Two CHOW editors on a caloric extravaganza exploring innovation, novelty, and deliciousness. rss
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Getting Educated at WD-50

Wylie Dufresne has often been called a molecular gastronomist, and has just as often objected to the term. When I spoke to him on the phone the other day, he said he saw himself and his Lower East Side restaurant, WD-50, as being kind of like a cooking research facility. "Continuing the education about learning about food" was how he put it, for the benefit of chefs everywhere, "even the red sauce guy on the corner."

So what does that mean exactly? Well, it means, for one thing, that Dufresne (actually it was one of his sous-chefs) figured out how to make a less grainy version of his shrimp noodles, which are extruded spaghetti shapes made of shrimp, shrimp oil, salt, and meat glue, a.k.a. the enzyme transglutaminase.

We tried the shrimp noodles (shown at top), and they were indeed silky and supple, topped with chopped tomatoes and whole shrimp. I had a strange feeling when I was eating them, though, that this dish was more a conceptual art piece than culinary achievement. I say that because the dish tasted pretty much exactly like what a good (if slightly undersalted) normal pasta with shrimp would taste like and feel like in your mouth, just arrived at in a far more arduous fashion. Kind of like painstakingly fashioning a naturalistic rock from pulverized rock dust.

Crab roll

A tomatillo-pine gazpacho was, from both our perspectives, inedible. It had some delicious tiny soy bean falafel balls in it, but the soup's greenish body was bitter and strange tasting. It recalled an experience I had with a dish here years ago: a banana consommé that was part of a savory entrée that, again, just tasted flat-out weird.

Our favorite dish, taste-wise, was a crab roll, cut into bite-size pieces like sushi, wrapped with a sweet, bready wrapper we couldn't quite place. We asked our server, and he said with a smile, "It's a hot dog bun that's been run through a pasta press." A lobster roll/crab roll reinterpreted, but not too much—clever.

A visit to WD-50 does feel a little like visiting a school: There's an element of "this is an ongoing exploration of trying to find the edge" to it, and a thrill of getting to take part in a work in progress. Some of it tests out, some of it doesn’t. But it's never not interesting.