WD-50 (NY) – Mad Scientist
WD-50 is a restaurant that polarizes eaters. Chef Wylie is a mad scientist who takes the water baths of molecular gastronomy and applies them to the “eastern” cooking and ingredients he learned under Jean Georges. The result is love or hate – more difficult taste profiles for a western palette exasperated by his pyrotechnics.
This was an “average for WD-50″ dinner – it wasn’t firing on all cylinders like my previous visit – but it was still a good meal. I have a soft spot for the restaurant even when it doesn’t perform – I feel like Wylie is doing something unique (and good.) This meal was also quite large – the waitress made a few mistakes with my changes to the tasting menu. As a result, we got the original dishes plus my changes.
1. Monkfish Liver, Persimmon, Fennel, & Smoked Green Tea
The monkfish liver was of average quality, smokiness ok, but I wasn’t sure how it all fit together. Ok.
2. The Egg
This an older dish – an “egg” that is made from coconut and carrots – every molecular gastronomy needs a few of these witty dishes. Pervasive coconut flavor w/ a spiced carrot finish. Good.
3. Foie w/ Beet, Candied Olives, Green Peas
Another signature dish – excellent quality foie – the best version I’ve had. Usually the foie is not of the highest quality and tastes a touch oxidized at times. This was sweet and creamy w/ an earthy aftertaste (courtesy of the olives.) Excellent.
4. Crab Roll, Black Bean, Mint, Pickled Ginger Tempura
It tasted like crab but they really screwed up the texture by compressing it – this didn’t succeed like the octopus “sausage” I had last time. The tempura was expertly fried. Not Good.
5. Hangar Tartare, Pickled Asian pear, Bernaise ice cream
Straight-forward, tasty. Good.
6. Chestnut Soup, Salmon Threads, Celery Root
Again, straight-forward, tasty, a bit of graininess but I don’t mind. Good.
7. Smoked Eel, Salty Caramel
Average quality eel, the caramel was light w/ just a touch of sweetness. Nowhere near as good as last time. Ok.
8. Pickled Beef Tongue, Fried Mayonnaise, Tomato Molasses
Tasty but it does lose some impact the second time around. Good.
9. Squab, Beets, Wood Sorrel, & Coconut Pebbles
The squab breast was cooked sous-vide, medium rare, and then encrusted w/ beets/nut mix (which was quite intense.) While I thought the squab was ok, nothing special, its texture elicited a disgusted reaction from my 2 dining companions. The texture was spongy and slightly weird since the meat was medium rare. Ok.
10. Parsnip tart, Hazelnuts, Bok Choy
Don’t remember, didn’t take notes, but I do remember my table guests complaining it hardly had any parsnip flavor. That’s the problem w/ complaining – you get comped a dish that you’ll probably complain about
Desserts at WD-50 would sometimes eclipse the meal, courtesy of former pastry chef Sam Mason. Sam left a few months ago to start his own restaurant – Tailor – that should open in a month or two in NYC. The desserts below came nowhere near reaching the euphoria of a Sam Mason dessert.
11. Kobocha Squash, Orange, Thyme, Vanilla Cream
The squash was processed and it had that weird “bonding agent” texture. Ok.
12. Yogurt Parfait, Pine, Apple, Pineapple
Again, more “bonding agent” texture but the pineapple sorbet was quite vibrant. Ok.
13. Soft Chocolate, Avocado Puree, Licorice, Lime Ice Cream, Mint
Too many ingredients for me to figure out how they work together. The ice cream was pretty good. Ok.
Some people would find this menu horrifying but Wylie is one of the few chefs in America that has a unique voice. Alinea and Moto get the media spotlight but WD-50 deserves to be mentioned in the same breath. All three occupy a specific niche: Moto is the most experimental (but it tastes like crap); Alinea the fine-dining establishment; and WD-50 the “asian fusion” restaurant. Alinea probably has the best food but WD-50 can compete on any given night.
If you go in knowing what to expect, you can still enjoy the meal despite it not living up to a) notions of traditional taste & texture or b ) past WD-50 experiences. The foie dish on this night was the best WD-50 dish i’ve ever had – the rest i would substitute for dishes from previous visits.