Wednesday, April 13, 2011
M.Wells: A Taste of Nouveau Québécois
Regular readers of our blog (do any really exist?) probably know by now that Noah and I are steadfast supporters of M.Wells Diner, the Long Island City restaurant that's gotten plenty of attention for serving up typical diner fare with a dose of Québécois flair. (We've written about it here and here.)
Perpetually tempted by a menu that always prominently features at least one (or four) unique foie gras concoctions, we've diligently parsed through their ever-changing options, even ordering a salad when required. Until recently our M.Wells experiences were confined to lunch, but when news broke that this destination diner would finally begin serving dinner (currently Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday), it was only a matter of time before I made a reservation.
Reservations secured, Noah assembled a motley crew to assist in our gluttunous endeavors. Taking the all too familiar ride on the 7 train to Hunter's Point, I was the first of the group to arrive to a busy, but relatively calm dinner service. While I waited for the rest of our party to arrive, I was subjected to the glorious sights and smells emanating from the restaurant's open kitchen. Led by the always hungry Noah, the remainder of our posse arrived and were seated at the long communal table at the far end of the diner.
Fortuitously, our meal coincided with Sam Sifton's NYT review awarding M.Wells two coveted stars. Unfortunately, this will likely make reservations much more difficult to obtain in the future.
Our table quickly took advantage of M Wells' newly acquired liquor license. Cocktails ordered included: a well balanced M. Gibson - Gin, Dry Vermouth, Brine, Orange Bitters and an overly sweet Soft Rock - Rye, Lime, Cassis, Green Chartreuse - as well as some Arcadia Rye Ales and a Goose Island IPA. Begrudgingly sticking to my Lent pledge of no alcohol, I ordered a Hibiscus Iced Tea.
Taking matters into our own hands, Noah and I unilaterally decided upon on a number of the more intriguing options, which essentially meant ordering anything that contained foie. After weighing whether to order the massive burger, we ultimately declined and reluctantly fielded suggestions from the small plates portion of the menu. Granting the kitchen the freedom to send out dishes in whichever order they were finished, what initially started as a light drizzle rapidly escalated into a torrential downpour, as servers wedged more plates onto our ever-shrinking table.
The Veal Brains with a Grenobloise Sauce was first to arrive. Easily one of the night's best items, this dish is a must order if available. Two lobes were first pan fried before being enveloped in a bright Grenobloise sauce. Breaking through the crisp exterior yielded creamy innards that were perfectly complimented by the briny capers and lemon juice.
Next, was one of the restaurant's signature offerings, Escargot & Bone Marrow with Shallots and a Red Wine Purée. Since Noah already discussed the virtues of this dish ad nauseum, I'll abstain from rehashing the details other than to state that all of the M.Wells virgins enjoyed it.
Presented in a large serving bowl, the Queens Clam Chowder with Smoked Mussels, Soda Crackers and Foie Gras drew our neighboring diner's curiosity. While Noah and I helped ladle out individual portions to everyone, our anxiety grew. The soup itself was rich and seasoned aggressively, in fact, a bit too aggressively for the majority of us. Salinity aside, the soup was chalk full of smokey mussels, creamy potatoes and luscious foie gras, which drew few complaints.
No sooner had we begun to eat our soup than the BibiM Wells appeared. An interesting riff on the Korean classic bibimbap, M.Wells version included: Tuna, Oysters, Fried Anchovies, Pickled Vegetables, Avocado, a Poached Egg, Rice, a smear of Gochuchang (Korean red pepper paste) and allegedly, more Foie Gras. Instructed to mix all of the components together, despite being charged for it, we were dismayed at the mysterious exclusion of the foie gras. Damn you M.Wells! Much to our surprise, these seemingly disparate elements formed a rather tasty dish when eaten in tandem. Particularly good were the fried anchovies. In addition to their flavor, they mimicked the nooroongji (crispy rice), characteristic of any proper dolsot bibimbap.
Not to be forgotten amid all this food, the Whelks & Blood Sausage were strewn atop a bed of Soda Crackers and topped with a pungent Dill-Garlic Butter. In stark contrast to a majority of the food we ate this night, both the blood sausage and whelks were subtle in flavor and were unfortunately overwhelmed by the sharp mustard in the sauce.
The Pork Tenderloin was served over a slice of bread next to a small mountain of excellent French Fries and Red-Eye Gravy. The pork was cooked to a perfect medium rare, still juicy and full of flavor. The equally delicious fries were well seasoned. The rich, coffee-flavored gravy was sadly soaked up by the sliced bread like a dry sponge.
Our lone vegetable of the meal was Bok Choy with Lobster Butter. The choy was well prepared and came swimming in a pool of drool-inducing lobster butter. Tasting intensely of (you guessed it) lobster, the briny butter served to highlight the vegetable's natural sweetness.
But the Suckling Pig was the real showstopper, consisting of two ample Double-Cut Chops, each topped with their own slab of Seared Foie Gras and served with chunks of Pineapple and a ruby red Cherry Sauce. The succulent pork matched wonderfully with the savoriness of the foie, acid from the pineapple and sweetness of the cherry sauce that hearkened back to the nostalgic ham covered with pineapple rings and maraschino cherries, only the with foie gras. While each individual component was tasty on its own, when eaten together, they combined to form a truly special dish.
Having licked most of the plates clean and still gnawing on the bones of the suckling pig, we were easily convinced to sample a few desserts. The Paris-Brest - insert obvious joke here - was delicious and was the unanimous favorite. None of us had actually tried this classic pastry, but our naive palates found it excellent. Similar in shape to an over-sized doughnut, the pastry was split and filled with a sweet cream tasting faintly of espresso. The light pastry was the perfect end to our meal.
But there was more! Party Mix Cheesecake looked as if someone had raided the snack isle of a CVS and dumped the haul on a plain cheesecake. Beneath the layers of miscellaneous cookies, the dense cheesecake had a faint citrus taste. Like a tectonic plate, the cake's cookie crust was rock hard and contained enough sugar and butter to give Momofuku's infamous Crack Pie a run for its money.
Flat out disappointing was the mislabeled Killer Mexican Chocolate Brownie. Originally listed as a killer caramel brownie, the substitution wasn't nearly as chewy as we all had hoped for. Instead, the consistency was cake-like, and, save for the nice spicy finish, this dessert was forgettable.
Having been multiple times for both lunch and dinner, I believe M.Wells is still in the process of finding itself. As with our other meals, this experience was a mixed bag. That said, the restaurant's highs wildly outweighed even the moderate lows. It's in these flashes of brilliance (and our love of foie gras) that keeps Noah and I coming back.
21-17 49th Avenue
Queens, NY 11101
To see all the pictures from this meal click HERE.