I haven’t blogged in two days, the first break I’ve taken in over sixty days. I had a good reason: a birthday, a big birthday. To celebrate the birthday — and not my negligence to the blog — Suzen and I tried a restaurant that had long been on our list of “must do’s.”
wd-50 opened on the Lower East Side almost seven years ago. It was an early light in what is now a bright array of restaurants and bars that have morphed the LES from an ethnic bastion to a neighborhood in total transformation. The famous clothing stores of the LES are almost gone. The six story walkups are replaced by towering apartments and hotels. The Whole Foods has the best cheese selection in the city.
Change and being different are not bad things. Nor are they automatically good. As a restaurant, wd-50 has earned its reputation from being eclectic, on the cutting edge of the new cuisines founded on technology. Foam, dehydration, threading,… The leading edge techniques of the culinary world are not just practiced here; they dominate they menu.
We did the eight course tasting menu, plus two desserts. Ten plates in all. Suzen and I agreed: it was about 50-50, which left us disappointed. What were the issues? The first is a four letter word: salt. In comparison, we have done the Per Se tasting menu where over a dozen different salts were successfully used to give you what you want: flavor.
Yes, I know, some people love Per Se and some have been disappointed there, too. On our lucky night, Suzen and I were astounded. At wd-50, we were hoping for a similar experience.
A second issue at wd-50 was the supremacy of technology over common sense. Some of the dishes simply seemed gimmicky: an Everything Bagel that was made of ice cream. And adorned with smoked salmon threads. There, and in other dishes, the threads are gorgeous to look at, delicate little strands that seem to float above the food. But they are so small, they literally pop away in your mouth, not yield enough flavor.
Of the eight savory plates, three were excellent. A foie gras filled with passionfruit puree was just sumptuous. Foie gras has, let’s be honest, a unique flavor that can be overpowering. This foie gras was fresh and subtle, and the passionfruit flavor, distinctive in its own right, proved to be an ideal complement. Another plate, small Asian shrimp in a thick sauce with red pepper, had intense flavor. Finally, the lamb loin with black garlic romesco made you want to ask for seconds and thirds.
What disappointed? The opening dish, admittedly announced as an amuse, was mockfish cheek. The piece was so, so small [may ¼ inch cubed] that you simply could not get enough flavor. The bagel I’ve mentioned. The “cold fried chicken” was described to us when served as a terrine. It was. And like chicken anywhere it needed salt. With it came a honey and hot pepper reduction that was brilliant in itself, but too hot and too different to overcome the lack of salt. A scrambled egg ravioli was another dish with a name that only obliquely described the experience: no pasta here, just a solid external covering of egg yolk.
Desserts, created by Alex Stupak, were distinctive but not too over the top. The hazelnut tart with coconut and chocolate was perfectly delicious. A caramelized brioche with apricot, buttercream and lemon thyme left your mouth racing with flavors and textures.
With the tasting menu, we added the wine pairing. The wines were the highlight of the meal: wines we had not seen before and truly savored. They were well matched to the night’s food, but clearly would be intensely satisfying on their own. An Oregon Pinot Noir, Evening Land 2008, was exceptional.
The front of the house at wd-50 is perfect. Smart, attentive, and friendly. No attitude or condescending looks. The wines were wonderful. And half the food was terrific.
Would we return? The couple next to us was there on their fifth expedition to wd-50, still in search of excellence. At the end of their meal, they pushed back their plates and told us that they, too, were just not thrilled. Personally, Suzen and I think New York has an abundance of culinary options. If you don’t find excellence the first time, you move on.