Two restaurants encapsulate two major trends of the past decade. Prune is a fine example of a greenmarket restaurant -- serving no-nonsense seasonal food from local markets. WD-50 is a temple of molecular gastronomy -- creative food as a science experiment, yet with post-modern playfulness.
Gabrielle Hamilton's Prune has a small, rough interior feels like stepping back to 1972. It doesn't hide the fact that it is a hippie restaurant in the East Village.
I started my lunch with a bowl of borscht, topped with dill and cucumber cream.
Borscht reminds me of my well-worn Moosewood Cookbook. It is quintessential hippie, vegetarian food.
But this borscht was something special. It was served cold, and had the texture of a puree. The essence of beets stood out, but was not monolithic. The cucumber and dill flavors added a green quality that balanced the earthiness of the beets.
I asked the waitress what she would recommend for the second course. "The burger." I started to protest that I had not walked all the way across Manhattan to try this restaurant and just have a burger. But then I thought about how long it had been since I had ordered a burger. I relented.
If Prune is about keeping it real, WD-50 is about keeping it surreal.
Plinio and an anonymous commenter recommended Wylie Dufresne's WD-50. I met up with my brother and ordered a 12-course tasting menu with wine pairings. Like Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow, it was the sort of food that I will never fully understand, but I am astounded by its brilliance.
Corn pebbles were balls of dry powder with essence-of-corn flavor. They were sweet. They were spicy. They were odd.
Bonito was served raw with mace, a thin chip of purple potato, and tiny granules consisting of brown butter and finely minced jalapeno. This dish made a lot of sense to me, but I couldn't stop wondering how the kitchen had turned brown butter into dry granules.