For years, I’d been wanting to try the acclaimed WD-50. Recent appearances of its chef, Wylie Dufresne, on Top Chef only served to heighten my interest. Now he offers a 12 course tasting menu for $155 and a 5 course one featuring old favorites that he calls “From the Vault” for $90 (there’s an amuse bouche and mignardise for a total of 7 courses, but I don’t really count those 2). Not wanting 12 courses late at night or at that hefty price tag, I opted for the classics, which I considered a better way to assess the restaurant — not to mention the descriptions made my mouth water and stomach growl moreso than the newer menu.
For an additional charge, you can accompany each course with a wine pairing. But the courses come quickly, so you may be better served by ordering drinks on your own. [Note: you can also add courses from either menu but you cannot substitute one course for another.]
And so at 9:30pm on a Saturday night, this food odyssey (and my birthday dinner) began…
Seating, as you can tell, is a little cramped. But the high ceilings managed to make the room seem spacious and airy, while the minimalist decor accentuated the intriguing presentation of the food.
The key to making any good meal transcend from remarkable to immeasurable is service. In this case, it was exceptionally friendly even on a late weekend night.
We weren’t rushed and instead invited to start with a cocktail while we considered the menu options.
Settling on the Duck Blind and She Don’t Use Jelly, we received our ironicly named and well-made drinks before even ordering. (A full list of cocktails is on their website.)
Once we told the server our choices, in moments we received some very crunchy and thin flatbread chips that served neither to curb our appetite nor to hint at the delights that awaited us over the next 2 hours. (This was the only underwhelming part of the evening.)
Not necessarily a one bite dish and heartier than expected, it was a good start to the meal, especially when we were a bit hungry.
Next was the first real course — a foie gras disc surrounded by pea soil and candied olives. It was so beautiful I didn’t want to touch it, but of course I did.
We were told to cut directly through the center of it. Not wanting to disappoint our server or mess up the presentation, we followed directions and cut into the liver to allow the beet-kalamansi sauce to ooze out of the middle. It may appear a little off-putting (like blood coming from inside a bone), but you cannot deny that it was very cool. (Our neighbors didn’t follow instructions and had a messy looking plate that didn’t reveal the hidden treasure.)
But more important than the presentation was the taste. This dish was hands down our favorite, even to the earthy pea soil, and it’s not just that I’m a sucker for foie gras.
This was quickly followed by a slightly less dramatic pine nut cassoulet. But the smoky beans, tender octopus and hearty boudin blanc were a nice change from the richness of the liver.
We decided to slow things down and savor the meal by settling on a bottle of wine. Wanting a red that would complement both the cod and the venison, we asked for a recommendation. A Cote du Rhone fit the bill, and we chose a medium-priced 2010 Crozes-Hermitage ‘Les Rouges des Baties’ Dard & Ribo. It could have used a little more time to breathe before the cod came (or we could have ordered sooner), but after about 15 minutes of decanting, it was outstanding.
In the meantime, we slowly sipped the wine as we devoured the pan-seared cod and smoked mashed potatoes topped with pickled mushrooms, all accompanied by a splatter of red pepper oil.
Those potatoes were to die for and everything worked nicely together without being too heavy. At this point, I was mildly worried I might be too full to enjoy dessert considering that the next course involved a “venison chop.” But that description was not entirely adequate.
When the slice of a meat (presumably from a chop) arrived, it dispelled any notion that this tasting menu would be overwhelming. Fortunately, I am a fan of small portions. The flavorful cut of medium-rare venison with a side of perfectly crispy freeze dried polenta cubes, and a refreshing fennel and Asian pear salad left me perfectly satiated.
While we awaited the damage, we were presented with the mignardise — one bite-sized but not too sweet tease for each of us. All in all, the bill was well worth the experience. In fact, I wouldn’t hesitate to go back and have been gushing about it to everyone who might care since even before my meal was finished.
Rating: Four Forks* (4 for the outstanding food and friendly service)
* Four Forks Rating System
No Forks: Don’t waste your time.
One Fork: Ok, but nothing to write home about.
Two Forks: Solid forkful. Worth the money.
Three Forks: A meal you’ll remember in a good way. Fork-tastic.
Four Forks: Out of this world. Won’t be able to put your fork down.