In the past few years, Wylie Dufresne has made quite a name for himself through various Food Network appearances, cameos on Top Chef, and a role on Top Chef Masters; he is widely regarded as one of the leading American chefs that create their food using molecular gastronomy. wd-50, Dufresne’s restaurant on the Lower East Side, is his culinary playground, a gastrolab for his mad scientist creations.
Located on Clinton Street’s quirky restaurant row, down the street from Falai and across from The Clerkenwell, wd-50 is best described as modern and funky. Only a small red neon sign in the window betrays its presence; the inside is surprisingly cavernous, with soaring ceilings, from which hang brightly-colored teardrop lamps. The walls are a touch darker than royal blue and burnt orange, an admittedly strange color palette for an expensive gourmet restaurant. The tables and booths have a Brazilian steakhouse look, all pale wood and medium-brown leather; the cube booths along one wall are private, with the edge of the booth extending far enough up that you’re not staring into the meals of you’re neighbors. The tables are sleek and spartan, no table cloths, no flowers, just your plate and your cocktail.
wd-5o offers two menus, the $140 12-course tasting menu, which I personally avoided because of the hefty price-tag yet a surprising number of people ordered without blinking, and the a la carte menu. The food can be loosely considered American; however, as our waitress pointed out, the ingredients and flavors listed on the menu are merely a portion of what will eventually be on the plate and the form in which these ingredients come will be unexpected. For example, the eggs benedict starter is by no means your classic eggs benedict with perfectly poached eggs atop a biscuit; rather, the star of the dish is a trio of deep fried cubes of hollandaise sauce. Similarly, the veal brisket came cold and sliced like deli meat, with gelee cubes of honeydew melon, shaved olives, and deep-fried ricotta. The brisket is unexpected and disjointed, until you blend all of the ingredients together for each bite. With that synesthesia of elements, the dish makes sense and is wonderfully challenging, to the point of suddenly being delicious. On the more traditional side, the cheddar and broccoli soup is almost too in-your-face cheesy (if there is ever such a thing…) until you crinkle in the crunchy and spindly lattice of pork shoulder, somehow made to resemble edible lace.
The entrees are a further study in the complex pairing of unusual flavors. The Iberico pork neck is smoky, luxuriously rich, and guiltily salty; thick slices of perfectly-cooked meat is served in a bath of peach and pork jus with knots of texturally-interested smoked paprika spaetzle, slivers of Marcona almonds, and crispy flaky shards of Swiss char. The duck breast course is simultaneously sweet and tangy with the sharp bite of fresh cheddar cheese and the heady main note of savory kim chee couscous; bits of tart Granny Smith green apple are scattered atop the generous helping of sliced breast. The whole experience is an explosion of sometimes harmonious and sometimes difficult blends of tastes, textures, and aromas.
Surprisingly, the highlight of the whole meal was the hazelnut tart served for dessert, or perhaps it was just a welcome (and “normal”) relief from a challenging dinner. Thin and creamy with a buttery flaky crust, the tart was composed of smooth Nutella-like and coconut filling and accompanied by chicory foam. It was simple and delicious.
wd-5o isn’t for everyone; the vast majority of Dufresne’s food is perplexing and unusual; you have to work at it to find what he’s getting at, what his point is with the ingredients served. In this way, wd-50 is the thinking man’s restaurant; Dufresne intellectualizes American cuisine. That being said, it takes an adventurous will to follow Wylie blind-folded down his culinary path. Looking to take a risk? wd-50 has got to be your go-to.
Perfect For: adventurous eaters, those desperately needing something different, impressive first dates, foodies and food nerds, Top Chef fans,