The James Beard Award-winning chef Wylie Dufresne has been serving up his unique take on classic dishes for over a decade thanks to advancements in technology as well as in the field of molecular gastronomy, a subdivision of food science that explores what happens to the food we cook on a physical and chemical level.
When people ask me why–why glue a chicken together or deep-fry mayonnaise or try to do something that hasn’t been done before–it brings out the philosophy major in me. Why? Do we really need to get existential about it? I’ve read Camus; I know we’re all going to die. So, why? There’s no point. It’s a dead-end question. I don’t understand asking what the point of playing with your food is when I think playing with your food is fun and an inherent part of cooking. If you can get past the why and the hang-ups and have some fun in the process, apply some creativity to what you’re cooking, then that’s the goal, the end point, and the answer for me.
Wylie Dufresne, in David Chang and Peter Meehan’s Momofuku
Sometimes, you gotta show a restaurant you love some tough love. Such is the case of WD-50, a restaurant that I’ve been visiting since 2005, and which I downgraded to two stars in my Bloomberg News review this week. Last spring, the Dufresne’s restaurant eliminated its a la carte options in favor of a tasting menu-only format in the dining room.
Pricing isn’t necessarily the problem. WD-50’s longest tasting, at $155 is actually cheaper than the menus at other avant-garde spots like Alinea, Atera, and The Fat Duck. And the prix fixe-only policy is in line with other ambitious spots like Eleven Madison Park and Aldea that want to offer diners a singular experience.
The problem is the food, which isn't as justifiably creative or whimsically satisfying as it used to be. And while a diner can’t expect WD-50 or any restaurant to reinvent the wheel year after year, it’s disappointing when a tasting menu that used to excite you at $95 in 2005 now bores you in 2013 at $155. After pairings, tax and tip, that comes to $644 for two.
The key mix of “wow” and gastronomic nourishment that diners used to find at WD-50 is now better accessed at other envelope-pushing spots like Corton, Empellon Cocina, and Torrisi.
It feels as if WD-50 was an academy-award winning rated-R movie that was watered down to a PG-13 version for network TV.
Left to right: One of the most innovative, insane and next level chefs of our time (+ a regular on Top Chef) Mr. Wylie Dufresne and Mr. Elliot Aronow live at Le Fooding 2011. Shout to Ana and the Le Fooding crew for an amazing, delicious night. Peace!
Second visit to wd~50 in three weeks. My favorite place in New York, maybe even the US. Another superlative meal, I would say even better than the first one this year. The August tasting was essentially the same as July’s, with the exception of two new courses. I asked to have the first three courses from the tasting, with the remaining eight substituted at the chef’s discretion.
Cuttlefish strips with cilantro oil, ancho chili, coconot rice, and pineapple. Plated almost like pottery.
Wylie Dufresne is a Jean Georges protege, but I never really saw a JG influence in the food before. This first course was an eye opener, evoking the same admiration of the effortless integration of fusion flavors that JG achieves.
Everything bagel with smoked salmon thread, crispy cream cheese. This is a wd~50 perennial, and it was interesting that the flavors had evolved slightly. The ice cream in the “bagel” was now more savory.
“Foie-lafel”. Continuining the playful streak, wd~50 put foie gras into a common New York street food item. This was a foie gras and kimchi tahini coated with a chickpea crust. Underneath the pita was a bulgur wheat salad. Makes you really wonder why foie gras is always served strictly as parfaits, terrines, seared loaves, etc in other places. Fine dining really is all about the ideas, and ingredients don’t necessarily play such an important role.
A wd~50 classic, the eggs benedict. Poached egg yolka, bacon crispa, and deep fried cubes of hollandaise. I like the minimalist plating here, almost as if each ingredient is proud to be in its most original form. Except that each component was highly manipulated and handled rather unconventionally. For example, xanthan gum was incorporated into the hollandaise to solidify the sauce enough to be deep fried.
Cold fried chicken, buttermilk ricotta, tabasco, and American sturgeon caviar. Had this last year and I still believe this is one of the best comfort food dishes anywhere. The chicken is cold at the center, but the fried skin is still warm. The temperature diffrential you get within one bite is very cool.
Mediterranean bass, artichokes, forbidden rice, white chocolate-green olive sauce. Who knew such flavors would produce great results? The chocolate-green olive sauce was surprisingly appropriate, especially paired with slightly bitter artichoke.
Duck breast, black sesame dumpling, red cabbage, parsnip consomme. My brain was not functioning properly for this course.
This might be one of the most brilliant dishes I’ve come across this year. Lamb skirt steak, pistachio polenta, braised endives, endive marmalade, spiced apricot sauce.
The skirt steak is often ignored by chefs because it is rather tough. Dufresne chops the skirt steak into very thin strips, and then glues it back together into a piece of steak using transglutaminase. You get the very distinct chewiness of of skirt steak, but at the same time overall the piece of steak is remarkably tender. Amazing.
Gjetost, watermelon-olive oil sauce, Japanese plum sauce, and a watermelon slice. Gjetost is a Scandinavian cheese that has a rather heavy caramel flavor due to the boiling involved in its creation. The milk sugar turns into caramel. Dessert at wd~50 almost never fails.
Apricot, buckwheat powder and ice cream, with pickled rhubarb and whipped green tea. Had this dish last time. I made notice of this to the server, who promptly asked the pastry chef to make sure my last dessert course was something new.
This is my second time at wd-50. It is famous for Chef Wylie Dufresne and his ability to manipulate food to make it very strange. Strange does not necessarily mean bad - it just means strange.
Besides the fact that your there to enjoy very innovative food, I realized something. Company in which one keeps is very vital. The first time I went to wd-50 was with my boyfriend at the time who will remain nameless. We got the tasting menu and the wine pairing. Normally while eating a tasting menu, one is in for a long night of hopefully good food and conversation because you know you will be locked down for at least two and a half hours. By the end of this dinner, I was very tipsy. I drank my wine, and portions of his due to the fact that alcohol made it more enjoyable. Needless to say, the relationship was not the healthiest. It soon ended shortly after. My lasting memory while leaving was - interesting (good) dinner, but I wish I was with someone else? To add insult to injury - before ending this relationship the two of us also dined at MASA. The most expensive tasting menu in all of NYC. It is a 3-star Michelin restaurant that lasted 4 hours. That will have to be another post for another day.
This time with my family, was much different. As we sat there and celebrated yet another crossroad in Harry’s life, and I realized how lucky I was. We started the day with a graduation (which are never fun), then drinks. We got home to change for dinner and the four of us got stuck in my building’s elevator. I had to call the fire department to come save us, which I thought was very thrilling to have to dial 911. We were late for dinner so Charles, my oldest cousin, called wd-50 and told them of our adventures and they said they will try to keep our table but it looked doubtful. Charles, being able to talk this way through anything, made them realize they had to give us our table due to our perseverance and dedication to get there at all! Then we got to wd-50 and ordered almost everything on the menu including lots of Macallan and a delicious bottle of wine. Harry, the MBA, spilt Eva’s glass on my arm. The food was not the star (partially because nothing blew us away). I realized, we were. Being together and being a family, and being able to share the important moments in life together, was a blessing. Of course I realize, not every meal is so “deep.” But this was a very special night for me. =)
Another Good Weekend. The Motto of the whole weekend is to “TREAT YO SELF” inspired by the show Parks and Recreation. Immediately after finishing my Pharmacy Management Midterm which i broke night for, I celebrated my bestie @rosesness and james after she completing her NAPLEX. We ate at the infamous Molecular Gastronomy Chef Wylie Dufresne restaurant WD50. We had the 12 course meal and got to meet the chef. The price was well worth it. The next day me and @rosesness went to see Sleeping With Sirens, Alesana, and A Skylit Drive. It feels good to go to a concert again and mosh. it was def more of my scene. Me and Rosie have been waiting to see SWS forever and they were perfection. I also got drunk in the line with a bunch of foreign Russian and German Girls and got to meet new people who are pretty awesome. In the same night i was able to go to a party and teach Slap Cup to the Newbies. I gotta hold my title as GAMEMASTA. Then we had pho 5am only to wake up at 8am to go to Breast Cancer walk at Central Park. It was fun even though i knew i should have been studying for my Oncology Test. Ohh the irony. I am so exhausted because i had all this fun without resting from my previous tests and now im back to studying my ass off. I feel exhausted and know i am going to burnout soon, but i live life to enjoy it all. I can sleep when im dead anyways
so i read something a while ago in the first issue of Lucky Peach that got me thinking about some things. it was a conversation between David Chang, Anthony Bourdain, and Wylie Dufresne and Anthony Bourdain brings up something about Italian food being “ingredient driven” and David Chang replies with something along the lines of “what the hell does that mean? all cooking should be ingredient driven”. this got me thinking because a dish made with the finest products to be found should taste better than the exact same dish made with average products, right? well what if the chef using the sub-par ingredients is more skilled? shouldn’t a chef with talent be able to make a dollar from a dime? the point is i believe this is a chef-driven industry. a great chef with great ingredients or a great chef with bad ingredients will beat a shitty chef with either. we need good chefs with passion, drive, and desire to be the best more than we need waygu beef or organic, hydro-phonic, grass-fed, wild-caught, $300 a pound anything. if we can get both in the same place, great but that is not the case most of the time. chefs and cooks doing incedibly good food deserve respect no matter what brand is on their produce or if their seafood had to clear customs or not.