Alder was conceived by the reigning don of modernist cuisine in NYC, Wylie Dufresne, as a “modern interpretation of a public house.” That is to say, as a neighborhood gastropub that serves bar food refracted through Dufresne’s culinary wizardry. Patrons of his flagship wd~50 will find much that is familiar here, such as innovative dishes that jumble and reform familiar flavors and combinations in startlingly new ways, playfulness, eccentricity, a lack of pretension, a dedication to well-crafted cocktails and unevenness.
Yet if wd~50 is the father of Alder, its mother is David Chang. Chang is of course a close friend of Dufresne and many of his own restaurants bear Dufresne’s mark. Yet it is striking how different the design and atmosphere are at Alder from the aesthetic mess of wd~50 and how closely it mimics the formulae behind Chang’s magic. The room is a sleek and minimalist railroad car of a space with textural contrasts in abundance: low ceilings of slatted wood planks, an illuminated white brick wall faced by a cloth wall, glowing liquor bottles on a glass shelf with interspersed candles. The space is positively trendy, and it’s loud as hell. It’s casual, irreverent and affordable.
While we think the cuisine at wd~50 can be uneven, most of the dishes there are very good and some are spectacular. At Alder, it was more like 50/50, and only two dishes truly stood out: a bowl of silken New England clam chowder with “oyster crackers” – actually puffed hydrated oyster dust – and "Pigs in a Blanket", made not with a hot dog but rather Chinese sausage and Japanese mustard. The purple-hued pub cheese, a disquieting blob anchored by pistachio brittle, is interesting, and pretty good, but the rye pasta, an attempt to reimagine the quintessential deli sandwich as a noodle dish, is, for all its impressive technique, ultimately not particularly tasty. Wine is served in dinky water glasses, an inexplicable choice on both oenological and aesthetic grounds. But the corkage fee is a bended-knee-inducing $25, albeit limited to one bottle per table. The restaurant appears to be popular, and Dufresne’s legacy is not in doubt, but we find it a less successful platform for his skills than wd~50.
157 Second Ave.
New York (nr. 10th St.)
(212) 539-1900 Mon-Sun, 6pm-11pm