157 Second Avenue at 10th Street, East Village
Getting There: 6 to Astor Place; L to Third Avenue
Restaurant Review: Alder
When word of inventive Chef Wylie Dufresne’s new casual downtown restaurant Alder was announced, questions loomed regarding a style of food preparation famously unparalleled in New York City, spawned by his previous gastronomical masterpiece WD-50 – that of the $155 tasting menu. The restaurant would boast affordable dining options while maintaining a similar style of the Chef’s trademark middle ground between innovative and delectable fare. Pleasantly, Dufresene has successfully straddled that line with a menu that sounds (and looks) experimental, while delivering price points suited to any diner’s budget- that is, assuming you can secure yourself a table.
Eschewing the tasting menu for a selection of items and entrees meant to be shared- none of which exceed $24- Alder loses that degree of specialness that makes a trip to WD-50 so memorable. But that said, on its own the intimate 56 seat space in the East Village stands competently and deserves to be scrutinized separately from its sister restaurant. From the outside, it’s virtually impossible to find any semblance of the restaurant’s name- a side panel subtly reveals its vertical black lettering atop a refurbished wooden and stucco based exterior. Once inside, the host stand directly greets guests adjacent to a small but vibrant bar, the bustling illuminated by four overhead lights, surrounded by panel after panel of old barn wood.
The informal vibe continues in the dining room with minimalist décor leading to the kitchen space, highlighted by an egg shell white exposed brick wall on one side, opposite some small hanging plant life along the other. Fortunately for guests, where the eatery has perhaps skimped on decoration, the beautifully plated dishes enhance the ambiance in perfect accordance. With empty water glasses now filled with pours of affordable white wine, we are first served an incredible looking purple helping of “Pub Cheese” ($11). Served on a singular slate, the generous portion is decorated in crushed chunks of pistachio and white fig and adorned with Martin’s potato chips, which we run out of to no surprise. The rich, creamy spreads of cheese however make wonderful additions to our fork, coupled with the crunchy nut mixture for an excellent compliment of flavors. Meanwhile, if you visit Alder and don’t order the “Pigs In A Blanket” ($13), you’re truly missing out on what is perhaps the restaurant’s finest dish, believe it or not. With equal dollops of sweet chili sauce and a wasabi mustard, each wrapped hunk of Chinese sausage was both savory and salty, perfectly prepared and marvelously plated.
The “Sun Gold Tomatoes” ($18) proved to be a tasty seasonal hit, despite a bowl almost entirely made up of sliced tiny tomatoes. But surrounded by mashed edamame and with a lengthy stick of fried naan proudly jutting out from the bowl, the dish worked well together. Similarly, the “Grilled Eggplant” ($16) inventively brought together scrambled eggs and brown butter, with tender slices of fresh brook trout following suit. The flavors of smoked fish and grilled eggplant deliciously enhanced the muted flavor of creamy eggs, before the plate of deep fried “Fish and Chips” ($18) triumphantly made their way to our tabletop. With a nearby ramekin of tartar sauce blended with ramps and sweet peas for dipping, the salty hunks of fish were scrumptious, and the portion of ‘chips’ was heaping to say the least. We concluded with the roundly lauded “Rye Pasta” ($20) which offered delicately prepared strands of fettuccine draped around shaved slices of tender red pastrami, seasoned as though you’re actually devouring a sandwich from a notable New York City delicatessen. The dish packed a multitude of distinctive flavors, with the smooth flat pasta exciting our palates with novel distinction.
While some chefs adhere to modernized takes on old-fashioned fare, Chef Dufresne’s ability to prepare completely unique and meticulously crafted fare truly places him in a class of his own. With WD-50, his penchant for the flare of molecular food alteration has allowed his style to shine, but while he tones it down some at Alder, the restaurant’s informal ambiance and affordable menu should allow Dufresne to become exposed to an entirely new audience of discerning Manhattanites. And with good reason- each dish manages to taste as good as it looks, proving that quality necessarily have to diminish just because price does.
Rundown of the Meal
Pub Cheese ($11)*
Pigs In A Blanket ($13)*
Grilled Eggplant ($16)
Sun Gold Tomatoes ($18)
Fish & Chips ($18)
Rye Pasta ($20)*