I don’t like it when food is described as “challenging.” It makes me envision burnt bread that’s incredibly difficult to swallow due to the multiple razor blades jutting out. I was a little nervous that most reviews for WD-50 mentioned that the food was “challenging.”
My valentine accompanied me to WD-50 last night, and we proceeded to have the best meal that I have had in New York. Better than Fiamma Osteria, better than Craft, even better than Esca (I really loved Esca). I realize that many of my entries have been glowing recently, but I have had unbelievable culinary good luck for the past month. I promise to make up for it, I’ll post about my recent bread-baking-failure soon.
Back to WD-50. Wylie Dufresne (my current culinary hero) put together a special Valentine’s Day tasting menu with optional wine pairing. The tasting menu was pretty darn pricey, but we figured it was a special occasion and we deserved to splurge. It was worth it.
Course 1: Salmon threads, warm cream cheese, capers, pumpernickel
This was basically a deconstructed bagel w/ lox and cream cheese. The pumpernickel was a bagel chip, sticking out of a rectangular cube of warm (perhaps seared) cream cheese. The salmon threads were indeed threads topped with a sprinkling of capers. I could stick one in a needle and do some tasty embroidery. The entire presentation presented familiar flavors using new textures, and treading on the tightrope between familiarity and the alien was a delicious exercise.
Course 2: Oyster, morcilla, green apple, kimchee
I’ve never been a huge oyster fan. I don’t enjoy the idea of slurping anything from its home. However, this oyster was pressed as thin as paper, creating a perfect square on the plate, retaining the gelatinous texture, but forcing you to eat it in a new way. The pressed oyster was topped with green apple, morcilla (blood sausage), and kimchee. The neatest thing about this course was the way the flavors developed and appeared when you ate everything together. First, you experience the tart sweetness of the apple, then the smokiness of the sausage, finished by an almost pickle-like flavor. The flavors never overlap and combine, but rather they appear in different acts, much like the dinner gum from Willy Wonka with the different courses. All through the bite, the oyster flavor acts as a backdrop, always present but never overwhelming. This dish was neat.
Course 3: Roasted foie gras, hibiscus, preserved lemon granola, mustard greens
This dish was also topped with powdered foie gras. This dish was just straight up tasty. The sweet hibiscus sauce was so good with the foie gras, and the lemon granola added the perfect tart crunch.
Course 4: Bay scallops, smoked eel, black radish, mint
Perhaps the most straightforward dish of the bunch. I don’t particularly like the texture of scallops, but these were buttery and soft. It wasn’t particularly innovative, but it was just very, very good cooking.
Course 5: Sirloin, bell pepper tart, water spinach, whipped horseradish
Okay, first off, this wasn’t whipped horseradish… it was foam! The crack chef wasn’t totally cracked out after all. While the foam was a little gimmicky, the bell pepper tart was out of this world. It was my valentine’s favorite part of the meal. The sirloin was perfectly rare and the spinach was just plain good. Very good, but filling.
At this point in the meal, I was beginning to feel quite full. The tasting portions are small, but they add up. But enough whining. On to dessert! This portion of the feast is courtesy of pastry chef Sam Mason.
Course 6: Cocoa caviar, beet, bitter orange
Once, again, foam! The beet was pureed into a foam. The cocoa caviar was just as it sounds: caviar made of chocolate. It had the same texture and satisfying pop that caviar has, but it was made of chocolate. The cocoa and orange went together swimmingly. That being said, this was my least favorite dish. My valentine loved it, but I was getting hard to impress. I guess that’s the downside to a tasting menu.
Course 7: gelled grapefruit, black sesame ice cream, tarragon meringue
The grapefruit gel was slightly warm, which was a wonderful juxtaposition to the cold, sweet ice cream. This dish had probably the most foreign flavor to me, but it was a flavor I instantly fell in love with. Delicious. Oh, and Wylie? You can call it a meringue all you want. I know foam when I see it.
Course 8: rose cotton candy
Okay, this wasn’t really a course. But it was a tasty aperitif that the waiter brought with the check. I love cotton candy. It was sweet and familiar, but with the subtle flavor of rosewater.
So, if I had to sum up my meal at WD-50 in one word, I’d probably have to say “challenging.” Challenging in the way that each bite made you reevaluate what you knew about flavors and textures. Challenging in the way that you actually thought about what was in your mouth. Challenging in the way that I couldn’t find the bathroom downstairs. However, it was the most rewarding meal that I’ve had in a long time.