Thursday, January 27, 2011


I think I could make a habit out one truly decadent meal a year. Last year there was Chez Panisse; this year there's WD-50. In the haphazard way of the internet, I first read about the place from Nico Muhly's music blog, rather than Serious Eats or something like that (much like I've learned about books from Vanishing New York or musicals from Infrastructurist lately). This year, already overwhelmed by the material riches of Hanukkah (thanks for the bike, Mom and Dad!) I wanted a more intangible birthday gift so I suggested we go to WD-50...

Where we arrived yesterday at 6, the start of the evening. I have said it before about Chez Panisse and I'll say it here about WD-50: when you go to a fancy restaurant, you worry that they'll judge you. (My sister, half-joking, bowed out of this one, saying she thought she wasn't cool enough for them.) Luckily, just like the staff at Chez Panisse, the people at WD-50 are friendly and accommodating. The place itself is pretty laid-back and minimalist in decor--like a trendy diner, as my mom said. The bartender enticed us to have some water ("nice! ice-fresh! water!") while we waited for the table to be ready; the waitstaff described the components of our meals in a way that was informative and not at all condescending.

And what components they were! There are more technical words ("molecular gastronomy," anyone?) but I will just say here that everything at WD-50 looks like one thing but tastes like something else. Like my mom's appetizer of shrimp noodles, which look like noodles but are in fact composed of shrimp. Or the tasty dehydrated bayleaf cake that came with my dad's monkfish entree. And then there are the signature eggs--funny little dense delicious yolks, wisp-thin crispy Canadian bacon, and Hollandaise sauce in little crispy cubes which melt when you open them. My entree, pork loin, was somewhat less exciting to look at but still pretty tasty; I liked the paprika spaetzle and the crispy greens (I think they were chard) that visually resembled nothing so much as the little flags on cocktail toothpicks. My mom's cod was covered in nori, giving it a cryptic aspect; underneath lurked the cod and a delicious coconut peasoup type broth. It is the broths and sauces that really stood out; flavors that I wouldn't expect to love (celery mayonnaise!) were remarkable. Also worth noting is that the food was surprisingly filling; we'd joked about making a run to Katz's, but that was definitely unnecessary.

Food consumed, we were on to dessert, also a feast for the stomach and the eyes. My aerated coffee ice cream was dotted with two textures of chocolate, crunchy pecans, and argan oil foam (who knew?). I am not normally a grapefruit fan but my dad's grapefruit curd struck just the right texture and sour-sweet note. My mom's milk chocolate cream came with malted milk ball halves that were airy and flavorful like nothing you have ever tried. And, while we were working on all these riches, a waiter came up quietly bearing a lit candle. "You have to make a wish," he said, "so I can tell you what it is." I duly did, and then he explained that the top of the candleholder is made out of some kind of coconut sorbet--which tasted hot and cold and light all at the same time--the bottom, a mousse.

I appreciated the discretion as well as the deliciousness of the moment--if you've ever witnessed a cowbelling birthday at Cowgirl Hall of Fame, another delicious favorite restaurant of mine, you've probably grown a bit wary of spectacle. And all the service was discreet and courteous in this way, with several of the staff asking how we'd enjoyed our meal. At the end, one of the waiters came up at the end of the evening and complimented my boots (thanks for the replacement pair, C.--!). He asked if that day was my birthday and I explained it was actually on Monday. His was on Tuesday; we exchanged birthday wishes and then I went home, wafting on a wave of complimentary rice krispy treat (meringue ice cream coated in rice krispy--probably my favorite part of the whole meal).

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