Thursday, January 17, 2008

NYC: WD-50

As much as I love all of my readers, I fear that the majority of you are out of touch with what's going on in the food world. And, given your ignorance, I'm not quite sure how to present the food of Wylie Dufresne. Wylie's food is unique in that he whole-heartedly embraces chemicals (not used in the pejorative sense) and technical wizardry in order to transform food products into innovative bites of food. If you want to learn more about this trend called "molecular gastronomy," check out this link. Talk about playing with your food!!!

Anyhow, my meal was incredibly fun and mostly delicious. It was also really neat to see how Wylie manipulated raw ingredients to achieve different effects. I'll try to point out some of these things as I go along. Let's get to the food:

Sesame Flatbreads (The restaurant serves these instead of bread)

The amuse for the evening: Surf clam, snow pea, pine nut-sage
The pine nut-sage was in the form of a puree (at the 7 o'clock position). When this dish was served to me, I assumed it was going to be cold or chilled. Instead, it was slightly warm. A pleasant surprise. A nice mix of textures going on in this dish. Served with Gruner Veltiliner "Punkt Genau" Brut Ewald Gruber NV (Weinviertel, Austria). This is a sparkling Austrian Gruner Veltliner.

Pizza pebbles, pepperoni, shiitake
Really, really cool. The puree is a pepperoni puree. The dark chips are dried shiitake mushrooms. The round balls are made from onion powder, tomato powder, parmesan, garlic oil..etc. So, you grab a ball, smear it through the pepperoni, grab a mushroom chip and toss it in your mouth...voila! It tastes like pizza! My only criticism of this course is that the little pizza balls tend to suck up all the saliva in your mouth so, after 15 seconds or so, it's like you've got a mouthful of sand. Other than that, a marvelous idea. Served with more of the sparkling wine.

Knot foie
A foie gras terrine that's been chemically manipulated so it is pliable and can be molded at will. Served with kimchi puree, sultana raisin puree, cilantro and coated in puffed rice. I have mixed feelings about this course...while it's neat that foie gras can be tied into a knot, I didn't feel that the foie had the lush, creamy, buttery mouthfeel that a good terrine has. It was almost mousse-like in texture...sorta airy. However, it definitely maintained good foie gras flavor. Kind of technology for technology's sake, ya know? Served with, get this, sake! Miyasaka "Yamahai 50 Nama' Ginjo Sake (Nagano-Prefecture, Japan) Oh, for the sake of comparison, foie terrine usually looks something like this.

Hamachi tartare, wakame, sake lees tahini, grapefruit-shallot
So, hamachi, a fish that I've not eaten much of. In the past, hamachi seemed like one of those inoffensive fish that people order in cheap sushi joints. Not at WD-50! The hamachi had a pronounced oily flavor which took me a few bites to get used to. A quick online search reveals that winter hamachi is more fatty and this is the source of the "fishy" flavor. Look at a close-up of the's definitely not a solid plank. The fish was finely chopped, seasoned and then "glued" back together with transglutaminase. Transglutaminase is meat glue. It binds protein afaik. So the fish was chopped up, seasoned and then reformed into rectangles...charred on top with (I assume) a blowtorch. Grapefruit-shallot marmelade to the right. Dollop of sake-lees tahini sauce to the left with more of the sauce dressing sticks of Asian pear. Served with Chardonnay "Hyde Vineyards" Whitethorn 2000 (Carneros, CA)

Eggs benedict
Most of you have probably had eggs benedict, no? I think it's safe to say that it's never looked like this! The cubes are fried hollandaise. Riiiiiight. Seriously, you cut into the cube and out spills hollandaise. In the past, Dufresne has used gellan and micri to fry mayonnaise so maybe he used something similar to fry hollandaise. The cubes have been breaded in english muffin crumbs. Crispy canadian bacon and eggs round out what, up until this point, had been a breakfast classic. Wildly delicious. A success on every level. Served with more of the chardonnay.

French onion soup
Another re-visited classic. Beef broth, encapsulated cheese balls, caramelized onion puree and crisp toasts. The cheese balls are neat...some of you who know a little something about modern cooking are probably assuming that they were made using the sodium alginate/calcium chloride trick but this is wrong. Now, I don't remember HOW they did it but my server informed me that Wylie thought that the technique was played out and wanted to come up with a different method. If you pierce the "skin" on the cheese balls, out oozes liquid cheese. I thought this course would've been better if the broth didn't taste so thin. The flavor just seemed a bit off, imho. Neat course tho...served with Julienas "Vielles Vignes" Potel-Aviron (Beaujolais, France)

Cuttlefish, squash, chamomile, orange, toast oil
Cubes of cuttlefish (really tender), squash, toast vinaigrette and a swath of orange puree. Nothing too weird about this course...just a few spoonfuls of delicious food. Served with more Beaujolais.

Lamb belly, black chickpea, cherried cucumber
Alot going on here. Big tangle of greens would be micro-lemongrass. The puree is chickpea and cheese studded with candied chickpeas. The red stuff at the 7 o'clock position is the cherried cucumber. To make cherried cucumber, shred cucumbers into noodle like strips. Place into a vacuum bag with cherry puree. Place the bag under a vacuum seal...pop the seal. The cucumbers will absorb whatever liquid is in the this case, the cherry puree. Bizarre technique but the end result is delicious. Lamb belly is up's been cured in salt and sugar, poached, thinly sliced and then tossed into a hot pan to crisp it up. The process was described as very similar to making bacon. Here's a close-up pic of lamb belly:
A nice mix of lean/fat meat...tasted a little lamb-y. Really delicious. My favorite part might've been the micro-lemongrass. In most cases, micro-herbs are simply afterthought. In this case, the lemon grass was NECESSARY to the enjoyment of the dish. Served with John X Merriman Rustenberg 2005 (Stellenbosch, South Africa)...a blend of Cabernet Saugivnon, Merlot and Petite that means anything to the majority of you...heh heh.

Yogurt, saffron, raisin
Pre-dessert course. A puck of lime yogurt, pickled raisins, raisin puree, spiced granola. The strands are saffron-flavored apple strips. Brilliant. The gals at the next table moaned as they ate this. Not much more to say than that.

Toasted coconut cake, carob, smoked hazelnut, brown butter sorbet
And speaking of people moaning while consuming food, I'm pretty sure that I let out a few inappropriate sounds while eating this course. SOOOOO DAMN GOOD. Coconut cake is the rectangle up top, brown butter sorbet is on top of the smoked hazelnuts. Coconut froth and bits of chopped up young coconut. Carob is the brown streaks. Most people hate carob but that's because most people eat it as a chocolate substitute. For this dish, chocolate would not have been appropriate. Would happily eat again. Served with Cerdon du Bugey "Methode Ancestrale" Renardat-Fache NV (Bugey, France).

Soft white chocolate, potato, malt, white beer ice cream
Moldable white chocolate. That's all i'm gonna say about this. That and I'm getting tired of writing. Served with Commandaria St John NV (Lemsos, Cyprus)

Menthol cocoa
Mignardises while I enjoyed my coffee. Menthol cocoa is up's like a truffle, not a cup of hot cocoa. I forgot what the bottom nub is.

So...I had a great time. Alot of food for thought, haha, no pun intended. I'm really curious to see what some of you think about this kind of food...I mean, it's definitely not your steak with red wine sauce and potatoes au gratin. Anyhow, I hope you had fun vicariously dining through this post...


Brittany said...

Hey, not all of us are out of touch!

There have been several great articles in the NYTimes over the past year and a half or so about it and I'm really curious to see what it's all about first hand sometime. Your pictures are awesome, though -- gives me a much better idea of what it's all about.

Mike Czyzewski said...

Brittany, Brittany, Brittany,
why so defensive? heh heh.

glad you enjoyed the post...taking pictures in restaurants is getting easier and, in fact, often leads to conversations with surrounding tables. for the solo diner, this little bit of interaction is alot of fun.

Anonymous said...

i don't know about that hamachi - some things are sacred and pristine fish is one of them.

it also looks like beer ice cream is en vogue - nothing wrong w/ that as it is quite tasty!


Mike Czyzewski said...

i asked the exact same question about the hamachi-why cut it up?

server informed me that the purpose was so that you could more evenly season the fish...cut it up, add and throughly incorporate the seasoning, then glue it back together. if the fish were left whole, you would only be able to season the outer surface of the fish.

Gotorio said...

We've been to wd 50 in Octobre and were quiet impressed. The food is excellent and innovative, the atmosphere absolutely relaxed. Only the air condition was torturing us (but hey, we're Europeans...).
Our report (in German):

James said...

Thinking of making at trip myself. Looks alinea-esque....the type of meal that really excites me.

Mike Czyzewski said...

ditto. i would return in a heartbeat.

Joe Ziomek said...

Mike, I was never all that interested in WD-50 ... always thought it would pale in comparison to Alinea, so why waste the time and money? But I have to admit, your post made me really curious about it! I'm going to be in NYC a couple of times this year, so maybe I'll give it a shot.