Thursday, December 30, 2010

Happy New Year Michelin Countdown: 1 (food)

This WD-50 meal took place in early November, but I didn't get around to writing about it till now what with everything that's been going on and the Hong Kong trip. One of the other reasons I'd been slacking off on writing this review was that there were too many dishes to go over. We went a little overboard with our ordering. The usual tasting menu consists of 12 courses including amuse and desserts for $140, but for some reason we decided we wanted more and extended the tasting menu to 16 courses, at about $12 per extra course.

Dinner begins with sesame flatbread being brought to the table. Crispy, airy, light, and tasty, these flatbread were so addictive we asked for and finished off a second serving of them.

RAZOR CLAMS, PEAR, MUSTARD GREENS, PICKLED BEAN SPROUTS was my amuse. A good mix of textures and the refreshing pear and pickled sprouts worked well with the earthy mustard green soup.

I had previously discussed my friend's dietary restrictions with the front of house, and they were very accomodative about the whole thing. In fact, I was emailed our menus one day ahead of time to ensure that everything would go smoothly. My friend's vegetarian amuse was CARROT INFUSED TOFU WITH HIBISCUS SAUCE.

EVERYTHING BAGEL, SMOKED SALMON THREADS, CRISPY CREAM CHEESE. WD-50 and its head chef Wylie Dufresne are well known for using new and scientific techniques to prepare and present their dishes. Here is his whimsical side at work with an everything bagel that was in fact ice cream that looked and tasted like an everything bagel, along with dried threads of smoked salmon and a cream cheese tuile. The flavors were familiar, but the new textures and temperatures created another level of enjoyment.

CHEESE AND BROCCOLI SOUP WITH PICKLED ONIONS. My friend absolutely loved this soup, although he wished there was more of it.

FOIE GRAS, PASSIONFRUIT, CHINESE CELERY. This beautiful looking dish had strands of chinese celery and a play on a celery financier underneath. But where's the passionfruit?

There it is, hiding inside the puck of foie gras. The textures and presentation were great, but I found the passionfruit way too tart and overpowering.

SCRAMBLED EGG RAVIOLI, CHARRED AVOCADO, KINDAI KAMPACHI. The collection on the left were fried potato bits. The egg ravioli itself was terrific, fluffy and creamy. But the real breakthrough was combining everything in one bite. The taste of the fish, the slight smokiness of the charred avocado, the egg, the creamy avocado, and the crunchy potato bits came together in a great mix of flavors and textures.

EGGS FLORENTINE. For his egg dish, my friend had a playful take on eggs florentine with crispy fried spinach, egg yolk, and fried hollandaise sauce coated in a muffin mixture. It looked fabulous and he confirmed that it was.

COLD FRIED CHICKEN, BUTTERMILK-RICOTTA, TABASCO, CAVIAR. This was our favorite dish of the night. A delightful take on leftovers, the cold fried chicken consisted of a delicious cold dark meat terrine, while the ricotta was the texture of wonderful mashed potatoes. I liked how the tabasco gave everything a nice kick, but the caviar did not assert itself.

BLACK BASS, CHORIZO, PINEAPPLE, POPCORN. The fish was cooked beautifully while the pineapple and chorizo combination was amazing. I didn't understand the popcorn puree though.

ARCTIC CHAR, SNOW PEA, FRIED YUCCA, CHERRY-BLACK BEAN. Because WD-50 is very much about the combination of tastes and textures, every single component of a dish matters. So even though my friend couldn't have only one component of my fish dish, they served him a completely different one. My friend was at first very skeptical about the cherry and fermented black bean sauce. After tasting the dish, he still didn't buy it. He said that everything else was good, but couldn't get around that sauce.

BEEF AND BEARNAISE. The chef's take on beef and bearnaise included bearnaise gnocchi over a beef consomme, topped with pea shoots with tarragon and caramelized shallot puree. I personally would have preferred a very strong beef stock instead of the consomme. The revelatory thing about this dish was the julienned pea shoots, which were thin and very crispy yet managed to retain all the vegetable flavor.

SQUAB BREAST, CHEESE PUMPKIN, CORN BREAD, PICKLED CRANBERRIES. Another play on a familar culinary theme, this dish featured many Thanksgiving components. There were more autumn flavors in the spices as well, with strong hints of cinnamon. The squab was cooked sous vide and came out beautifully.

VEAL BRISKET, FRIED RICOTTA, HONEY DEW, BLACK OLIVE. The brisket was slow cooked for a long time and came out beautifully tender and delicious. The olive taste was quite strong, but balanced by the ricotta and the honey dew.

WALLEYED PIKE, YEAST MASHED, ZUCCHINI, CURRY, NASTURTIUM. This was good but did not have as much of a wow factor as the other dishes. In fact, we found the fish pretty tasteless though we enjoyed the other things on the plate.

VENISON CHOP, FREEZE DRIED POLENTA, FENNEL, ASIAN PEAR. Another beautifully cooked piece of meat. The fennel and pear slaw was great.

WHITE BEER ICE CREAM, QUINCE, CARAMEL, CARAWAY. The white beer ice cream was nice and light, and a good palate cleanser following the venison.

RAINBOW SHERBET, APPLE, TARRAGON, ORANGE, OLIVE OIL. The desserts were so new and exciting at this point of a long meal that I jumped right in without taking a picture. This was a shame because this dish was quite pretty. The sherbet texture went well with the olive oil sponge.

SOFT CHOCOLATE, BEETS, LONG PEPPER, RICOTTA ICE CREAM. My friend remarked that the soft chocolate ganache reminded him of My-T Fine pudding from his childhood.

COFFEE ICE CREAM, PECAN, COCOA, ARGAN OIL. Honestly at this point I was full and unable to do any more than say that this tasted good. Not only do I not have a photo, I don't have any notes on this. Then again, I'm really not big on sweets to begin with which might be why I slacked off on this.

COCOA PACKETS, CHOCOLATE SHORTBREAD, MILK ICE CREAM. I remember really enjoying the chocolate ice cream ball, but thought the cocoa packet was more of a novelty than anything else.

So we went more than a little overboard, which was pretty evident by the end there. We were given a quick tour of the kitchen and said hi to chef Dufresne. He also remarked that we ate more than anyone else in the restaurant that night. I was also surprised at how small a space dessert chef Stupak needed to finish off his beautiful creations.

There was definitely a lot of creativity on offer, and not just for the sake of being flashy. There were definitely combinations that wowed us, but there were also dishes that didn't work out. My suggestion is to figure out which dishes work best for you, then order a la carte to make your own tasting menu. For example, I would order as many egg dishes as he has to offer.

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