Monday, November 09, 2009


Wylie Dufrense had us at hello. Granted, he didn’t say hello to us, and he didn’t actually say “hello.” In his cheerful, downhome lilt, he said, “Howdy, Mrs. P” to the woman selling us garlic at the Union Square Greenmarket a few weeks ago. Then he, his companions, and a camera-heavy crew moved on to the next stand.

We got a second Wylie fix at wd-50, where he showed his underlings the proper way to whisk in a white-and-stainless steel kitchen. (From what we could tell, this involves very vigorous wrist movements.) It’s always nice to see chefs cooking in their eponymous restaurants, in between appearances on Top Chef and interviews.

We moved quickly from the complimentary bread made from lentils (too airy to be considered pappadum, or satisfying) to our appetizers: noodles made from shrimp served with yogurt, mushrooms, and zucchini, and corned duck, which looked like bacon but tasted utterly different. Despite their pedigree, the noodles didn’t taste at all shrimpy—rather, they were springy, spongy, and light. The duck dish resembled a baby pastrami on rye: the meat was curled atop a dollop of mustard, another of horseradish, and a cracker.

Continuing the theme: we had another Asian fish dish and meat dish for our mains. The scallops with pine needle udon and grapefruit dashi were refreshing, the grapefruit lending the dish its needed tang and the slices of Chinese broccoli and radish ensuring a textual contrast between the soft fish and noodles. The wagyu skirt steak came with long beans and pasta made from peanut butter (very clever), but what made the dish were tamarind seeds that had been vacuum-infused with basil.

All cooking is chemistry. Heat renders a large slab of beef edible; mixed together, salt, water, and grain produce bread. And yet this simple fact gets largely lost when people complain about molecular gastronomy. If you have the tools and the knowledge, then mixing shrimp with agar to form a pasta is as easy as heating olive oil in a pan to sear a steak, and you can make nontraditional ingredients like duck evoke entirely different taste sensations (eyes closed, we were sitting in Katz’s, taking a big bite of a sandwich).

For dessert we had a carmelized brioche with apricot and lemon thyme that was nice but not sweet enough for us, as well as slices of soft chocolate topped with peppermint ice cream and black cardamom.

The final course consisted of two little balls, Alex Stupak’s take on “milk and cookies”: frozen condensed milk surrounded by two layers of cocoa, the topmost layer crumbly. The result was an Oreo dipped in milk, an excellent end to a meal full of pleasant disconnect between what we saw and what we tasted.

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