Passing through the glass doors of Wd~50 is like entering an entirely different realm – one where food is not so traditional, but comically modified and deconstructed to become something almost so lurid and exclusive you’ll never find anywhere. It is a world on its own that inspires you so creatively you’ll be in utter awe.
Chef Wylie Dufresne was born in 1970 in Providence, Rhode Island. His father Dewey Dufresne, a chef himself, operated a small group of restaurants under the Joe’s moniker. The family moved to New York in 1977 where Dufresne eventually graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Colby College in 1992. He then transitioned to the French Culinary Institute in New York. After, he worked at Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s first restaurant, JoJo, from 1994 to 1997. Then, he helped open Vongerichten’s flagship Jean Georges and worked his way up to a Sous Chef position. In 1998, he relocated to Las Vegas and became Chef de Cuisine at Vongerichten’s Prime steakhouse at The Bellagio.
Dufresne left Vegas in 1999 and opened 71 Clinton Fresh Food with his father in October. With the restaurant being widely credited with bringing fine dining to Manhattan’s Lower East Side, Food & Wine named Chef Wylie Dufresne one of “America’s Best New Chefs” in 2001. However, Dufresne left the restaurant later that year and partnering with his old boss Vongerichten and restaurateur Phil Suarez, he began working in Wd~50. Wd~50 debuted on April 9th, 2003 and quickly established itself as one of the City’s most influential eateries, being sort of the grande dame of avant garde cooking in the US. In 2006, the restaurant was awarded a Michelin star and has held onto it since. In March 2008, the restaurant received three stars by Frank Bruni of New York Times. In 2010, the restaurant ranked #45 in the S.Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants list.
Dufresne is often referred to as a “mad scientist” who goes way beyond to explore the realms of possibilities. Yet when tons of experimentation pays off, the result is food that is undoubtedly exhilarating but intriguing, uncommonly playful, more often than not delectable, and yet still managing to retain so strangely a familiar flavour. The cooking is definitely avant garde, but Dufresne works within the fine lines of preciousness and deliciousness to create somewhat “old school” flavor combinations, making sure that every transformation makes absolute sense.
Today, together with Ferran Adrià of El Bulli in Spain, Chef Wylie Dufresne is amongst the few of the most cutting edge international chefs on our planet who practice molecular gastronomy, an inspiring modernist cuisine which looks elegant, tastes fantastic and feeds your brain like nothing else with its good orgasm and great art. Heaven and earth will finally be as one.
Impressed? Well you should be by now.
Named after Chef Wylie Dufresne’s initials and the street number of the restaurant, Wd~50 occupies the space of a former bodega in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. It has been transformed into a warm dining room with dim lighting, anchored by a fireplace in one corner and an open kitchen at the back. Designed by Dewey Dufresne and Louis Mueller, the restaurant seats 67 in the dining room, 14 in the private dining room and 7 at the bar. Wd~50 serves Modern/Contemporary American fine dining cuisine in a casual atmosphere, widely celebrated for its flavor, sophistication and innovation.
Diners have a choice of either the à la carte, or the Tasting Menu, priced at $140 plus $85 for wine pairing. I would have to say the Tasting Menu looked rather intriguing, but the entire table has to participate in the tasting menu. And as my dad was rather tired and still jetlagged, we decided to opt for the à la carte instead.
Chef Wylie Dufresne does away with the traditional bread basket, but instead offers a wooden box packed with Sesame Flatbread. It was thin, light, crunchy and crispy, but the flavor of sesame was nondescript at first. The delightful crunchiness made it extremely addictive and as you have more and more, the earthy essence of sesame creeps up slowly; and you would have finished the entire box by yourself.
Sweet potato soup, scallop ravioli, kalamansi, hazelnut
Sweet potato soup, scallop ravioli, kalamansi, hazelnut ($18). The soup had a strong flavor and aroma all by itself. It was earthy, and seemed to qualify as something you would eat on a cold rainy day. But it became a little boring after a few spoonfuls. Fortunately, the scallop ravioli provided the necessary sweetness, texture and acidity which elevated and enhanced the flavours of the entire dish. I ended up making sure there was not a trace of soup left.
Cold fried chicken, buttermilk-ricotta, tabasco, caviar
Cold fried chicken, buttermilk-ricotta, tabasco, caviar ($20). When it says cold, they really mean cold. The fried chicken was served as old as a crispy leg-meat terrine. It was definitely interesting, but the entire dish was nevertheless flavorsome and the chicken tender and moist. Now this is one dish where you might think that these audacious flavor combinations are just plain weird and can never come together. Yet Chef Wylie Dufresne was able to transform each ingredients to complement one another and ultimately taste great – different types of textures and flavours all in that one bite.
Peekytoe crab roll, salt
Peekytoe crab roll, salt ‘n vinegar chips, celery mayonnaise ($18). This was basically a stuffed egg roll, nothing too fancy. The chips on the other hand were delightfully addictive though. Salty, yet tangy, definitely something you would never have tasted before.
Eggs benedict ($17). Does it look anything like an Eggs benedict???? Absolutely not! This is the one dish which clearly reflects Chef Wylie Dufresne’s style of cooking – Avant-garde cuisine and molecular gastronomy. Dufresne loves eggs and believes that proper egg cookery is a sign of a great chef. So for his menu, he started off with eggs. Eggs benedict, because that was his favorite breakfast. But he didn’t want any ordinary Eggs benedict. He wanted one which was novel in looks, but concentrated in taste. So he chucked the lifeless uninspiring egg whites aside and began with the yolks. He blended yolks, poured the liquid into long plastic sleeves, poached it slowly and cut the results into rounded columns. The result: a lot of yolk packed and held together in a shape of a cylinder without getting chalky. And to reshape and concentrate the hollandaise sauce, he decided to deep-fry them. Held together with precise ratios of hydrocolloids and modified cornstarch, the hollandaise are molded into cubes and coated with toasted English muffin crumbs (because what is an Egg benedict without English muffins?). The result: cubes of hollandaise, crispy on the outside but fudgy and succulent in the inside. To finish off, ultrathin, ultracrispy, and ultraflavourful chip of Canadian bacon. Concise, yet the juxtaposition of textures in each bite are more pronounced than ever. Cool? Darn cool.
Cod, hen o
Cod, hen o’ the woods, burnt lemon, soybean, mushroom jus ($36). This, in my opinion, was not as fascinating as the other dishes. But don’t get me wrong. It was delicious, but it did not scream ‘molecular gastronomy’ as loud as the other dishes. The cod was first sous-vide and then lightly seared, resulting in a moist, tender and flavourful fish. Seriously, I could just eat the fish all by itself. Yes, it’s that good. They soybeans were mashed edamame if I’m not wrong. However, the dried mushrooms and burnt lemon were not my thing. To me, they were too bitter and lacked flavor. The mushroom dashi was bland, but it did give the dish some earthiness and comfort, and also brought all the flavors together.
Parsnip tart, quinoa, hazelnuts, bok choy
Parsnip tart, quinoa, hazelnuts, bok choy ($27). This certainly was an innocent-sounding plate, but when it arrived, we were dumfounded. We definitely expected a tart with maybe a side salad of quinoa, hazlenuts and bok choy! But of course, there is a twist. Chef Wylie Dufresne has successfully deceived us by preparing the ingredients in such a way that we don’t recognize them in the slightest bit. It was almost like a deconstructed tart – parsnips on a bed of crumbs, and a side of quinoa and bok choy, and hazelnut purée. Yet, it might be my favourite of the night just because of the textures and flavours which came together so pleasantly and surprisingly. It was nothing odd, but it was different, and it was delicious. The quinoa was cooked al dente, and the hazelnut purée was silky and smooth and had a nutty flavor which I absolutely enjoyed. But when you taste everything together, it becomes one pleasant comprehensive dish, putting the parsnip at the limelight as its sweetness is immediately brought out.
Baby back ribs, cheddar, brussels sprouts, wheat berries, beer-miso
Baby back ribs, cheddar, brussels sprouts, wheatberries, beer-miso ($35). Ok, this was eccentric. What do you think about sous-vide ribs? Yes, peculiar. This is nothing like your barbequed baby back ribs. This is sous-vide ribs and as a result, ribs which tasted and looked like a thick piece of sweet juicy ham. It was silk, smooth and rich in flavor. The unusual beer-miso sauce was sweet and savoury at the same time and complemented the ribs nicely. The second most interesting thing on the plate was the slightly charred cheddar. It was slightly crunchy on the outside but creamy in the inside with a slight grill flavor. My mother didn’t enjoy this dish. Maybe a little dangerous for first timers … because it is nothing like what you think it is. But then again, this cerebral foodie experience is not for everyone. It’s all about personal tastes and keeping an open mind. For me, tasty? Definitely.
Blood orange curd, thyme, swiss chard, hibiscus
Blood orange curd, thyme, swiss chard, hibiscus ($16). From the previous dishes, I’ve learnt one thing: never eat one component alone because you’ve got to eat every component together in order to get a burst of flavors, textures and just everything in your mouth – the true/full/invaluable/precious experience which is so unique and sensational. The blood orange alone was bitter and sour, so bad I couldn’t take it. But when you eat it together with the sweet and refreshing swiss chard sorbet and hibiscus, the dish immediately brightens up into a nicely composed dish.
Liquid churro, bitter cocoa, chilles, meyer lemon
Liquid churro, bitter cocoa, chilles, meyer lemon ($16). Liquid churros!?!?? Yes liquid. The result: silky and creamy with a slight crunch from the caramelized sugar. Ok, actually I have no idea how to describe it. It’s texture is almost like a soft serve i guess. But I’m telling you, it’s that different. It’s that special. The meyer lemon sorbet was TART, but it complemted the churros well enough! And to bring the dish to an entirely different level, the spicy chocolate sauce. Yes it was spicy. Would I eat the dish again? Yes for the churros, but no for the chocolate sauce as it was a little too spicy for my taste buds :p
Meringue ice cream coated with Rice Krispies
And to end the meal: Meringue ice cream coated with Rice Krispies. Pop it into your mouth and you’re in for a surprise. Crunchy on the outside, and sweet and refreshing in the inside.
The service at Wd~50 was so seamlessly perfect/flawless/top-notched/impeccable. Every server do precisely what they must: convey excitement about every little bit of risk and experiment which goes into the plates, yet in a relaxed and undaunting manner which allows the diners to feel comfortable yet at the same time excited for the surprises ahead. Every motion spoiled us. It was a casual luxury. Upon request, we were given a short kitchen tour and even took a picture with Chef Dufresne himself, who unlike many other chefs, seems always to be there. I must say, you definitely don’t get this kind of service and fierce work ethic anywhere! Indeed laudable.
In Wd~50, flavors and textures are fearlessly and masterfully married, and every piece of ingredient transforms and undergoes an identity crisis. Yet the dinner’s highest calling for each dish to taste exceptional and decadent is never neglected. No matter how unconventional a dish might become, I must say that the dishes here reflect a thoughtful, mature equilibrium between what’s totally out of the box and what’s truly enjoyable. Furthermore, it validates the kind of experimentation and commitment Chef Dufresne takes to create a scientific yet gratifying dining experience that keeps you talking for awhile. And also not to forget, incredible attention is paid to the presentation of each dish.
But Wd~50 isn’t a restaurant for everyone as taste is subjective. You either get the bold totally-out-of-the-ordinary flavor combinations or not; you either love it or hate it. Come here with an open mind and palate, and it will not disappoint. It will give you a sheer sense of fun and indulgence. The New York Magazine review title says it best, “The best weird food that actually tastes good”.
50 Clinton Street
New York, NY 10002
Tel: 212 477 2900