Healthy Restaurant Eating

By The Restaurant Dieter

Tag: molecular gastronomy

Review: WD-50, New York City: Starvation by molecular gastronomy

Everything bagel with smoked salmon threads and crispy cream cheese
The Restaurant Dieter has been dreading this review. It will rain on his spouse’s parade. I hate harshing his mellow. Really.

The Restaurant Dieter’s spouse collects interesting and unusual restaurant experiences like a scout collects merit badges. If a restaurant has been featured on the New York page of Eater.com, it’s a must-do. Ditto for something on Food & Wine’s top restaurants list or the subject of a positive review in the New York Times or New York Magazine.

Two things motivated us to visit WD-50 on New York’s Lower East Side one recent Sunday night: Chef Wylie Dufresne‘s appearances on Bravo TV’s “Top Chef” and his renown as a chef who engages in “molecular gastronomy.”

Eggs Benedict

You’re probably familiar with the term if you’ve seen “Top Chef.” Its practitioners may be heavily gloved and wearing goggles, pouring a vat of smoking liquid nitrogen over something. Or they may be mixing up magic powders with food to create something that looks completely unlike food. The phrase “mad scientist” comes to mind. Molecular gastronomy makes use of substances such as transglutaminase (a protein binder called meat glue) and , for thicking, something called hydrocolloids. At Gastroarte in New York City, a deconstructed salad came to the table dusted with olive oil powder, which was likely created using something called maltodextrin.

What’s that they say about pre-packaged food? If the ingredients on the label don’t sound like food, you shouldn’t eat it! Tell that to the TRD Spouse.

My first brush with molecular gastronomy came on a visit to Chicago. The TRD Spouse had snagged a reservation for four at Alinea, a hilarious experience — er, meal —  that I recounted in a previous blog post.

When it comes to hilarity, WD-50 served up an 11-course chef’s tasting menu that didn’t disappoint.

There was a miniature “everything” bagel that was actually ice cream with the flavors of garlic, onion and poppy seed, accented by a smoked salmon powder. A duck breast Reuben arrived looking like a DNA strand. Eggs Benedict consisted of a jelled egg yolk, English muffin chips and two deep-fried balls of Hollandaise sauce. One of the dessert courses was a paper-thin slice of mango, filled with a sake caramel (!), dots of sheep’s milk and again in powdered form, cashew.

The duck “Reuben”

Because there’s little control over what you’re served, it’s rarely a good idea for a dieter to order the tasting menu. But the house rules almost always require all persons at the table to partake. They figure that it will be awkward if somebody has three normal-sized courses and sits there while a parade of small tastes proceeds.

And so, for the sake of domestic harmony, I complied. Knowing that the caloric intake would be unpredictable, the rest of the day I restricted myself to high-fiber, low fat proteins and vegetables.

The funny thing about a meal like this: Even with 11 courses, nothing really satisfies. Each bite plays sight and taste games, but that’s it. They’re clever, but nothing sticks.

After a meal like this, I’d say there’s a very real danger of stopping off for a hamburger. I was tempted.

Mango with sake caramel, sheep’s milk cashew

Review: Gastroarte (formerly Graffit), New York City

Not low in calorie, but beautiful to look at

Sometimes your worst enemies turn out to be your best friends. Chef-owner Jesus Nunez should have no remorse over the lawsuit from another NYC restaurateur that forced him to change the name from Graffit — no “i” — to Gastroarte. Both are allusions to something visual and perhaps playful, but the latter turns out to be the most accurate moniker.

That’s because the food is as beautiful as it is inventive. And because this is The Restaurant Dieter, you need to know that it’s only moderately low fat and healthy. I say moderately because while Nunez makes few concessions in the olive oil department, his well prepared dishes are modest in portion. As part of a dieter’s restrained day, Gastroarte is doable and quite enjoyable.
The restaurant has an array of tapas and small plates available in the front of the house at the bar. In the back there is a stripped down menu — just 15 items, including six entrees, three fish and three meat.
Amuse bouche 

Dinner began with an amuse bouche consisting of two parts. A small glass held three layers, apples and pears, a blood orange granita and sangria foam. It was excellent if a tad too sweet as an amuse bouche. The second part was a rectangle of kohlrabi the size of a postage stamp, topped with a lime gelee and arugula micro greens. What an inventive little bite. It was the second time recently when kohlrabi has been featured in a high-end dish. Kohlrabi seems an emerging restaurant trend.

The appetizer selection was my own missed opportunity. Not wanting another green salad or beet salad with goat cheese, I opted for a soup the server described as “like a gazpacho” with salt-cured-rock shrimp. Had I studied the menu more closely or asked questions better, I might have focused on those other two ingredients — boiled egg and Serrano ham.
Cold soup with rock shrimp, boiled egg, Serrano ham

What arrived was a velvety soup the color of a rosy peach, finished with bits of white that the server said were olive oil powder. It was beautiful to look at and wonderfully rich, likely thanks to the olive oil powder, boiled egg and Serrano ham. Not the hoped-for low fat gazpacho, but heavenly.

One wishes the server, asked about low fat offerings, had suggested the gazpacho off the tapas menu, which featured fresh and picked cucumber and salmon roe. It sounded healthier.
The wisest choice of all might have been that green salad, for The Restaurant Dieter’s spouse had a pile of fresh greens, sitting atop carpachio-sliced pear with quince and walnuts in a light balsamic dressing. A taste offered by TRD Spouse inspired intense buyer’s remorse.
Scallops with cauliflower and pear

The recommended low-fat main was pan-seared scallops with pear and cauliflower. It was an artful mosaic of discs and dollops: thumbnail-sized cauliflower florets of white and green, cauliflower puree in yellow, green and lavender, diced bits of pear and perfectly cooked oblong scallops. It had the sheen that suggested no fat was spared in its preparation.

Dessert offered a fresh fruit option, which is never refused. A champagne flute was layered with small chunks of fresh watermelon, a lime glee, dollops of coconut cream and topped with a strawberry foam. With the exception of the rich coconut, it was fairly light.
TRD Spouse enjoyed Gastroarte at its zenith. His black rice with calamari arrived in a perfect rectangle, looking like a Thumbelina-sized garden with a colorful array of plantings. His dessert was a swirling universe of orange and blood orange sauce, on which a group of fried chocolate ball planets orbited.
The latter was consumed so quickly I never got a photograph.
Welcome to the newly christened Gastroarte, where the food may not be low in calories, but it certainly is beautiful to look at.
Watermelon, lime gelee, coconut cream and strawberry foam