NYC: wd~50 (Nov. 2014)

January 26, 2015 1 comment

Authors: Monte and Victor
Exec Chef: Wylie Dufresne

Date: November 22, 2014

A condominium is going to replace one of the most revered dining destinations in the world. Chef Wylie Dufresne opened wd~50 in 2003, and it quickly became known as one of the most cutting edge kitchens in the world, with elaborate and creative dishes that spooked diners into wonderment. “A temple of molecular gastronomy,” as some called it. Sadly, Chef Dufresne is closing his beloved restaurant after 11 years due to the landowner’s plans to build a condo on the block.

This is a meal meant to celebrate wd~50’s hits from the past 11 years. We may not have gotten the type of cooking that Alinea or Modernist Cuisine’s Cooking Lab currently does, but we got something we’ll treasure more: a dose of delicious nostalgia.

Chef Dufresne started off the meal with a “pu pu platter,” transforming the traditional Chinese American platter of deep-fried, overly sauced appetizers into a wonderfully refined collection of wonder such as “shrimp macaron” and King Oyster “Udon.” The sweet looking macaron instead flooded the mouth with crispy shrimp bits upon the first bite. The salty and “savory” umaminess gently washes over the palate and made me wish Laduree would carry an entire line of Chef Dufresne’s playful interpretation of a macaron.

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2. Everything bagel (ice cream) with smoked salmon threads, wafer of dehydrated cream cheese, pickled red pearl onions, and wood sorrel. (2009)

The “everything bagel” was also a delight. Alex Stupak created this dish back in 2009, and it’s interesting in that the flavor of the ice cream captures all the complexities and flavors found in an everything bagel. Chef Stupak described several steps of making this ice cream: (1) everything bagels are bought and toasted; (2) they’re crushed into pieces, soaked in hot milk, and strained; (3) ice cream is made from the bagel-flavored milk; (4) the ice cream is set in a mini-bagel-shaped (savarin) mold and air-brushed to the likeness of an actual bagel; and (5) the ice cream is lastly rolled in poppy and sesame seeds for added effect. The resulting ice cream has all the flavor of poppy seeds, sesame seeds, and onions built into it! Ice cream is a treat and surprises are a treat, so an ice cream surprise? Double treat. Everything bagel needs to be an actual flavor, with salmon thread for the sundae toppings, of course. I love sweet and savory combinations, and this dish pulled off the combination beautifully.

There was a lull in the meal and the kitchen sent out a brisket to help keep our appetites in check.  The brisket was very similar to another dish I previously had at wd~50, but the lack of surprise did nothing to take away from the fact that the meat was richly savory, salty, and velvety. There wasn’t any bright pop of acid and the accompanying sauce was very subtle in flavor. Not that this was necessarily a bad thing—it made the meat the clear focus of the dish.

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4. Foie gras terrine with beet–calamansi citrus and candied olive sauce in the center and “pea soil” around it. (2005)

The foie, on the other hand, had much better friends to accompany it. The earthy pea soil, which consisted of crystallized pea shoots, wonderfully grounded the sweet and creamy foie. This dish was a perfect yin and yang that Chef Dufresne seems to do so well with all his foie dishes.

Chef Dufresne is well known for his love of eggs, but oddly enough I’m not fond of his rendition of eggs benedict. The flavor profile felt very one-note: it was just incredibly rich. Its richness just flooded my mouth, and there wasn’t much contrast to the tangy creamy benedict—but I guess one shouldn’t expect anything else from deep-fried Hollandaise. I did love the textures though, with the crispy “sauce” contrasting with the custardy yolk. Just be prepared to free your belt to explore a couple notches towards the further end of your belt.

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8. Turbot with black licorice “pil-pil”, fried green tomato, and fennel. (2012)

The dinner moved on, and the tender octopus and silky turbot were just perfectly cooked examples of seafood, with the licorice sauce surprisingly complementing the turbot rather well. It reminded me of olive oil ice cream. You don’t think it’s going to be that good, but OH MY GOSH it’s amazing—and you want more.  And that fried green tomato was such a surprising and delightful addition. It’s kind of like dating someone who already seems amazing (turbot and licorice sauce) and then learning that he or she sings or dances like a professional singer/dancer. That fried green tomato is such a great surprise and makes the dish INCREDIBLY sexy, and you kind of just want to take him or her home.

In between the seafood dishes, Chef Dufresne throws a fun curveball like his sesame tofu noodles. The miso soup came with a plastic bag of sesame tofu noodle paste. The diner is invited to grab the tofu paste and just squeeze out their own little noodles (my inner juvenile is rolling on the floor with laughter right now). It’s a real trip to see your paste just instantly solidify upon contact with the miso soup. This is the sort of chemistry I wish my high school teachers would have taught me. Want to get sulky pubescents to pay attention? Just teach them how to play with their food and turn liquid into solid. Nothing encourages studying like the power to transform matter into different states. Science!

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9. Sous-vide squab breast, confit of squab {something}, pate of squab liver, and fried squab skin with sweet potato jus and dehydrated yellow beets dusted with dehydrated red beet. (2005)

The savory ended with a delicious squab done several ways, which was a delight, but really at this point really I was too bitter that the end was drawing near. It’s a weird feeling when you’re enjoying such a fantastic meal, to have your “last savory”—it instantly triggers this gut fear that this wonderful roller coaster of delight will abruptly come to a screeching halt.

Luckily for us, though, the end was thankfully dragged out by three fantastic desserts. We started with the cornbread ice cream. It tasted like cornbread, but sweeter and milkier—you might say, “Duh”, but, until you’ve tried it, you’re missing out on a simple genius play on salty and sweet. It’s supposed to be very similar to OddFellows Ice Cream Co.’s famed cornbread ice cream; its owner, Sam Mason, used to be the pastry chef at wd~50 and served cornbread ice cream during his time there. We moved on to the heavenly cloud of soft meringue, which I didn’t know whether to eat or lay my head down to rest on.

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12. Cherry-covered chocolate with dehydrated cherry molasses and lime. (2007)

The ensuing chocolate cherries were the real punch of flavor though, and were especially memorable for its ferociousness. They were intensely tart and fruity, with the bitter and sweet chocolate rounding out the bite and leaving you in a daze wondering, “This shouldn’t work, but it really does!” The cherry is more concentrated than any actual cherry you’ll ever eat, and the chocolate is twofold too rich. Your senses just really perk up with the chocolate cherries and you’re left wondering why something so offensive can leave such a feeling of zen on the taste buds. (The cherries were dehydrated and made into a cherry-pectin bath. Chocolate cream is then dipped into the cherry pectin bath, where the calcium in the chocolate reacts to the pectin; this creates the cherry coating.)

We were finally brought some mignardises to linger over as we marveled and wondered about Chef Dufresne. He hasn’t said anything about his future plans, but I for one hope he does something more than just rest with Alder. wd~50 represented some of the most cutting edge cooking that always kept its food whimsical. Its loss to some monstrous condominium should be mourned by many, but we can hope that Chef Dufresne’s “mad genius” will come up with a new concept that’s even better. If not, this was nothing short of a memorable farewell to something great.

Pictures of our entire meal:

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1. “Pu-Pu Platter”
Bottom: Caviar with honey, candied ginger, and Guinness foam. (2012)
Left: Shrimp macaron with tarragon emulsion. (2007)
Top: Corned duck with rye crisp, purple mustard, and horseradish cream. (2007)
Right: King oyster “udon” with sweetbreads, banana-molasses, and pickled ginger. (2011)
2. Everything bagel (ice cream) with smoked salmon threads, wafer of dehydrated cream cheese, pickled red pearl onions, and wood sorrel. (2009)
3. Veal brisket with Za’atar sauce, honey mustard wafer, fresh plums, and cippolini onions (small onions). (2012)
4. Foie gras terrine with beet–calamansi citrus and candied olive sauce in the center and “pea soil” around it. (2005)

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5. “Eggs Benedict”- Cylinders of egg yolk with crispy bacon and deep-fried Hollandaise sauce. (2009)
6. Grilled octopus confit with brûléed avocado cream, pumpernickel chips with juniper and walnut, and lychee infused with Campari. (2007)
7. Miso soup with sesame tofu noodles. (2006)
8. Turbot with black licorice “pil-pil”, fried green tomato, and fennel. (2012)

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9. Sous-vide squab breast, confit of squab {something}, pate of squab liver, and fried squab skin with sweet potato jus and dehydrated yellow beets dusted with dehydrated red beet. (2005)
10. Cornbread ice cream with cornbread “dirt”. (2005)
11. Soft meringue with passion fruit, banana, and star anise. (2011)
12. Cherry-covered chocolate with dehydrated cherry molasses and lime. (2007)

14 Petits fours

Petits-fours (from right to left):
1. “Orange-sicle Chu” (frozen orange cylinder filled with fluid vanilla cream). Created by Alex Stupak. (2007)
2. Rice Krispy–coated meringue ice cream. (2011)
3. White chocolate covered with freeze-dried raspberries and filled with geitost/gjetost in the center. (2012)
4. Kaffir lime and corn churro. (???)

Geitost/gjetost is a brown cheese made from caramelized goat’s milk. For more info, see

Oakland: Commis (March 2014)

August 14, 2014 Leave a comment

Author: Monte
Restaurant: Commis
Exec Chef: James Syhabout

I’ve been meaning to try Commis since summer 2013 and finally was able to! It’s quite an amazing restaurant. The decor, and to a certain extent the food too, is very minimalist. Things are pretty but bare, which I can appreciate because it translates into a focus on food. There’s a kind of no-nonsense approach to the food, where what you get is just beautifully cooked dishes made with very fresh ingredients. There’s very little flash or flare (although part of the kitchen is open) but I think that actually helps cut down on the cost (the location is a factor too) so that what the diner get is just great food for a great price.

1. Carmelized Onion Financier, Pickled Green Strawberries with Goats Milk and Dill


The light and refreshing amuse really wowed me. The onion biscuit was just this super sweet oniony fluffy muffin that had none of the harshness of actual raw onions. Incredible.

Click here to see the rest of the meal!

NYC: All’onda (Mar. 2014)

April 17, 2014 Leave a comment

Author: Tad
Exec Chef: Chris Jaeckle

March 29, 2014

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a young man, in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of good meals. However little known a restaurant may be on its first opening, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of so-called “foodies” and hipsters of the culinary scene that every restaurant with any decent share of competence quickly gains an inevitable cascade of hype. My friends and I were among the earliest of those who called on All’onda in New York—though admittedly we were also hangers-on of the hipster hype. Our meal unfurled in the following manner:

Click here to see the food!