lobster.  However, the dish was a clear success for the taste buds.

            When I read the words, “rabbit sausage,” on the menu, I was already excited.  However, I was even more ecstatic when the dish arrived.  The sausage was tender and beautiful; its components retained their integrity both flavor-wise and texturally.  In addition, the dish was sauced generously with a fermented garlic paste.  At the onset, I took the saucing to be too heavy-handed.  However, when I realized that it did not overpower the protein, I was genuinely psyched.  A cube of layered kale yielded a nice roasted-vegetable element to the plate, but I was perplexed by its ability to resist my knife’s penetration.  Olives echoed the salty/savory garlic paste well, and a cassis tuile rounded out the concept.  A success of flavor and texture contrasts, this dish was complex and well-planned.

            I have two words for my last savory course: free bird!  This course showcased the best squab I have had in my life thus far.  Cooked to perfection sous-vide, the rare squab breast was off-the-charts flavorful, and it was as tender as a protein could possibly be.  Served with butternut squash “noodles,” a butternut squash marmalade, crunchy carob, and a cream soda gel, the squab was elevated into a new realm of culinary extremeness.  How could chef Dufresne have randomly hypothesized that cream soda would go exceedingly well with squab?  That combination alone was ingenious.  Nothing could have been better about that dish, and I was satisfied to the maximum by finishing my savory journey with that course. 

            The pre-dessert course was something I’d been excited to try since my staging experience at wd~50.  Pureed ricotta served with ricotta, capers, thyme, caper foam, and frozen honey sounded like a highly conceptualized dish.  After eating it, I concluded that it was.  If I could have changed one thing, I would have frozen the honey in more separate strands instead of allowing it to cluster.  However, when the honey melts on the tongue, such a change is almost not worth it.  The savory thyme, briny caper, and sweet orange blossom honey was a dream team combination, and the two textures of ricotta elevated the adventure.  I would have asked for another if I hadn’t begun to feel full.

            I’m glad that I kept my mouth shut about a second pre-dessert; it’s virtues were merely windows to the delight that lay in the courses to come.  The following dessert was a chocolate-hazelnut tart with a faux hazelnut crust, chicory foam, dehydrated coconut powder, and a kind of cookie crumble.  The cool frozen custard in the tart went well with the smooth and decadent gianduja ganache, and the coconut flavor heightened everything.  Although chocolate desserts can be richly overbearing, this one was perfectly balanced.

                The last listed dessert was perhaps my favorite; not only did it tantalize the mouth but it sent wafts of awe noseward as well.  A brioche bread pudding with a liquid caramel center, mutsu apple gel, brown butter sorbet, smoked pecan brittle, and sage foam was comforting and awesome.  As a person who lists butter as a favorite food, I appreciated its presence in this dish.  The brioche’s buttery taste shared the spotlight with its dark twin, the brown butter sorbet.  The part of the dish that seemed to bring it all together—the part that made me feel most at home—was the sage milk foam, both a savory addition and a nod to tradition.

            Was my work here done already?  Fortunately not.  As I had staged with chef Stupak recently, he sent me an extra course—milk chocolate cream with whiskey foam, devil’s food cake, lychee sorbet, and a whiskey tuile.  Each part of the dish was great, and all of the flavors meshed extremely well. The fresh taste of the lychee was bright against the rich chocolate elements.  Because all of the components were cold or room temperature, though, I thought that the textural variety was not as harmonious.  However, I was far from disappointed by this course, and it was a generous surprise. 

            Finally, the bittersweet moment: receiving the mignardise.  This quasi-ceremony is much like notification of being drafted into the military.  Like the draftee looks over his great life while addressing its looming end, so does the diner feel nostalgia and foreboding conclusion.  However, who’s shooting the messenger when it comes in the form of pistachio and pear cake; chocolate shortbread-covered milk ice cream; and a chocolate packet?  I’m not…All of the mignardises were outstanding—a great note on which to end the epic meal. 

            I ended my meal by visiting chefs Stupak and Dufresne in the kitchen.  Busy as always, they welcomed me while executing numerous dishes.  I thanked them for such a memorable meal and promised to be back.  I intend to keep that promise, so expect to read wd~50 post part III in the future. 

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