People travel for all sorts of reasons, but one that truly resonates with me is the pursuit of great culinary experiences. Food, whether it's intimate and homemade, a dish created by a master chef, or purchased at a street fair, can undoubtedly alter an experience for better or for worse, particularly when away from home.
Liz and Noah arrived in New York last weekend from Boston, to dine. Liz is passionate about food, and she planned their weekend around several locations in the city, most of which I'd never heard of. We were invited to join, but not to alter their plans; and having seen her in action, I understand why. She clearly knows what she's doing (hint: please write a blog. or a book. or Twitter).
Saturday was reserved for WD~50, Wiley Dufresne's much-ado about molecules restaurant, on Clinton street, LES. The interior begs casual chic, but it doesn't feel pretentious - it's almost whimsical. Which is counterpoint to the food, which was, well... complicated.
We'd decided on the tasting menu, with wine pairing ($200pp - but, when you can let the chef choose what you eat, it's usually the best option ). The effort begins with the
first second dish. The first was a clean and simple starter paired with a wine I recognized, so I felt ahead of the entire experience. That lasted until the next dish, which was, um - pizza pebbles. Four delicate balls placed on a crisp white plate, with slices of pepperoni and shitake mushrooms in between. The consistency was doughy- but the flavor was rich and satisfying. That is, until Noah commented that they tasted like Pizza Combos - which, they kind of did.
The eggs benedict was a much anticipated dish, as it took Dufresne three months to perfect. It is eggs benedict as a shot, delicate pieces of bacon arranged around a column of egg yolk and cylinders of deep fried hollandaise sauce. It was a spectacular punch of breakfast, but I was more intrigued by the choice to serve Pinot Noir with it. Hello, new brunch drink.
Crab tail with cinnamon dashi was next, and outrageously good. The powerful cinnamon scent floated around the creamy texture of the crab, sweet and spicy, like an exotic dessert. It was the crab and the next dish that really stood out for me, along with the fantastic wine pairings throughout. Mom, hold onto your seat - the next dish was chicken liver spaetzle, with pine needle, radish and cocoa nib. It was delicious, and I am not even sure why I liked it so much. It tasted like... chicken, but better?
If WD-50 is to be taken seriously - and, I'm not sure that it is, because Wiley Dufresne certainly plays with his food - it would be a restaurant with only ten tables, individual servers for each, talking about the food the way sommeliers talk about wine. Our server did tell us about the dishes, and he gave each of us a copy of the tasting menu, but it didn't help as much as it should have. At times, I felt like Violet Beauregarde, handed a piece of Willie Wonka's gum and told to chew through all of the different courses. Still, it was one of the most memorable dining experiences I have ever had, and perhaps that's the point. It is food that inspires you to think about how it was prepared, forces you to taste, then describe it by using more words than 'yum'. A rare indulgence.
(I know, I should have taken photos of the dishes. You can find many of them on Flickr, which is where the top photo is from.)