Monday, June 17, 2013


I took it on the directive of Wylie's old pastry chef from WD-50 (who is hardly old) to hit up Dufresne's new gastronomic destination, Alder.  A seasonal new American retains his hallmark quirk at a slightly gentler price point and notably casual-er atmosphere.  He also keeps things a little dark, though while Alder is substantially brighter inside than WD-50, it still touts a shadowy dimness.  The ceiling is crossed my long rustic planks, that also serve as acoustic buffers, keeping the noise level in tune with the lighting.  Menus are rubber-banded across rectangular wooden boards (made of alder, I'm sure), so there's rubberized theme reoccurring throughout the space: the forgiving texture of the tabletops and the bands around the water bottles labeling it NY tap.  Wood and rubber, Wylie-style.
The cocktail list is in the hands of Dufresne vet , Chaim Dauermann, and though the drinks are NY priced, they are much more generous than your average city tipple.  So much so that that some are offered as "shorts"- 1/2 mugfuls that encourage sampling.  All have painfully punny names, but the drinks are tasty enough to anesthetize any residual angst.  Our Hey Rube was a locavore tweak on a Pimm's cup featuring rhubarb for an aqueous and hydrating refresher.

There are a trio of bites kicking off the menu that are on the small side, but the rest of them are recommended to share, so we were pushing excess in ordering four.  But it's hard not to want to try a lot of everything on the menu.  And not to toot my own horn, but we put them down quite valiantly.  Thanks to a complimentary little appetite-sparker sent out from the kitchen, a fresh, pickled giardiniera whet my appetite and illustrated the careful balance between tradition and novelty that would prevail throughout the evening.  Our first dish was a

gorgeous grilled asparagus, chopped into bite size bits and nestled into a creamy, gently cooked huevos revueltos  studded with dense flakes of pale smoked trout.  The charred spears and the smoke from the fish dazzled against the mild creaminess of the eggs, dusted with a salty crunch that tasted of bacon and inoculated with a rich brown butter .  My first thought after licking the bowl clean was to wonder how often they will change the menu here:  I would return eagerly just for this dish.  That said, I wouldn't necessarily order the Grilled Octopus again.  I was hoping for a lot more char from it, instead the tartly flavored tentacles, tender as they were, seemed more steamed or braised, although this showcased well the watercress salad with its thick smear of deliciously nutty cashew pesto.

Now I forget which, but recently some food publication noted that cauliflower is the new brussels sprouts, stealing some of the thunder from my favorite and now ubiquitous crucifer.  Dufresne's serves his T-bone Style, steak knife included.  Or maybe more like chicken fried steak-style: the menu describes the partially dismantled head as fried, although its tenderness belies that.  Served with a thick, lemon-almond puree flecked with crunchy bits of cocoa nibs, with curling shards of lardo that melted into the extreme heat of the florets.  This is as main-course as a vegetable can get.  I mean, it's not even close to vegetarian.  That said,  little on the menu is.  On this visit, a vegetarian would be relegated to a beet salad and some pub cheese... so they'd better not be lactose intolerant.  But this was of no hinderance to me or mine.  

Our final course was a quartet of bronzed scallops, golden crisp and softly translucent within, tumbled with  fried mini-hushpuppies I wished had tasted more strongly of corn, tasty though they were with crunchy crusts and dense smooth centers that mimickeding the scallops.  Sauteed leaves of fresh swiss chard kissed with kimchee keep things kicky without going too Korean.  Tiny tufts of delfino decorate the medallions, a rare enough relative of cilantro that tastes a bit of parsley and chervil.  

    Those rubber-banded menu planks didn't list dessert, which were instead rattled off by our accented server, making it hard to figure out exactly what was being offered- let alone at what price.  I know there was a cheesecakey something with cherries, and vanilla ice cream with chili oil (I'll let some other blogger tackle that one).  Ah yes- the root beer pudding... that was tempting.  But with full enough tummies, Alder's sweet side will have to be assessed at a later date.  Hopefully, they'll still have that asparagus around when I go back.

No comments:

Post a Comment