June 20, 2008

Whimsical Delights in the LES

Still reeling from the past weekend’s Bonnaroo festivities and the pseudo-disastrous return trip, Mary Beth and I arrived back in the Slope to face the mountain of work that had collected in our absence. Fortunately, we had a reservation at WD-50 for our 3rd wedding anniversary to act as an incentive to get through Tuesday and Wednesday.

During our honeymoon in Bermuda, we had an ultra-extravagant meal at the Newport Room, Bermuda’s only AAA Five Diamond restaurant located in the Fairmont Southampton. We had so much fun indulging in the tasting menu and wine pairing (scan the menu and link it here) that we made a pact to do something similar each year. Last year, having just finished Bill Buford’s Heat, we hit up the beyond-excessive pasta tasting menu and wine pairing (scan this menu and link it here) at Mario Batali’s Babbo. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to get reservations on the night of our anniversary but, as luck would have it, we sat next to Claire Danes who had (we realized later that night) just come from an appearance on the Letterman show.

This year featured a more accurate anniversary celebration with fewer celebrities…or I should say fewer celebrities who weren’t directly related to the restaurant. As we strolled up to the 50 Clinton Street location in the LES, I couldn’t help but appreciate the buildings non-descript brick-and-glass storefront. Only a small neon sign positioned in the lower left corner of the front window displaying the restaurants name in red script gives the random passerbyer any inkling as to what might lie within. Like the exterior, WD-50’s interior is unpretentious with the focus placed on the food; there are no doors to the kitchen, giving patrons a full view of the finishing station and, at least during our visit, Mr. Dufresne.

Dinner service at WD-50 starts at 6:00 so when we showed up 15 min early for our 6:30 reservation, the place was quiet. Being a special occasion, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to order a cocktail to start our meal, an interesting decision seeing as we were about to have 10 glasses of wine with our Wednesday meal. From the very start, our waiter – Jake – found the right balance of adding funny pleasantries to our conversation without being creepy or annoying. He attempted to guess our drink orders, nailing MB’s (pH – vodka with lychee, raspberry, and something?) and coming pretty close on mine (the Pumpernickle wasn’t too far off but the Sartorial – Oban, raisin infused bourbon, bitters and orange zest – was right up my alley).

With our menus never opened past the cocktails page, Jake didn’t need to be a psychic to know the chef would be making all of our decisions that evening. After a few pieces of the paper-thin sesame “bread” and a short wait (the staff was actually waiting for us to finish our cocktails. I felt a bit rushed at the beginning of the dinner but, after 3 hours or so at the table, I think they may have been trying to do us a favor.), the courses started coming. And damn, did they come. If you’ve never sat down to a 7+ course meal, it’s a daunting task. I’m not trying to say it’s not enjoyable. Just the opposite, in fact. I’m saying the desire to get as much joy as possible out of the meal (and the money you pay for the pleasure) can almost be overwhelming. Fortunately for MB and I, we’re not amateurs. At the same time, we’re not pros either as you’ll tell when my notes drop off after the 8th or 9th course. For a course-by-course review of our meal, click here.

By the end of our evening, we'd made friends with the first couple that sat next to us and "sold" the tasting menu to second. I'm not sure if it was the up-sell or if it was obvious that we were out for our anniversary but, either way, we had charmed Jake enough by the end of the meal that he took us to meet the chef. Mr. Dufresne was hard at work at the finishing table, taking care of several dessert orders (everything bagel ice cream?!) but he was quite cordial, as was the entire kitchen staff as we tried to avoid the staff as they moved from station to station. What a great end to an evening. Much better than the unnecessary special dessert plate or extra drink we've received at other tasting dinners.

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