50 Clinton Street, near Rivington Street, Lower East Side
Getting There: F to Delancey Street; J,M,Z to Essex Street
Restaurant Review: WD-50
As I’d imagine for most of us, spending $155 per person on a meal that does not incorporate alcohol is not necessarily an everyday occurrence. But these special occasions or these well-planned evenings out are often best utilized as an excuse to experience some of the finer offerings of Manhattan’s dining scene. And since 2003, the Lower East Side’s WD~50 has been among the most highly acclaimed and innovative culinary institutions in New York City. As the restaurant celebrates its tenth anniversary, head chef/restaurateur Wylie Dufresne (Jean Georges) still manages to titillate and surprise diners with an outstanding and recently overhauled tasting menu that continues to use his forward thinking approach to molecular gastronomy.
At first glance, many of the dishes being ushered out of the kitchen do tend to look a bit peculiar, albeit perfectly plated. The art of molecular gastronomy has been the restaurant’s drawing card since its inception, an almost artistic discipline that utilizes science to alter the chemical and physical makeup of certain dishes to present them inventively. With an ambitious menu ahead of us, we entered the relatively nondescript brick laden Clinton Street restaurant front and perched ourselves bar side, looking toward the dining room. Translucent wine bottles hang above the granite bar countertop in the shadows of the still modern restaurant’s main floor, as servers shuffle in and out of the kitchen bringing tables each of their twelve courses to a room full of anxiously open-minded eaters.
Although tasting menus across the City are nothing new, Chef Dufresne’s approach to food preparation is a novel one, both in look and taste. The restaurant’s spring menu makeover encapsulates the chef’s spirited ideology while remaining loyal to the classic dishes that made WD~50 such a sought after reservation for much of the past decade. While a la carte options are unavailable, the “From the Vault” tasting menu combines some of the restaurant’s classic dishes from its past menus, available at a more reasonable price of $90 for five different courses. But to fully appreciate all that WD-50 has to offer, and as our picture gallery will unveil, we looked no further than the twelve course experience which put the diminutive 65 seat space in perspective, as one of Manhattan’s elite.
At WD~50, the presentation is just as impressive as the fare being served. From our opening dish, the fresh “Nigiri,” a Spanish mackerel served with sesame and seaweed on a dark marble slab, to the incredible “Pho Gras,” a massive dish centered with a warm, salty broth, rich foie gras, and sided by a crunchy, sticky pork rind, each subsequent course was exquisitely prepared and was seemingly more delicious than its predecessor. Even the “Veal Brisket,” a comfort food served as a makeshift sandwich, was noteworthy because of its uniqueness, with dollops of mustard drizzled along the plate. Our favorite dish however belonged to the “Amaro Yolk,” a collaborative effort of chicken confit, and molecularly altered peas wrapped up in long thin carrots. Cured a reported six full hours in parts sugar and salt, the delicate duck egg yolk is firmed up, delivering a taste that is just remarkable.
Somehow, even the sweet desserts managed to stand up to the savory dishes admirably. The rich smattering of flavors in the “S’mores,” where it’s difficult to ascertain which element added to the dish reigns supreme, and the palette cleansing “Jasmine, Cucumber, Honeydew, Chartreuse,” a refreshing precursor to the forthcoming spectacular desserts, were each predictably eye-opening. By the time the “White Chocolate” balls are served signaling the conclusion of your well paced meal, the term full is a superfluous one. Instead you reflect back upon the previous two plus hours spent savoring and analyzing the meticulous preparation of your favorite flavors and feel fortunate that you had the opportunity to finally experience it for yourself.
It’s often been said that you ‘get what you pay for,’ and in theory that’s a nice way to cope with rationalizing shoddy service on something you’ve purchased. But on the other hand, that’s what makes dining at WD~50 feel so incredibly special- for the antithesis of the aforementioned cliché. Each course is hand crafted and delivered by an articulate, informed server who engages each table and encourages you to ask about what you’re eating, how it’s prepared, and why it’s so different. And even with twelve courses, the portions are perfectly sized so that you welcome each course as a new opportunity rather than a challenge to finish a dish when you’re already gorged. From the imaginative approach to food preparation to the patient pacing of the meal, Chef Dufresne’s WD~50 continues to set the standard for experiencing the modern elegance of New York City dining. We raise our glass to another ten years of operational excellence by one of our area’s most extraordinary establishments.
Rundown of the Meal
Spanish Mackerel Nigiri, Salsify, Seaweed, Sesame
Lobster Row, Charred Lemon, Green Grape, Coriander-Brown Butter*
Amaro Yolk, Chicken Confit, Peas ‘N’ Carrots*
Veal Brisket, Za’atar, Plum, Mustard
Crab Toast, Saffron, Kaffir-Yogurt, Arare*
Sole, Black Licorice-Pil Pil, Fried Green Tomato, Fennel
Lamb Sweet Breads, Nasturtium-Buttermilk, Zucchini, Pistachio
Root Beer Ribs, Rye Spaetzle, Apricot
Jasmine, Cucumber, Honeydew, Chartreuse*
Yuzu Milk Ice, Hazelnut, Rhubarb, Basil*
S’Mores Bitter Cocoa, Meringue, Black Currant*
White Chocolate, Gjetost