I'm not one for 90s style stripes on plates with a tiny cluster of edibles that is supposed to be a meal. And that's what people think they are going to get when they go to WD-50, although a fantastic meal of decent proportions is what you actually get. And if you expect either one of these things, you will still think you have walked into the wrong place when you enter the dimly lit room in which a local interior design student has obviously experimented with. Picture a flashy bar in a small town ten years ago. That's the décor.
But forget it, that's not why you're here. We were there for my birthday a few weeks ago with my lovely, lovely neighbors Darren and Lizz. Michael and I had been to WD-50 a few years ago and had dinner in what they call their private dining cellar, which is really someone's genius stroke of getting people to pay way over the odds in the cold room where they store the wine and hang their coats. My only memory of that night was not of the food, but of a hirsute Frenchman removing all of his clothes and sitting at the table entirely naked. The waiters didn't bat an eyelid.
This dinner was basically a blank slate thanks to the former experience. We started with some fantastic cocktails – a strong rye cocktail, a pumpernickel stout cocktail, a pronounced beet cocktail. And then we ordered and shared the food, pairing with it with a fantastic Châteauneuf du Pape. I won't give you a blow-by-blow of every single dish like I did to everyone else in sight over the following week, but I will give you a synopsis. It was fantastic. In New York we are spoiled with good food all the time. We are over-promised, pampered, whiny children when it comes to good meals. I realize this when I go back to London and have to pay Gramercy Tavern prices for mediocre food. But this meal was fantastic even by New York standards.
My foie gras looked like it had been freeze-dried and smashed all over the plate. It was served with miniscule meringues, which gave the right amount of sweetness and a fantastic textural contrast. I just sighed heavily at my computer remembering it. The popcorn soup was the embodiment of all that is popcorn, without the crunch.
When Michael asked if he should get the scallops or the monkfish, the answer was the lamb. Which was so amazing it could have been entirely unadorned and would have still knocked us over. But Dufresne's take on ball field fare mixed barely cooked "noodles" made of strings of potato, crunchy mustard crumbs and a bold pretzel consommé. Wagyu beef with coconut cream and coffee gnocchi was stupendous and balanced, and a turbot with wafer thin cauliflower and barbecued lentils flawless. The pork belly with a mind-blowing caper emulsion led me to pick the pieces of fat off the plate that the waist-watching boys left. I know, but it was worth it.
I was a little surprised when Lizz suggested that we share dessert. I mean, she's a dessert fiend like I am. We shared a passionfruit tart with a crust so thin that I don't actually think it was pastry. Again adorned with tiny meringues, this time the soft Italian type. With this we also had the soft white chocolate, mainly because I wanted to try the white beer ice cream it came with. As with all the food there, I think the term "ice cream" was loose. To get such an intense beer flavor and not have the ice cream turn to ice...as an ice cream maker myself (well, I dabble), I just can't figure it out. The white chocolate was firm but not moussey, and snaked along the plate, adorned with crunchy nuggets of potato. Sorry, give me a moment...
Chicory-chocolate petits fours later, we staggered back home for a nightcap at our neighbors' house. In my drunken state I couldn't quite work out why they left the lights on. Or why there was a blond woman taking my picture? The place was full of my neighbors, a giant, amazing cake that Lizz had made (a dark chocolate cake with Cupcake Café's vanilla frosting) and a huge present. A massive, stainless steel kitchen island. An island for God's sake! It's now sitting proudly in my kitchen, lit from above. I'm one lucky, lucky Brit. And I love New York!
WD-50 is at 50 Clinton Street, New York, NY 10002