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Alder | Affordable Molecular Gastronomy in NYC

Check out our gastronomic dinner at Alder NYC where we shared creative small plates and drank tasty cocktails.

Alder Exterior Alder in NYC

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.

Pub Cheese

Pub Cheese with Pistachio-White Fig and Martin’s “Potato Chips” at Alder in NYC
Pub Cheese with Pistachio-White Fig and Martin’s “Potato Chips”

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.

One Bite of Pub Cheese at Alder in NYC
One Bite of Pub Cheese

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

Pigs in a Blanket - Chinese Sausage, Japanese Mustard and Sweet Chili Sauce at Alder in NYC
Pigs in a Blanket – Chinese Sausage, Japanese Mustard and Sweet Chili Sauce

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

French Onion Soup Rings with Beef Gravy and Gruyere at Alder in NYC
French Onion Soup Rings with Beef Gravy and Gruyere

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

Shepherd's Pie Tartare with Lamb, Mashed Potatoes, Pickled Carrots and Gravy at Alder in NYC
Shepherd’s Pie Tartare with Lamb, Mashed Potatoes, Pickled Carrots and Gravy

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.

Deconstructed Shepherd's Pie Tartare at Alder in NYC
Deconstructed Shepherd’s Pie Tartare

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?”

Rye Pasta

Rye Pasta with Shaved Pastrami at Alder in NYC
Rye Pasta with Shaved Pastrami

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

Root Beer Pudding at Alder in NYC
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.

Spoonful of Root Beer Pudding at Alder in NYC
Spoonful of Root Beer Pudding

The dessert quickly disappeared as we took turns dipping our spoons for more root beer goodness.

Drinks

FOMO with Gin, Green Szechuan, Grape and Tonic at Alder in NYC
FOMO with Gin, Green Szechuan, Grape and Tonic

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.

Pro Tip

Although the cocktail list is fun, don’t discount the wine list. There are outstanding wines served by the glass, many of which are from female-owned wineries.

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.

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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.

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Kristen Sarra

Tuesday 25th of November 2014

I love Alder! I went with 4 other friends and we must have ordered the whole menu to share!

Daryl and Mindi Hirsch

Wednesday 26th of November 2014

That sounds like a fantastic meal. We wonder what was your favorite dish.

Corinne

Saturday 18th of October 2014

I would love to try this! I've never had molecular food....one for the bucket list!

Elena

Wednesday 8th of October 2014

Wow! Did you eat all of this just in one evening? Looks amazing though :)

Daryl and Mindi Hirsch

Wednesday 8th of October 2014

They were all small plates, and we were pleasantly full at the end of the meal.

Margherita

Saturday 20th of September 2014

This to me is reason enough to go back to NY. many people bill molecular gastronomy as pretentious - for me it's art. Absolutely amazing.

Jameela Deen

Thursday 18th of September 2014

The pictures look great but i'm not so sure i'd be tempted by all the funky food (now that i've used the word "funky" you can tell i'm no foodie expert right?) but i'll take your word for it that it tasted nice. As a lover of cheese i'd try the pub cheese... pretty sure if both my mouth and my mind are open it would work :)