Mike and I are huge fans of the restaurant WD-50 and really appreciate the amazing ingenuity of chef Wylie Dufresne. We have done the incredible tasting menu at WD-50 twice now, and it currently ranks as the #2 restaurant of all time on our list. So when Chef Wylie announced he was opening up a more casual (and more attainable) restaurant, Alder, we got excited. It was supposed to open earlier in March, and we made early plans to try to attend opening night, but a few delays had it opening the one weekend we were out of town (in Maine for pre-wedding errands). So we went today, a week and a day after opening night.
We heard there were long waits and long lines to get in, and no reservations. They are open Wednesday-Sunday starting at 6pm. While I am not a fan of lines, nor waiting, I got there around 5:30 and was already 4th on line. Within the next 20 minutes, the line was a few dozen long.
At 6pm, the doors flung open and in we went.
Unfortunately, Mike’s cab was stuck in traffic so while I was in early enough, they kindly informed me that they don’t sit incomplete tables (which I totally understand, especially with that line!) but that I could wait at the bar. I explored the cocktail list and quickly decided on the Dr. Dave’s ‘Scrip Pad, especially because of the smoked maple.
I really liked the uplight on the white wall throughout the restaurant, and it made an especially lovely ambiance at the bar with glass shelves.
They served some of New York City’s finest tap water (FYI: NYC has some of the best water in the country. True story.)
My drink had a rich, balanced flavor with just a hint of smoke. Very nice.
Mike wasn’t too far behind, but by that time the wait was 30 minutes. There we tables, but they didn’t want to overwhelm the kitchen, so they were staggering the tables. We were more than happy to have a cocktail and relax a bit before our meal. So Mike got himself an Applethy that had vodka, horseradish, and green apple. I hate both vodka and horseradish and I tasted this and instantly felt some burn… but then suddenly I got it. The sweet and the spicy. It was all somehow right. And what a beautiful cocktail.
We sat just as we finished our cocktails. The inside is small but somehow not packed. And it wasn’t at all noisy. The ceiling is made of some nice, rustic wood beams.
The waiter recommended 3 dishes per person, and informed us that the dishes go from lighter to heavier as you go down the menu. I also told them about my allergy to peppers, and our waiter helped us go through the menu and find things I could order. He asked Mike if he would like to try the homemade cauliflower/peppers mix that they put on the table. Mike opted to try it and said it was quite good. (I was impressed that they asked our preference!)
It was time for our second round of cocktails:
Zereshk Is History: gin, zereshk berry, grape-must, tonic
A nice balance of sweet with an adorable white birch straw
Shamrock Amigo: Irish whiskey, Mexican Fernet, Guinness Head
Creamy and really tasty
We started with the Fried Cauliflower with lemon-almond puree, lardo, and cocoa. This was really, really good. I always enjoy cauliflower, but this was different and really well paired. The additions didn’t take away from the cauliflower and it had so many layers of flavor.
We also tried the pub cheese (which seems to be getting a lot of press due to its purple hue) which had pistachio-fig brittle and Martin’s “potato chips.”
The cheese was nice (though we both agreed it was reminiscent of Laughing Cow cheese… which is never a bad thing) but it was out of this world when paired with the pistachio-fig brittle. A little bit of salty, a little bit of sweet.
We then tried the soft poached egg with sherry consommé, mushroom, celery, and tarragon oil. This was the most disappointing point of the meal, unfortunately. I love eggs, and we have been impressed by the egg dishes at WD-50 in the past, but this was just lackluster.
The egg was perfectly cooked though.
Then again, perhaps we didn’t enjoy the egg so much because it was on the table at the same time as the masterpiece that was the Chicken Liver Toast (with cornbread, grapefruit marmalade, and chicken skin). Holy whackamoley. This was insanely good. One of the best dishes I’ve ever had. The grapefruit marmalade on the bottom was with shallots, and the sweet with citrus with corn bread with delicious liver with the crispy chicken skin. Wow. Just WOW.
As we moved to our last two dishes, we tried the pork rib with saffron spaetzle, and green apple-celery root hash. The dish wasn’t what we were expecting. When I hear pork rib, I think a big slab o’ pig. This was more like a risotto of spaetzle with pieces of pork (which tasted like really good chunks of ham). It was tasty.
Our final dish was the Rye Pasta with shaved pastrami. This was like a pastrami and rye deli sandwich but made as a pasta. It was a really nice version of a classic dish we love, with great flavor and a classic mixture of ingredients.
We decided to go for dessert and I immediately decided on the Banoffee Tart which was listed with carmelized milk, sour cream, and banana nougatine. For me, this was a no-brainer. There were two other desserts, and one had peppers in it and the other was root beer (I hate root beer). This dessert was certainly a great combo of banana and toffee flavors. It also had a sliver of dark chocolate in it. The crust was a bit hard to cut through, but besides that, a very nice dessert.
But Mike ordered the Root Beer Pudding (which came with crunchy macadamia nuts on top). I instantly wrinkled my nose and my inner child said words like “ewww” and “yuck.”
Boy did I eat my words. This was a sensational dessert. Great creamy flavor with just a touch of root beer flavor (but not too root beer-y). The crispy, sweet, salty macadamia nuts on top were a fantastic flavor and texture contrast to the pudding. I was so impressed and so surprised by how much I enjoyed this dessert.
And not to be without a little extra quirk, our check came out in a cut mini mug that reminded me of drinking hot cocoa while camping.
At the end of our meal, Chef Wylie Dufresne was actually standing right behind us. He had popped in a few times during the meal and looked out at the house like he was kindly tending his flock. As we stood to leave, he immediately wished us well and said that he hoped we enjoyed our meal. We had a lovely exchange about with him about how much we loved that chicken liver and how we’re big fans of WD-50. He was humble and very appreciative of our compliments. I was kind of tickled (okay… full disclosure… totally excited) that we got to chat for a bit with Chef Wylie Dufresne!
While our meal at Alder was certainly a bit more reasonable than WD-50 (since that tasting menu is $225 each, so truly a special occasion type place). We got out of there spending about that amount but for both of us (including 2 rounds of good cocktails, 6 dishes, and 2 desserts). It’s not exactly a cheap meal, but it certainly is more casual and more within reach as compared to WD-50.
The food was really great, with that chicken liver being the stand-out. I would also have the cauliflower and rye pasta again in a heart beat, as well as that root beer dessert. I wouldn’t rush back to try the pork nor cheese dish a second time, and I certainly wouldn’t bother with the egg dish if I went back (when I go back!) But I would go back over and over and over and over for that liver. Mmmmm.
Total Nom Points: 8 out of 10