Striped bass, golden raisin, chorizo, green tomato consomme
Everything bagel, smoked salmon threads, crispy cream cheese
Foie gras, passionfruit, chinese celery
Scrambled egg ravioli, charred avocado, hamachi, fried potatoes
Cold fried chicken, buttermilk-ricotta, tabasco, caviar
Perch, kohlrabi, ‘dirty’ grape, cocoa nib
Duck leg terrine, popcorn pudding, kalamansi, lovage
Lamb loin, black garlic romesco, pickled ramps, dried soybean
Vanilla ice cream, balsamic reduction, raspberry
Hazelnut tart, coconut, chocolate, chicory
Carmelized brioche, apricot, buttercream, lemon thyme
Cocoa packets. Chocolate shortbread, milk ice cream
Aloxe-Corton 1er Cru ‘Les Valozieres’ Chandon de Briailles 2006
The photos are obviously not from my iPhone. Since cell phones were not allowed, I decided to forgo taking pictures of every plate (12 in all). Here are a few images of what we ate from their website.
My mother and I did the tasting menu but stuck with a single bottle of Aloxe-Corton (all bottles are half-off when ordering the tasting menu). The wine pairing is $75 per person, and though I’m sure we would have gotten our money’s worth, I think 5-6 glasses would have put us squarely into booze-hound territory. We’re classy, alright.
I don’t really know where to start. Yes, the portions are comically small. Let me just get that out of the way. It’s hard to tell from these photos, but if you held a quarter in front of the “bagel” it would disappear from view. I’ve put bagel in quotation marks because, duh, it’s made of ice cream! This was of course my expectation for everything, and that was largely fulfilled.
To back up a bit, my mother and I regularly (and much to the disdain of our family) discuss our foodie outings many months in advance of her trips. WD-50 (not to be confused with the all-purpose cleaner…I think) was my suggestion, and I insisted we do the tasting menu. J took me for my 24th birthday, but we ordered off of the ala carte menu, despite the waiter’s suggestion that if we wanted the “real Wiley Dufresne experience” we should do the tasting. As is the norm everyone at the table has to participate in the tasting if one person decides to do it. In short, I had high expectations going into this meal.
I took advantage of arriving early to scour the wine menu, since I knew we’d be paying half price. Call me a snob, but when I’m shucking over some serious bucks I invariably go for what I know, and what I know is Burgundy. I chose an Aloxe-Corton for three reasons: nostalgia, it was in that not-quite-cheapest yet still respectable price range, and because my mother doesn’t drink white wine. Knowing the tasting menu’s usual wine pairings tended toward the whites for the initial dishes, I was a little apprehensive about this bottle. Like I said, though, my mother doesn’t drink whites. (If you cannot already imagine my eyes rolling back and forth, let me spell it out for you – WHO DOES THAT?) When I ordered the wine the waiter made some kind of remark like it was the perfect choice or some shit. Right. Still, it was probably the best I could do, given that we didn’t want to be boozed out of our mind. Anyway, back to the food.
Certainly, there were memorable dishes, but with twelve in all I think it’s neither fair nor believable to say I had one favorite. To WD-50’s credit, they quote the tasting as being comprised of eleven courses, but I’m counting the coco envelopes since they were 1) edible and 2) hardly any smaller than the other eleven courses! Some of the standouts from the meal include the scrambled egg (which Wiley is known for), the foie gras (because come on), the cold fried chicken with accompanying veggies, and the ice cream (the desert, not the aforementioned “bagel”).
As self-proclaimed tasting menu novices, neither my mother nor I were very comfortable with degustasing our way through the food right away, but it became clear that discussing and understanding what you are eating while you’re eating it is essential to this restaurant’s experience. You see, though each dish is reminiscent of and/or derived from some sort of regionally conventional meal, the preparations are obviously experimental and abstract.
The cold fried chicken is maybe the clearest example; its flavors were exactlythat of leftover Bojangles (cold thighs, biscuity crust, honey/tobasco sauce, and hash browns) yet with clearly none of the same methods of cooking used. It took us several bites to put it together. “Why is this so familiar on one hand, yet so challenging on the other?” The hash browns were tiny granules of sand. Now imagine the rest of the plate. The “fried” part of the chicken thighs seemed more of a biscuit, though I’m sure it was actually made out of moon rocks or something.
My own difficulty in explaining the combination of flavors, textures, and appearances is exactly the point: each dish was a discovery on multiple fronts. The foie gras, for example, was filled with a poof of passion fruit (which, aside from my overarching discussion of degustation in this review, is an amazingly perfect combination of flavors). Some of the other dishes were presented in more familiar yet still abstract ways. The duck leg terrine was presented exactly in the appearance of a bland slice of boiled and factory-cut deli ham, yet it was of course nothing like that. Oh, and there was popcorn pudding underneath. That too.
Some of my less favorite dishes include the perch (putting grapes in olive juice and scattering them with raw cocoa isn’t cute, dude) and striped bass (it was a nice amuse bouche but didn’t really take me anywhere special). Also, Wiley is apparently a huge fan of powderizing everything. Granted, you come here to eat pancakes made out of egg shells and cucumbers-shaped meatloaf or what have you, but after a while I just couldn’t help but think to myself, “does every dish need a crunchy powder component?” Really. It felt like every time we couldn’t find one of the ingredients, it was invariably because it was disguised as a powder accenting the rest of the dish. “Raspberries, I don’t see any raspberries,” you mutter to yourself. That’s because they come in the form of a bloody cloudy mess hiding under your vanilla ice cream. Imagine Crunch Berries smashed into a bowl, decked out with a balsamic-injected disc of ice cream. Well, to be fair, the ice cream was amazing. To be perfectly honest I don’t really have any major complaints about WD-50, and of course after tasting any of said powders you’d instantly know what it was – or at least what you were supposed to think it was. In other words, it felt strange enough to point out, but ultimately the powders weren’t off-putting.
The staff couldn’t have been more attentive. Just as you would hope, they explain everything as it comes out, albeit with varying and often inaudible accents. One, who seemed to be our point person, stuck around a few times to explain in greater detail when we had a question. All the while, Wiley was manning kitchen, which is somewhat open and in plain view at the back of the house.
I will probably not visit WD-50 again for a while – not because it was anything but memorable, but rather for the reason I love New York: there are so many other menus to try. It’s a rough life.