We’ve been rather indulgent here at Artichoke Heart lately. Two weeks ago Jim and I had a wonderful, decadent meal at Blue Hill at Stone Barns. Then, in honor of Jim’s birthday last weekend, we enjoyed an equally intense dining experience at wd~50 in Manhattan, where Chef Wylie Dufresne is known for using principles of molecular gastronomy to create unusual and unique dishes. Always interested in science and technology, Jim had wanted to visit this restaurant for some time.
Similar to Blue Hill, wd~50 treats food as art. But whereas Blue Hill’s focus is on the rustic, seasonal goodness of locally grown food, wd~50′s perspective is thoroughly modern. From the sleek dining room to its open, steel-equipped kitchen and manipulated ingredients, the restaurant’s philosophy is whimsical and experimental. Each dish makes you think while you simultaneously encounter exciting flavor juxtapositions, textures, and sensations. Not everything on the nine-course tasting menu was a success, but each plate had Jim and I wondering about the tricks and meanings behind them ($140).
Take, for example, the “knot foie.” Smooth, creamy, and surprisingly light, this thin piece of foie gras was somehow twisted into the most delicate of knots. The silky texture was complemented by airy, crispy rice puffs, a riff on the traditional cracker accompaniment you might encounter at a cocktail party. I usually find foie gras too rich, but at wd~50 I dragged every bit of it through the different sauces and then to my mouth. Jim and I were still talking about this course the next day, finally figuring out that the “trick” lay in its intricate shape and how it was achieved without falling apart.
The “eggs benedict” were another treat. Two firm, cylindrical yolks staked their claim to the plate like stately sculptures, paired with two cubes of fried hollandaise coated with english muffin. Delicate bacon chips completed the scene, anchored to each yolk in a vertical balancing act. The flavors of classic eggs benedict were intact, but achieved in a novel and amusing way.
Some of my favorite dishes were the simplest, such as the Asian-influenced Hamachi tartare, served with crispy pear, a tahini sauce, and a grapefruit shallot dressing. Although I didn’t care for the tahini, the clean, fresh flavors of the raw fish prepared my palette for the rest of the evening’s fare.
As I stated earlier, not every dish was a success; sometimes I just didn’t get the joke. Five grilled corn “pebbles,” flavored with lime mayo and scallion, had a grainy texture that I didn’t enjoy at all. The waiter had explained that these tiny spheres were composed from various powders, leading to the unpleasant sensations I was feeling. On a more personal level, the beef tongue served with cherry-miso was an unusual but successful pairing of flavors, but I couldn’t reconcile myself with the fact that I was eating tongue. Jim, however, loved it.
We also adored all four of the desserts, particularly the jasmine custard, served with banana ice cream and a sauce of black tea. Jim usually can’t stand bananas, but we were both thrilled by the intense flavor and texture combination. We applied the same positive sentiments to a spongy coconut cake paired with smoked cashews and a brown butter sorbet. Surprisingly, pastry chef Alex Stupak transformed some of our least favorite flavors into exciting revelations.
By going beyond the conventional methods of how food is prepared, Chef Dufresne creates a cuisine that is untraditional and experimental. My husband always likes when our adventures make him think, and between Blue Hill at Stone Barns and wd~50, we’ve had a lot to contemplate lately. It’s all been pretty darn amazing.
wd~50, 50 Clinton Street, New York, NY T: 212-477-2900. In addition to the tasting menu, wd~50 also offers an a la carte menu. You can also do a wine pairing with the tasting menu for an additional $75 each.