Chef Wylie Dufresne, he of the innovative, Michelin-starred wd-50 on Clinton Street, is a good guy: amiable, grounded, a native New Yorker. The kind of person you wish was your buddy, and not just for his chops in the kitchen.
I once saw Chef Dufresne on the street, hauling an awkward load that included some sort of chair, and when a tourist stopped him to ask for directions, he did so easily, at length, and with a smile. So you believe Dufresne when he says he wants his latest venture Alder, just opened in the East Village, to be a neighborhood hangout, a low-key place where locals can drop by for a snack and a cocktail, or have a casual meal. "It's not meant to be a destination", he told the Times.
Get in Line to Try Dufresne's Alder
Sorry Chef. Not going to happen. Because while his often-experimental stylings at wd-50 are maybe not everyone's cup of tea (note: I had one of our all-time favorite meals there), Dufresne's fan base is, well, fanatic, and have been pouring in from all over everywhere to check out his take on "pub food" at Alder. In fact, the line outside Alder begins at around 5:30 for the initial 6:00 seating, and, so far, the place has been packed all night long. I made the pilgrimage to Alder last Saturday evening, arriving at around 5:20, scoring the third spot on line (there are only 56 seats here, including the bar, and the table-waits began at about 6:10), and settling in for a feast.
A Look at Chef Wylie Dufresne's New Menu
The prices at Alder start in the single digits and nothing goes north of $25, but the portions are smallish, so you'll probably need at least three if you want to feel really full. I ate four, which was plenty, but the meal wasn't what anyone would call "cheap". I would, however, call it "freaking awesome". Everything on the Alder menu sounds like something I'd like to eat, but since I had to start somewhere, it might as well be with the Stuffed Kumquats, five of the tiny sour fruits filled with bitter parsnip, sweet and spicy merguez sausage, topped with black sesame. I loved these. Pop one in your mouth and let the party begin.
Chef Dufresne's Dishes at Alder
Next up was the only semi-disappointment of the night, the New England clam chowder. It was good, but not special, and needed several spoonfuls of the lively, house-made salsa that accompanies every meal. The side of briney “oyster” crackers was a nice touch, though. The best thing I ate at Alder was probably the Foie Gras Terrine, the insanely rich meat surrounded by a poached apple and set atop a crunchy English muffin. Creamy chartreuse yogurt adds the final layer of flavor and texture. Finally, I gleefully dove into what is sure to become a signature dish here, the Rye Pasta, the redolent twists tossed with pickle-y green tomatoes, piled over thinly-sliced pastrami. This is Dufrense's homage to the sadly-departed Second Avenue Deli, which reigned across the street for more than 50 years, and it is a delightful, delicious bit of wizardry, to turn a sandwich into a bowl of noodles. That's Alder: fun, unexpected, lively, tasty, and memorable.
Chef Wylie Dufresne's Alder Restaurant NYC
Chef Dufresne's Alder is located on Second Avenue between 10th and 9th Streets, and is open on Wednesday through Sunday from 6:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. Closed Monday and Tuesday; no reservations accepted. For more info and a look at the complete Alder NYC menu, visit the restaurant's website!