What do you get when you combine science, magic, and food?
No, it’s not David Blaine trapped in a beaker glass filled with prosciutto, although that would be amazing.
Instead, it’s wd~50, the literal brain child of grastronomic savant, Wylie Dufresne ,who you may know from such shows as Top Chef, Top Chef Masters, and the all-popular, Iron Chef America in which he battled the Croc-wearing Mario Batali and sadly lost (even with his photo-printed sushi platter). Wylie is best known for his use of innovative techniques and ingredients that transform even the simplest ingredient, like a basil leaf, into something special, like a basil firework. (Side note: “basil firework” is not a real item on the wd~50 menu, but many of the dishes that appear on said list are akin to this fantastical creation).
The amount of prep work that goes into creating the wd~50 dishes is enormous and usually occurs days before service, not just a few hours ahead of time. So when I called at 5pm, the day of my reservation, immediately after I had found there was an opening, I received a bit of hesitation from the other end of the phone.
“Before I can promise anything,” the host’s voice said, “let me check with the chef.”
And with that, I thought that this magic show may have to get cancelled. But a few moments later, after I convinced myself that just sitting in the presence of Mr. Dufresne would be satisfying enough, the host’s voice returned to the receiver and assured me that tonight, I would eat.
“We can’t do something from the menu,” he said, “but we’ll be sure to have something special prepared.” And when he said “special,” he meant it.
With the rest of my dining companions, I oohed and awed over the menu. But little did I know my meal had already been decided: three courses, exquisitely prepared, with the same use of innovation and attention to detail as the regular, salted food.
There was shiso leaves, kanpachi belly, and edible flours
Iberico pork neck and peach-butter sauce
Chewy lychee sorbet and olive oil foam.
Nothing was lacking from my food. Except the salt.
It is amazing that I was actually able to consume it all as my mouth was gaping, wide open, the whole time in amazement. And I realized that evening that, in all seven years of my low sodium eating, I had never eaten food that I could actually smell coming from the kitchen. Sure, plenty of the meals I eat have flavor. But it is usually subtle – gentle hints of citrus, butter, and herb. But the wd~50 plates had taken that subtlety and ratcheted up a few thousand notches to the point that the olfactory waves came crashing through the restaurant, wafting their way to my nose before anything ever hit my lips.
Clearly, by the end of the meal, I was not only full but effusively thanking the waiter for all of his help, exclaiming my exclamations that this was one of the most enjoyable meals that I had ever had. And as if the night couldn’t get better, the waiter asked if I’d like to go back to the kitchen and thank the chef myself. And not just any chef. The Wylie Dufresne chef. The man himself, who had been singularly preparing my meals all night.
I. Was. In. Food. Heaven.
I whisked myself to the back (no need to be escorted) where I met the wizard, WD, sous chef Jon, and pastry ninja Alex. They could not have been sweeter (or more talented or more adorable). The kitchen was immaculate and no, there were not any magic wands or blow torches in sight. But even without witnessing the true tools of their labor, it was an evening of the unexpected and the amazing and I cannot wait to return.
The next morning, we decided to cap off the NYC trip with a jaunt to Harold Dieterle’s Perilla for brunch.
The menu is very creative (fried, poached egg and grits, anyone?) and since all the ingredients are sourced locally, they were able to whip up a fluffy, low sodium omelette for me, filled with mushrooms, tomatoes, and tatsoi greens (an Asian vegetable that kind of tastes like bok choy but has an even more bad ass name). Light, fresh, and salt-free, it was the perfect meal to end a week of amazing culinary delights.
I’ve never dined so exotically or freely while traveling and my experience in the Big A just goes to show you that once you know how to pick restaurants and, most importantly, how to order, you have the bounty of good food at your fingertips (and top chefs at our beck and call).
So happy weekend and happy eating to you all. Remember to be grateful, be full, and always chow on.