October 13 2011
Some gastronomic marriages are made in heaven: Stilton and port, roast beef and burgundy, foie gras and sauternes, Monster Munch and Tizer, to name but a few. Some foods, however, do not just refuse to marry well with wine, they won’t even go and see a movie with the stuff. Artichokes, chocolate, asparagus, anything in vinaigrette… all are notorious for their stubborn reluctance to hit it off with fermented grapes.
I was reminded of this during a superb meal at wd~50 (pictured), Wylie Dufresne’s avant-garde restaurant in New York’s Lower East Side. Dufresne is a clever and witty chef, as was obvious from the first dish I sampled, a droll reinvention of a smoked salmon and cream cheese bagel. Sesame-seed ice cream formed the bagel, with dust-like shavings of smoked salmon, cream cheese in a frozen tuile, red onion confit and tiny sorrel leaves filling in for a squeeze of lemon: intricate, amusing and thoroughly delicious.
In the wrong hands, new-wave kitchen technology can be oppressively perverse; in Dufresne’s hands, it can be revelatory. Aerated foie gras with beetroot, plum purée and coriander was a triumph, its texture like an Aero bar on a warm day, perfectly capturing the ethereal liver’s soul.
Then came a dish of sea bass with “forbidden rice”, a black rice that, apparently, only the Emperor was allowed to eat in Beijing’s Forbidden City. Served with artichokes. And white chocolate. It is the sort of dish that wakes a sommelier at 3am, soaked in sweat and screaming for mercy. A dish to make him shave off his mutton-chop whiskers, pawn his memorial tastevin from the Confrérie des Amis du Bouchon, and retrain as a plumber.
The sommelier at wd~50 is made of sterner stuff. I doubt whether any wine ever made could partner Dufresne’s sea bass dish perfectly, but a Treana Marsanne/Viognier from California’s Central Coast was a pretty good stab: rich, punchy at 14.5 per cent, peachy and oily. Not a wine with which it would be sensible to pick a fight; and the artichoke and chocolate didn’t.
The meal veered back to more classic territory with a sort of kebab of lamb skirt, paired with a thoroughly delicious, Syrah-rich Languedoc red. Braised endive lent a sweet bitterness to the dish; apricot purée a hint of tartness. Polenta-like chips made from pistachio flour added texture and a gentle nuttiness: it was a profoundly satisfying dish in every way.
Pudding was a deeply indulgent array of chocolate, banana and peanut; with a little black bean and soy sauce, just to keep things interesting. Sweet, fortified red wines – Maury, Banyuls or port, perhaps – are often touted as good matches for chocolate; on this occasion, however, reeling a little after more than a few glasses of excellent wine, I decided to stick to espresso. I am pleased to report it went very well with the chocolate.