Transcription and Translation

WD~50 – Restaurant Analysis

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Friday, after Bora’s visit, my wife calls me up and informs me that we are off to NYC for the weekend. So we spent Saturday and Sunday roaming around our old stomping ground, looking for stimulation (Soho, PS1, some off-off Broadway theatre, Central Park …) Fortunately Terri and Matt, had made reservations about the much talked about WD-50. Just last week it was featured in the New York Time’s Science Section. Yes this is haute cuisine for geeks.

The joint is the brainchild of Wylie Dufresne (hence WD) located on 50 Clinton street (explaining the 50) in NY’s lower east side. And yes I’m sure you have noticed that the restaurant’s name resembles another product, which as you’ll see, bares much resemblance to the experience.

After getting to the table, we informed our waiter that “three of us are biochemistry geeks and would very much appreciate an explanation of the methodology used in the food preparation.” He looked pleased.

So how was the dinner? Here is what I wrote to a friend:

We had the tasting menu. It was a provocative experience. The food is deconstructed and reassembled, but with bizarre textures. Eating, we were engaged in discussions on the science of taste, the chemistry of food products and the future of gastronomy. The perfect culinary event for geeks.

To entice you further, here is a video featuring WD~50.

For the meal, I’ll just leave you with some photos and some brief words. First here are the dinning guests:

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First up, the wine. Flipping through their list, we discovered that the had a wine from the Biferno region (the valley of my ancestors!) Very hard to find in the US. Gironia 2004, a white wine made from 3 varieties of local grapes. This was a good omen.

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We were also served paper thin sesame crackers. Notice how you can actually see our friends index finger through the food item.

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For the first course, we were presented with mushroom noodles covered with a smoked quail yolk served at body temperature (just perfect). Besides the complicated procedure for the yolk preparation, there wasn’t anything too nerdy.

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Next deconstructed pizza. Lyophilized pizza ingredients (minus the pepperoni), glued together with some organic gum (can’t remember what exactly) into little brown balls. The “pebbles” were interspersed by small dollops of pepperoni emulsions. Extra shiitake mushroom cracker flakes were the only visible garnish. One guest loved the pizza pebbles, another thought that they tasted like Combos.

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Knot foie. Foie gras mixed with a hydrocolloid. From that NY Times article:

Despite its imposing name, a hydrocolloid is a simple thing. A colloid is a suspension of particles within some substance. A hydrocolloid is a suspension of particles in water where the particles are molecules that bind to water and to one another. The particles slow the flow of the liquid or stop it entirely, solidifying into a gel.

You would think that this item would become rubbery, but really it was closer to butter – just enough stiffness to shape it but soft enough to melt in your mouth. Drops of wasabi and fruit compostcompote and little tapioca-sized balls made from some sort of reconstructed wheat product (on second thought maybe it was made of tofu???)

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Hamachi tartare. The fish bits were glued together enzymatically and then seared on one side (to add some yummy caramelized taste). Plus tahini sauce made from the residue of the sake production process.

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Cubes of mayo! (With beef tongue, and tomato molasses) In this dish the mayo is mixed with a hydrocoloid, cut, (frozen?) and deep fried. Yes geometric condiments, crunchy on the outside liquidy within. As one of the diners commented “Tongue sandwich anyone?”

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i-1ce19ac8af5ecf9e9cd2b383261638ad-soup.jpgDeconstructed “french onion soup”. Probably the most alien dish. At this point in the meal, one of the dinner goers exclaimed “This meal is slightly disturbing”. All the ingredients (broth, gruyere cheese, bread and onions) were teased apart for you to recombine at your own pleasure. The cheese was a molten gruyere/milk mixture encased in a pectin coating that exploded upon contact with the spoon. The “bread” consisted of two dried wafers that expanded on contact with the broth and the caramelized onion was rendered into a thick sauce placed on one of the wafers.

Next up was a splash of zest. Orange & tangy with very tender cuttlefish noodles. (No dinner is complete without some tender cephalopod action!)

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i-f36e57d86cc3ee19e787a5d698fcea01-bacon.jpgThen for the last the plat principaux we were served lamb-bacon (would that make it a lamcon? a bamb?) This dish ranked lowest on the geek-scale.

Desert. Three supreme concoctions. An ice-cream filed tube made of frozen date (note foam like substance underneath – no don’t worry, foam is passe. It’s a mushroom emulsion). Next was mango + frozen rectangular boxes of fried butterscotch pudding (see mayo for some idea as to how this was made). Finally we had a malt inspired sensation (beer ice cream, lyophilized malt related substances and a malt/beer inspired caramel) with another hydrocolloid inspired item (a white chocolate rectangular squiggle).

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Finally each of us received a pair of parting gifts on the house – marshmallow coated in lyophilized passion fruit dust and inside-out pumpkin pie – frozen balls of pumpkin pie coated in some pie shell dust and thawed to room temp.

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Excellent!

Comments

  1. #1 speedwell
    November 13, 2007

    A few notes: Your fruit compost was probably compote. Compost is a bit too deconstructed for the dinner table… or maybe I should say decomposed. :)

    The “tapioca-like wheat product” was probably couscous, if I’m guessing correctly, since that is exactly what couscous is and looks like.

    Tamari is what is made as a soy sauce and sake production byproduct. Tahini is what you have there, judging from the color; it’s a sesame seed paste.

    And just for fun, what part of the pumpkin pie is the outside?

    Great dinner though, looks like much fun.

  2. #2 apalazzo
    November 13, 2007

    Thanks,

    The “tapioca-like” referred to the shape (sorry ’bout that) and not the texture. The small balls were crunchy like rice crispies and not soft like couscous (or tapioca). The wheat products were congealed together using some gum substance (sorry I don’t remember exactly, I wasn’t taking notes).

    The tahini paste was indeed made from sake residue (perhaps from tamari as you suggest). The waiter explained to us the process, but again my memory is bad. On the menu its name is given as sake-less tahini.

    As for the pumpkin, the outside tasted like the pie crust – I don’t know the specifics.

  3. #3 U
    November 13, 2007

    Clinton Street… was there music all through the evening?

  4. #4 dynein
    November 14, 2007

    Wow I lived right next door to this place for 3 years (40 Clinton St.) and never ate there! Everyone coming out of there always looked a little stuffy…

  5. #5 apalazzo
    November 14, 2007

    Dynein,

    I should know you … are you in Rich Vallee’s lab by any chance?

  6. #6 Jennifer Ouellette
    November 16, 2007

    Great “review”! The Spousal Unit and I will be trying the place out next month when we visit for a colloquium. Ironically, I lived on the Lower East Side for 14 years. That sort of restuarant simply didn’t exist as recently as 10 years ago. Instead, it was all grimy bars, junkies, and hookers. Seriously. What gentrification has wrought!

  7. #7 Anna
    November 17, 2007

    Words fail to describe my jealousy of you for eating at WD50. It looks (and sounds) like it was an amazing meal! Next stop for you – Alinea, Chicago.

  8. #8 Dynein
    November 18, 2007

    I am in RV’s lab. I was a tech when you were in Gundersen’s lab and I was friends with Edgar who pointed me here a while back. I enjoy your posts!

  9. #9 Pip
    November 21, 2007

    That foie gras looks like a cross between caulk and weather stripping. Sounds like an interesting place to eat, although perhaps not very appetizing, especially when mixed with anything called hydrocolloid. I like the concept of mushroom noodles though.