Wylie Dufresne is an exceptional chef known for turning the ordinary into the extraordinary. After two past trips to his premiere restaurant WD 50, I got to visit his latest restaurant Alder. With a new restaurant Wylie had set quite a high bar for himself but at Alder he achieved riffs and twists on classic dishes with ease and brilliance.
The restaurant is dark and narrow. The ceiling treatment implementing reclaimed wood is interesting and makes the space feel even more cavernous. The atmosphere of Alder is very different from the lux décor of WD 50 that I actually don’t care for too much. Since the establishment is currently NYC’s hot spot we found standing room across from the bar that provided a barely there plank of wood to squeeze dishes and drinks onto.
Our first round of dishes at what was practically a hitching post consisted of Fois Gras, Jalapeño Poppers, and Crab Toasts The Fois Gras was served on a forbidden rice cracker with pineapple, almond, and arbol. Rather than a traditional heavy slice of rich fois gras on toasts, Wylie cleverly balanced the salty almonds and sweet pineapple with the velvety piece of fois gras on a dainty yet smoky rice cracker. The Jalapeño Peppers were stuffed with uni cream cheese and a trout roe yuzu sauce. The double “pop” created by the popper and the fish eggs was very successful texturally but the uni cream cheese and spicy jalapeño got muddled and lost their bold flavors that could have paired very nicely with each other. The final dish of Crab Toasts was a bit lackluster. The toasts had large chunks of cucumber that were nice and fresh but they completely overpowered the crab that was overly mixed and should have been left in large fishy, buttery chunks. The finished product tasted closer to an unseasoned tuna fish salad.
After moving to the bar where there was ample room, a friendly bartender who was attentive yet not overly chatty, our second flight of dishes represented Dufresne’s inventive and delicious aesthetic much better. To round out our meal we chose Scotch Quail Eggs, Veal Sweetbreads, Rye Pasta and Duck Breast. Dufresne is known for his love of eggs, so it is very important that you order whatever egg dish lies on his menu. The Scotch Quail Eggs were no exception to this rule. The pork sausage, ricotta and onion marmalade stuffed into the egg white then topped with the liquid yoke was truly exceptional alone and after being dragged through the dainty watercress spread. The Veal Sweetbreads can now take place as the second best preparation I have ever had. Served in a pseudo stew of braised chestnuts, pickled mushrooms and caramelized goat cheese the sweetbreads were perfectly seared and paired amazingly with the contrasting tastes and textures. The Rye Pasta was a true nod to Dufresne’s roots as a flavor magician. Taking a complete bite of the pasta and shaved pastrami transported you to Katz’s Deli instantly. Our last protein, the Duck Breast was also extremely well done with smoked yucca, pickled cippolini and chimichurri dashi. The duck was smoky and combined elements that made it seem like you were eating a refined duck tamale mixed with Peking duck.
We couldn’t leave without trying a final wacky Wylie dessert, so we chose to end with the Root Beer Pudding with smoked cashews. The little glass was essentially a root beer pot de crème that could even make someone who hated the taste of root beer relish in the seemingly licorice infused smooth pudding with a slight nutty crunch from the cashews.