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Dropped a couple of hundred dollars eating everything on the menu (the tasting menu and the "from the vault" menu) at WD-50 the other night.  Came away underwhelmed.  I admit it might be me -- maybe my palate is just too juvenile to appreciate the nuances of this particular joint.  It might be the whole "seasonal and local thing," because winter foods tend to be bland, what with all that squash and turnips turning up on the plates.  And it might be Wylie, who seems to have stepped away from the mad scientist stuff I used to read about back in the day.  I remember the first time I heard the acoustic version of "Layla" from MTV unplugged and thinking "when did Clapton start doing a lounge act?"  Maybe Wylie should only play when he's plugged in.
 
At any rate, even with the menu posted on line, it's hard to recall some of the dishes.  A sweet shrimp with "pine needles" (one of the few science experiments I recall -- pine essence extruded and congealed to resemble needles) and chestnut came together flawlessly and intriguingly (it takes a second to to figure out if you really like pine flavor in your food), and popcorn soup was quite rich, understated and yet forceful.  And the red meat dishes -- squab, flatiron steak and smoked duck -- were quite tasty.
 
But any decent pho place would have served up a better broth than that accomanying the "pho gras;" bone marrow in a fake mashed potato "bone" needed more than a little pomegranate to wake it up and I barely remember the monkfish or the sea bass at all.  Admittedly, I was was with a charming dining companion who may have proved a distraction, but I do remember restaurant meals where I don't remember the cab ride home (and the set list from Dead shows where I barely remembered the planet I was on), so the night is oddly blank.
 
We found ourselves very hungry long before our nine o'clock reservations but were advised that there were seats in the bar, where a very friendly and knowledgeable bartender -- with help from an assortment  of besuited management-looking types -- took excellent care of us at a comfortably sized four-top.  Those who regard my reviewing with an appropriately jaundiced eye and wish to see for themselves without committing to the $155 tasting menu should know that the bar offers the option of ordering any two courses for $25, and additional courses for $15. 
 
When the bartender said he'd have to check and see if we could order both menus rather than choosing one or the other for the entire table (apparently SOP at WD-50) we threatened to get the two-course deal and then order every other plate on the menu at $15 per.  And when he laughed rather than rolling his eyes and mouthing "what an asshole" to the manager, we knew he was a good guy.
 
We put ourselves in his hands for the wine and didn't pay too much attention except to note an excellent Sylvaner early on and two Pinot Noirs, neither of them from either France or the U.S. -- and the Chliean version (the other was German) being excellent -- "Litoral Vineyards Casa Marin '09."
 
Wylie Dufresne is, of course, under no obligation to be the madman he seems to have been back in the day -- or maybe quinoa fries just aren't as much fun as they would have been in 2002 -- but I would have enjoyed a little more zing in my cuisine rather than the understated elegance that was delivered.

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I had two meals here before it shuttered (it is closed now, right?) and was very happy with both experiences, especially the first. He may be a little too in to the molecular gastronomy but his flavors and combinations all work and are rooted in good food.  Somewhere I have a lot of photos that I will have to dig up and post.  I wonder what is next for him.

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I had two meals here before it shuttered (it is closed now, right?) and was very happy with both experiences, especially the first. He may be a little too in to the molecular gastronomy but his flavors and combinations all work and are rooted in good food.  Somewhere I have a lot of photos that I will have to dig up and post.  I wonder what is next for him.

 

Well, he can pretty much always be found floating around the kitchen at Alder, where our last meal showed a kitchen in top form.

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Well, he can pretty much always be found floating around the kitchen at Alder, where our last meal showed a kitchen in top form.

Ahhh awesome. Good to know. Our next NYC trip may not be until the fall or early December, but who knows what he will be up to at that point.

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I had two meals here before it shuttered (it is closed now, right?)

Wait, what?  Clearly I've been living in a cave...had no idea it closed or was closing.  Their dessert tasting menu from 10 years ago (when Sam Mason was pastry chef) may not have been my best dining experience, but it was definitely among the most memorable.

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Friends of mine are the parents of an 8-year-old boy aptly described as an "adventurous eater."

They aren't famous, notable or especially connected in any way. But, they managed to score a table last year before WD-50 closed for what would be their first and last visit.

They loved it and the waiter remarked on their son and how unusual it was for the staff to see such a young boy trying and enjoying all the courses of the tasting menu.

At the end of the meal, Chef Dufresne came out and asked the little boy if he'd like a guided tour of the kitchen. The photo of the gap-toothed boy, his parents and Chef all with broad smiles is one my friends will enjoy for many years.

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I attended the auction of the restaurant's equipment, hoping to score something for my kitchen - it was depressing in more ways than one, including not scoring anything for my kitchen, since it was a madhouse, and people were bidding ridiculous amounts for a lot of the stuff.

The Bonnet cooking suite, which was one of only 5 or 6 in NYC, was the most interesting item.  At one point, Wylie's dad Dewey, who was a co-owner, came out and announced to the crowd that if anyone bought it, they would knock down the wall to the kitchen to enable the suite to be removed - it was installed before the wall went up and came in on a forklift through the front window. Interesting stuff.

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