Important Update: Alder is permanently closed.
Dinner at Alder was the icing on the cake of a New York weekend ruled by spontaneity.
Visit New York City on a busy weekday or Saturday night and your chances of scoring a reservation at Wylie Dufresne’s modern gastropub would be slim. However, an 8:30 reservation at Alder beckoned on Labor Day eve, and we jumped at the opportunity to sample Dufresne’s innovative, playful menu of molecularly gastronomic small plates at a fraction of the price of a dinner at wd~50, the chef’s flagship restaurant.
Gastropub and molecular gastronomy in the same sentence? Yes, you read that right. It’s rare to experience an affordable, relatively laid-back restaurant that serves cutting-edge food designed by a world-class chef, but that’s what we found in the East Village.
In some ways, the laid back experience of Alder plays directly into a Dufresne esthetic filled with playful trompe l’oeils and frankenfood creations. Sure, Alder has bar food, but what you see is not necessarily what you get. To us, that’s a good thing.
Dinner at Alder NYC
So what does one eat at a Dufresne gastropub? That’s a fine question to ask about a varied, sharable small plate menu that runs the gamut from new interpretations of classic New York food favorites to bold reworkings of timeless tavern fare.
We were momentarily put off by the cheese’s purple hue topped with green bits of pistachio brittle. Then we ate our first bite of the creamy port wine-flavored cheese along with the sweet yet savory nuts.
Combine the cheese with crackers made from Martin’s potato rolls, and you get something brand new that draws from the files of a sort of culinary memory bank.
However, don’t forget that this food tastes really good. In his way, Dufresne, like many other modern chefs, has found a way to place new wine in old bottles.
Pigs in a Blanket
Alder’s Pigs in a Blanket dish plays on multiculturalism in much the same way that the Pub Cheese dish plays on history. Pigs in a blanket, a favorite at every wedding we attend, are transformed using compressed hot dog buns and Chinese sausage fried to a golden crispy texture.
Wait a minute! Are these hot dogs or spring rolls? Let the eater decide!
French Onion Soup Rings
We found the concept of French Onion Soup Rings intriguing, and it would have totally worked with more cheese on top and more of the beefy sauce underneath. It’s a shame that it all didn’t come together because, in theory, Alder may have pioneered a dish that could be imitated at bars across America.
Ironically, our dining neighbors were so tempted by the aroma that they ordered a plate for their table as a pre-dessert. Their dish was far more loaded with gravy and cheese. We agreed to disagree with the server that our plate had been underdressed in comparison.
Shepherd’s Pie Tartare
We were so curious about the shepherd’s pie tartare that we just had to try it. We were even more curious when it arrived. As we dug in, we marveled at the unique dish where the Twenty One Club meets a British pub.
Oh, did we mention Frankenfood? This was one dish where we looked at the beautiful plate, tasted the food and then asked, “How did they do that?”
Alder is located directly across the street from the original 2nd Street Deli, a long-time family favorite. Although the deli has moved on, Alder is serving a pasta dish that recalls the experience of eating a New York City pastrami sandwich.
The pasta’s strong rye flavor, the pastrami slices and the jerky crumbles combine in a perfect sandwich-like fashion. This dish is a wonderful tribute to New York deli culture and was Daryl’s favorite dish of the night.
Dessert – Root Beer Pudding
After purposely saving just enough room for dessert, we shared a glass of root beer pudding that tasted like a sophisticated version of a root beer float from an old school five and dime. This dessert was small in size but big in sassafras flavor – a perfect ending to our meal.
The dessert quickly disappeared as we took turns dipping our spoons for more root beer goodness.
Although we went for the food, we would have happily stayed for the drinks. The clever cocktails are crafted with the same attention as the food, including (in this case) a fun, tiger-striped straw.
If we don’t make it to wd~50 before it closes, that would be a shame. However, we can sleep well knowing that we got a taste of Dufresne’s gastronomic mastery at Alder, albeit a less expensive and more casual version.
Alder was located at 157 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10003, United States. Both Alder and wd~50 have permanently closed.
About the Authors
Daryl & Mindi Hirsch
Saveur Magazine’s BEST TRAVEL BLOG award winners Daryl and Mindi Hirsch share their culinary travel experiences and recipes on the 2foodtrippers website and YouTube. The married Food and Travel content creators live in Lisbon, Portugal.