While I would usually sum up a few restaurants in one entry, some restaurants aren't the, "Ooh, just gonna shove it in with the others like a miss-shelved grocery item that I'm too lazy to put in the right place," type of restaurants. Sometimes they're the, "OMG, THIS IS AWESOME AWESOME AWESOME I NEED A LARGER VOCABULARY" type of restaurant.
On Thursday night, Kathy and I roamed around the Lower East Side in search of dessert after eating dinner at Pearl Oyster Bar. (Trust me, we're well aware of our gluttony. But ye know what? We're on spring break! We may not be spending our time in the most beneficial way, but we're not partying and downing Jell-O shots either. I don't have a "Jell-O shot radar", but I feel like somewhere in the world, someone is doing that right now.) Kathy wanted to try Sugar Sweet Sunshine, but alas when we peered through the glass door at 10PM, we were met with a big CLOSED sign and an employee shaking our head at us. The cake denied us. [sob]
Dammit. Now what? We walked around the area, sniffing out menus like airport security dogs (you know, if they sniffed menus and not horrible things like...illegal fruit). Desserts at Schiller's looked promising, but 1) the place was freakishly crowded and 2) the desserts only appeared on the prix fixe kid's menu. Do you have to be 10 to eat the desserts? I have the brain of a 10 year old, if that counts.
Oh well. We walked around some more.
Helloooo, wd-50! We looked at the menu in the window. Tempting, but it lacked the prix fixe choices that we knew existed.
"Should we go inside to look at the menu?" suggested Kathy.
I followed Kathy through the heavy (or air-pressured) wooden door.
For some reason, I thought it would be smaller. The dining room is large, although not scary, Olive Garden large. Just larger than other restaurants I've been to. The hostess showed us a menu and it took us about 5 seconds to decide that we both wanted the $35 5-course dessert tasting menu.
Great Gluttonous minds think alike.
At around 10 PM, we only had a short wait before we were seated. Hooray for spontaneity and lack of reservations! We happened to be seated next to two majorly food-minded women from California who had eaten lunch at Fatty Crab and had spent the past few hours at wd-50 indulging in the tasting menu. The next day, they were planning to eat at Cookshop. Whoa. That's one way to get the bang out of your vacation. If you're wondering, we didn't invade their minds with our non-existent mind reading powers; Kathy is uber-friendly and happened to strike up a conversation with them. They graciously offered us tastes of their end-of-the-meal ginger cotton candy.
"Holycrapthisisgood," I thought as the fluffy sugar melted into...well, less fluffy sugar. Saliva will do that, ye know. Sweetness and ginger smooshed throughout my mouth. Saliva will do that too. I was damn happy. It was a smidgen of what was to come in the next two hours, akin to the sauce smears on the five dessert plates of a gazillion flavors we would receive throughout the night.
Our first course was celery sorbet, peanut powder, and "magic" raisins that we decided to call magical because we couldn't remember what the exact description was. (The waiter would describe each dish to us, but we'd forget 99% of it in 5 seconds. Damn.) The first bite (you know, after taking 10 photos and picking the one that sucked the least) went somethin' like this:
"THIS IS SO GOOD."
That wasn't exactly what we said, but it's close. And if you ever wondered, yes, it's possible to speak in caps.
Celery sorbet is awesome. Obviously, it tastes like celery, which isn't something you'd associate with desserts. So why it is awesome? Well...have you ever had celery sorbet? It didn't make the cut at Baskin Robbins, but it's damn good. It tastes light, refreshing, and I daresay, almost cleansing. I would have liked it if the peanut powder had a stronger flavor (or maybe my taste buds were celery-ified), but it went nicely with the celery. The dessert was like ants on a log (which seriously do not look like ants on a log unless the log is radioactive and covered in poo and the ants mutated into legless, wrinkled, gelatinous chunks), but more labor intensive and with less insoluble fiber.
Our second course was manchego cheesecake in a crushed graham cracker coating topped with pineapple foam with a manchego cracker accompanied by thyme sauce and chopped quince. That sentence probably isn't grammatically correct, but you get the idea.
Of course, cheesecake at wd-50 is not regular cheesecake. It takes basic parts of a cheesecake and condenses them into this little block of joy. I don't recall that the cheesecake was strongly flavored with manchego (a Spanish sheep's milk cheese), but the cracker was very cheesy. Also, as a testament to my inability to identify flavors, while eating the foam all I could think of was, "This tastes so familiar! I DO NOT KNOW WHAT IT IS. Jesus doesn't love me." I only realized it was pineapple when I looked over the menu; it's so obviously pineapple when you eat it that I really deserve to die. Now.
Still alive. Phew.
Is it weird if the thyme sauce was my favorite part of the dessert? It's not as though the other parts were sub-par, but the thyme sauce happened to latch onto my taste buds more forcefully than the other parts of the dessert in a totally unexpected way. First off, who would expect thyme sauce with cheesecake? And who would think that they would go together so tastily? NOT I. I'm not even a big fan of thyme--the aroma of it tends to punch my brain in a way it doesn't like to be punched--but this sauce! THIS SAUCE. Like all the desserts, a little taste is all you need to be satisfied.
The third course was mustard ice cream on braised pineapple topped with a pinapple tuille and coconut foam with mustard sauce. [takes a breath] The mustard ice cream whacked my throat and made it tingly. Crap. And then, since I'm a masochist, I took another spoonful and endured another whack. It was less painful than eating straight mustard sauce, but...man, this was really mustardy. Although it was tasty, I wouldn't be dying to eat again. In my opinion, the strength of the mustard flavor drowned out any coconut taste in the foam. Actually, the mustard drown out everything else, except for the mustard sauce (or maybe it drowned that out too; it's mustard2!). Don't get me wrong; I enjoyed the dessert, I just found it overly mustardy.
For some reason, I don't remember what the ice cream was, but here's my description: (maybe) brown butter ice cream with French toast, raisin paper, raisin sauce and (maybe) brown sugar gelee.
Ohhh, French-ified toast is the best kind of toast. (If you disagree, just keep quiet or else I will silently curse you with a lifetime of crappy toast.) Part of the joy of French toast for me is when it comes in the form of a big, fluffy stack, but of course, there was no such thing here. Instead, we got bite-sized, crispy, creamy-innards French toast brick. Naturally, it was awesome and unlike any other French toast I've had, but nothing that would fulfill my craving for a French toast tower. (Not that wd-50 is supposed to fulfill any craving. Just sayin'.)
Kathy said that the ice cream was brown butter flavor. As you know, my tastebuds tend to be in the "off" position, thus I couldn't really tell what this was. Brown sugar? Butter? Brown? Tastes like brown? Well. It tasted good, whatever it was. Sorry for the vagueness, but...come on, everything tastes good and I back it up 10000%.
Once again, I feel in love with the sauce. It's just raisin! IN FRIGGIN' SAUCE FORM! And that raisin paper...whoa, what? Dehydrated to the max! I accidentally dropped it after picking it up (because as magical as this food is, it does not possess the power of levitation...yet) and it shattered. Wayward shards of ultra-thin raisin paper, oh no! SAVE THE CHILDREN! I mean. I was just surprised. ...I'm weird, okay? Raisins paper is tasty and a little odd, like everything else we ate. (rubs belly)
Oh crap, it's THE LAST COURSE. NO! SHIT! NO! However, I think they saved the best for last: mole toffee-topped butternut squash sorbet with pumpkin seed cake on top of chocolate soil and toasted squash seeds with butternut squash sauce and mole sauce.
Butternut squash is majorly overlooked as an awesome sorbet flavor. FOOLS. ALL OF THEM. ...I DON'T KNOW WHO "THEY" ARE, BUT THEY ARE FOOLS. While I like ice cream more than sorbet, that's because sorbet tends to taste icier, or at least less creamy. I like the texture of ice cream more than sorbet, but all the sorbets and ice creams at wd-50 were velvety smooth and creamy. This was my favorite, with celery coming in at a very close second. And the soil? THE SOIL? WHY WAS THE SOIL SO TASTY? It had a slight salty flavor and was somehow just very...good. And the seeds? THEY'RE JUST SEEDS! But perfectly toasted so that they popped in your mouth, thus unleashing the powerful fumes of unborn squash embryo. Delicious.
Once again, the sauce. Yes, the sauce...was awesome. Just licking the mole-sauce dipped tines of my fork made my throat tingle in a less pain-inducing way than the mustard imparted onto my mucus membranes. This stuff was strong. And excellent. I know "excellent" tells you nothing, especially coming from someone who only had mole sauce once before in her life, but...whatever. Don't you trust me?
My new dream sundae would consist of butternut squash sorbet topped with chocolate soil, toasted squash embryo and drizzled with mole sauce. I wonder if they'd fulfill a request like that. It'd probably cost $50.
Oh my god; it's over!
...NO WAIT! It's not over.
We received an end-of-the-sugary-meal bowl of "looks like an exploded fluff ball" ginger cotton candy. More sugar? Hell yes! Imagine cotton candy. Imagine fresh ginger. Combine the two, and this is what you get. I don't think I need to describe what cotton candy tastes like; if you've never tried it, that kinda sucks. Find some! ...At your local carnival!
Come to think of it, there aren't a lot of instances when you would actually eat cotton candy. It's a childhood food for me; I've seen cotton candy vendors on the street, but no part of me wants it as much as I would have when I was 10. However, fancy it up in a nice bowl and flavor it with ginger and I'll be all over it like...I dunno, something that really likes ginger. Your mom.
...I need better similes.
If you eat the normal food (you know, not completely sugar-based), you receive a little bowl of chocolate-covered curry-dusted almonds. Although we only ordered desserts, Kathy really wanted to try them (and of course, I did too) so she asked if we could have a bowl. As you can see, they granted our request. Just the right amount of chocolate and curry powder, if that means anything. Which it doesn't. BUT THERE YOU GO.
Since Kathy is 10000 times more passionate about food than I am (seriously; she's going to culinary school after she graduates, while I'm going to sit in front of my computer and ensure that my butt molds to the shape of my chair), she asked if we could meet the pastry chef, Sam Mason (whoa, he has a website!). And so we did. Photographic evidence is in my flickr stream; I'd rather leave it there than post my sweaty visage here.
He was really nice, although probably dead-tired since it was the end of the night, and possibly thought we were freaks, but it was great to actually see the person (or people rather, as one of his sous-chefs was there too) who made our desserts. We stood in the kitchen for a while to watch him plate desserts; I felt like my presence was a contamination hazard.
I'm thankful that Kathy had the guts to ask to meeting the chef because I'd never do such a thing. The only comparison I can make is that...it's like meeting a musician I really admire (music and food are my biggest interests). It's nearly impossible for me, unless I really want to do it. For reasons I don't know, I have an intense fear of bothering people, which goes beyond meeting famous people; I don't even like talking to regular people. I mean. ...I love my friends, but it's nearly impossible for me to make new friendships just on my own will. This food blog has unintentionally resulted in gaining many friends who like to eat. Aside from my increasing girth, I'm really lucky.
If I ever wonder if I can become a writer, all I have to do is read real writing. The answer is NO. Here's a snippet from Fader about Sam Mason that describes his desserts infinitely better than I ever could:
Although it's not our favorite taste Mason has created, the cubes are representative of Mason's style--familiar flavors are matched in odd pairings and in odd forms and textures. You've had saffron before and you've had passion fruit before, but you've probably never had them together and you've certainly never had them explode in your mouth out of a tiny gelatinous cube. It's food totally decontextualized, as though a familiar bite has been seized from the tip of your tongue, taken to a lab where its taste has been perfected and repackaged, and then placed back in your mouth. Familiar tastes no longer conjure their familiar associations and you can practically feel your brain trying to figure out how to process them. The effect is simultaneously exciting and shocking--a little bit like forgetting the name of your life-long partner in the middle of making love.
Yeah. Well, I don't know about the last sentence, but...yeah. Maybe that's why I couldn't recognize the pineapple flavor in the foam; I was too shocked and excited!
...Nah, I think I was just stupid.
Wow, did you read this whole thing? I'm impressed! (I bet you're really bored.) I'm also mega tired and have to do my laundry into the wee hours of the morning, so here's a summation of my wd-50 experience:
It was awesome and I want to do it again. Now. I mean, soon. I've never had any food like this before (well, not five courses of it), so I have nothing to compare it to, but I have a feeling that every other comparable eating experience is just going to suck from now on. Also, since I love desserts I doubt that wd-50's normal food would make me anywhere nearly as happy. And happy, I was. The joy I got out of the dining experience exceeded some of my happiest post-concert highs. My god...has food become that important to me? To exceed post-concert high? CRAP! What will Radiohead concerts mean to me now?
The service was excellent. I think we had maybe four different waiters who were all nice, and not in an scary, overly-smiley way, but in a warm, comfortable way. Although the restaurant could have been pretentious, it didn't feel like that at all. It was just awesome and at no point felt uncomfortable. After Kathy and I left, two different waiters came out in succession with my shopping bag and camera that I had left under the table (if you haven't figured it out yet, yes, I am a moron); I felt so bad!
...I should've tipped them more. You know, my predicting my stupidity of leaving half of my belongings under the table.
In the nerdtastic words of Allen, I less than three wd-50. Eating there with Kathy, who got as much (or more) joy out of the experience as I did, made our 2-hour dessert one of the happiest eating experiences I've ever had. After it was over all I could think about was "Man that was awesome why was that awesome can't think straight I am really happy okay I gotta blog it now" (which is why I blogged about it...three days later). Obviously I can't say anything about the non-dessert food, but if you like desserts, I'd say this is a must-visit in NYC. And if you don't like dessert, curse you and your toast.