Wednesday, January 19, 2011
wd~50: Having Your Dessert for Dinner
I've never really loved dessert. Sure, over the years I've eaten my fair share of memorable desserts, and even admit liking something sweet to finish a meal, but if push came to shove, I'd definately classify myself being more of a savory person than a someone with a sweet tooth. Yet a funny thing has happened as I've grown older (and wider), I've come to gain a new appreciation for dessert. Maybe my tastes have just changed, or perhaps it's that pastry chefs have become more experimental lately, venturing further for inspiration and tinkering with once unimaginable flavor combinations (herb flavored ice creams). But it wasn't until MW and I ate at Wylie Dufresne's famed, wd~50, that I actually started craving the desserts of former pastry chef, Alex Stupak. So when news leaked that Stupak would be soon be leaving Dufresne's side, to open Empellon, a taqueria, I made quick work securing a reservation to experience one last taste of Stupak's creative confections.
The takeaway from our previous (and only) meal at wd~50 was that the tasting menu's highs were extremely high, but its lows were very low. The one caveat to this assessment was in regard to the desserts, all of which amazed us both. So this time around, MW and I made it a point to maybe order an interesting savory course or two from the menu before going all in, and ordering the five-course dessert tasting menu. Our reservation came right before the holiday, and the restaurant was festively decorated, with a beautiful wreath. While I've heard great things about the restaurant's ability to pair wines with their desserts, MW and I chose to go the cocktail route, which to our surprise also reflected the holiday spirit. MW started with the Wonderland - Candy Cane Gin, Clarified Pear Juice, Carbonated - while I had the Kum All Ye - Kumquat Bourbon, Canton Ginger, Lillet. Each drink contained seasonal flavors you'd typically expect to find on a plate, but in a glass.
To start, we each ordered an appetizer. There were two savory items that we had our eyes on in particular, since neither were available on the menu during our last visit. MW began with the Eggs Benedict, Chef Dufresne's homage to his favorite food. Well documented, and for good reason, the dish was a deconstructed version of an eggs benedict. The hollandaise sauce had been formed into cubes, and then deep fried with an English muffin coating. Egg yolks were poached just until they solidified and was finished with ultra thin crisps of Canadian bacon. As playful as his food can be at times, even Chef Dufresne understands the most important facet of any successful dish is that it tastes good. Fortunately, this dish was better than good, it was superb, as each element was delicious on its own and tasted just like the Real McCoy when combined.
My appetizer, the Aerated Foie with Pickled Beets, Mashad Plum and Brioche, was equally as stunning. Instead of being dense like a terrine or a torchon, this foie gras was incredibly light and looked like a sponge. The sweet plum complimented the foie nicely, while the pickled beet helped cut through some of the richness with the brioche crisps lending the dish some needed texture.
Before segueing into dessert, we were served a pre-dessert of White Beer Ice Cream, Apple, Caramel and Caraway. Inside a small bowl was a quenelle of white beer ice cream with a caramel gelée and caraway tweedle. The ice cream contained a subtle, but pleasant beef flavor that paired surprisingly well with the salty caramel and caraway.
Our first course on the dessert menu was a Lemongrass Mousse with Brown Sugar, Jack Fruit and a Whole Wheat Sorbet. My second favorite dessert of the evening, the cold whole wheat sorbet, together with pieces of sweet jack fruit and the rich lemongrass mousse was just amazing.
Next was the Grapefruit Curd with Campari, Hibiscus and Sorrel. Our least favorite course of the night was due more to our mutual dislike of grapefruit than to poor execution. That said, like virtually all of Chef Stupak's desserts, this too, was visually stunning.
But far and away, the clear favorite course of the meal was the Rainbow Sherbet with Plum, Tarragon, Orange and Olive Oil. A riff on the childhood favorite, a cylindrical tube of rainbow sherbet was encased in a sugar shell, sitting atop an olive oil cake adorned with bits of plum and supremes of orange. The savory olive oil cake enhanced the sweetness of the the other components, and the acidity of the orange was a perfect counterbalance to creamy sherbet.
As our drinks were finished, we flagged down a waiter and ordered another round of cocktails. MW's pH - Vodka, Raspberry, Lychee, Rose - was a bit lighter than her earlier drink and was a bit more to her liking. As was my Yule Flip! - Rum-Raisin, Vanilla, Egg Yolk - which I found to be a bit more balanced.
Another success was the Licorice Custard with a Sake Sorbet and Bartlett Pear. Pieces of pear and sake sorbet rested on top of a flattened square of sugar that covered a circular base of licorice custard. In addition to the sorbet, the sake was also featured prominently as a gelée, but was tempered to a degree by the sweetness of the pear and luscious licorice custard.
Seeing how the dessert tasting menu is left to the chef's discretion, and sensing a chocolate course to finish, we requested that our final course not be the Hazelnut Tart with Coconut, Chocolate and Chicory, as it was one of two desserts we had sampled on our last visit. We were instead given Soft Chocolate with Beet, Long Pepper and a Ricotta Ice Cream. Looking like an artistic masterpiece, the soft chocolate ganache was arranged next to the ricotta ice cream amidst puddles of a beet purée that imitated Pollok's splatter technique. Flavorwise, the rich ganache was enhanced by the subtle spice from the longpepper, sweet beet and silky ricotta ice cream.
Accompanying our bill were petits fours that included: Cocoa Packets and Chocolate Shortbreads filled with a Milk Ice Cream. Unlike other restaurants where these end of the meal treats seem almost superfluous, the petit fours embodied the same innovation as the rest of the food. The cocoa packets were paper thin, containing a pleasantly crunchy interior and the chocolate shortbreads were a nice play on the more common chocolate truffle.
It was recently announced that instead of recruiting an outside pastry chef, wd~50 would instead, fill the position internally, with former sous chef, Malcolm Livingston II, assuming the role. Only time will tell if the desserts will continue to remain as strong of a draw for diners as Chef Dufresne's avant-garde cuisine. Although we will mourn the loss of Chef Stupak and his wonderful desserts, we wish him nothing but the best of luck with his new venture and believe, with his talent, that success will follow. As for wd~50 and its new pastry chef, like Sam Mason before, we have the utmost trust in Chef Dufresne's ability to evaluate talent and have no reason to believe Chef Livingston will be nothing short of spectacular.
50 Clinton Street
New York, NY 10002
To see all the pictures from this meal click HERE.