new york in winter part three

our next reservation was deep in the lower east side. we found ourselves at the restaurant with loads of time to spare. walking back west a bit, we stumbled across the newly opened hot spot allen and delancey. we shook off the rain and settled into the bar for a cocktail. drew had his usual knob creek and i was introduced to my new friend, christiana vodka. distilled in norway from trondelag (!) potatoes, it was as smooth as silk. fortified with a bit of liquid courage, we dodged the raindrops and headed out to dinner.

wd-50 was our destination. this is one of the temples of the new “molecular gastronomy,” most reverently practiced in spain at el bulli, a spot currently considered to be the best restaurant in the world (if such a designation is possible). the chef/owner here is one wylie dufresne, who along with pastry chef alex stupak, is turning out unusual, quirky, perhaps even whimsical dishes that often barely resemble the ingredients from whence they came. you’ll understand as we progress here.

we settled on the 12 course tasting menu along with the wine pairings. we were presented with a basket of paper-thin sesame “bread” to start. after several handfuls of that, we had it removed so as not to fill up on it. the first plate was thin slices of horse mackerel, served raw with mole lentils, cacao nibs and lightly cooked leeks. this was paired with a gruener veltliner sekt brut with a bit of sparkle to it. all in all, not too unusual of a start.

next came a plate of pizza pebbles with pepperoni emulsion and shiitake mushroom chips. this was where we started to worry. while the flavors were interesting enough, and the visual was certainly appropriately confusing (pebbles? they looked like kix cereal), the texture was not great, in that the pizza lodged itself into our molars with the force of cement. drew and i looked at each other warily, knocked back another slug of sekt and hoped for the best.

the next course seemed to see the ship righted again. entitled “knot foie,” it was foie gras which has been combined with hydrocolloids (look it up) so as to become a tender ribbon with enough tensile strength to be tied into a loose knot. this was then garnished with kimchee puree, raisin emulsion and crisped rice. visually arresting, it was also downright delicious. this was paired with a ginjo sake from japan’s nagano prefecture… it offered the sweetness of the traditional accompaniment of a sauternes.

what followed was a tartare of hamachi, plated with edamame, asian apple-pear, tahini with sake lees and a vibrant grapefruit and shallot marmalade. the fish had been briefly seared before being sliced thin. the wine here was a viognier from oregon, again positing sweetness against the richness of the fish.

the following plate was one of the best of the night. entitled eggs benedict, the presentation looked nothing like you would expect from that moniker. the egg was only the yolk, poached in a plastic tube and deposited on the plate as a “log.” speared with a crispy, ultra-thin chip of canadian bacon and served alongside english-muffin-dusted cubes of deed-fried, molten hollandaise, this dish was a resounding success.

a pair of seafood dishes were to follow, begining with a warm crab tail coated with sesame seeds and served with soybean noodles and cinnamon scented dashi. with this was proffered another white wine, a cantinamatta from italy. the acidity in this one really worked well with the richness of the crab.

next came a bowl with cubes of cuttlefish, butternut squash, chamomile and orange, with a brushstroke of toast oil on the inside of the bowl. there was nothing wrong with this dish, but it didn’t resonate in the way that some others did that night.

for our final savory course, we were presented with a red wine…a 2005 rhone from france. this was a big, earthy wine that was perfect with our meat dish. thin slices of lamb belly, cooked to a divine crispy/chewy stage, could best be described as lambacon. plated with crispy chickpeas, black hummus and “cherried” cucumber noodles, this dish was another knockout.

well we were really in our cups by this time. we had a cocktail in us, along with 5 small glasses of wine, none of which i had actually finished. this meant a table crowded with glasses and plates. somewhere in the background we heard a cheer go up. shortly thereafter yet ANOTHER glass was placed in front of us. it turns out that as we had been dining, the restaurant received a new review from the new york times, taking it from two stars to three! free sekt all around the house!!!

there was no stopping us now. the pre-dessert was a tube of wintergreen parfait, plated with walnuts, chartreuse gelee, avocado cream and a curlicued walnut tuile. although i am not a fan of wintergreen, this dish really worked for me. there was no wine paired with this, but the extra glass of sekt seemed to go perfectly.

the next dessert was a killer combination of a toasted coconut cake, carob emulsion, smoked cashews and a super browned butter sorbet. this was an amazing plate that i could have easily doubled up on. this was paired with a silky sweet late harvest riesling from new zealand.

then came a ribbon of soft white chocolate on a plate with toasted malt and white beer ice cream. creamy, smooth, unctuous and downright sinful. and served with yet another wine! forgive me please for not having any recollection of that vintage! lastly we were offered coffee and a small plate of petit-fours….chicory ice cream coffee (sort of like a frozen truffle) and a “bag” made from sugar, filled with crunchy chocolate bits.

this meal was certainly one of the most unusual i have ever had. (you can see some other people’s pics of the food here.) the service, while less formal than any of the other meals we ate, was topnotch in a friendly, american style that completely won us over. add to that the excitement of the third star and we had a recipe for an outstanding evening. i walked out to the kitchen after we were done to congratulate the chef. he commented to me that coming from cleveland was a long way to travel for dinner. i reminded him that the trip to three stars was a long road as well.