Excellent, inventive cocktails and small plates from mad food scientist Wylie Dufresne. Come for a nibble or stay for a DIY tasting menu.
Wylie Dufresne's new venture Alder—his first since wd~50—is a subtler place, casual in its setting and more reined in. Dufresne is a master of the baroque—you don't make noodles out of seafood without dreaming big—but he also knows restraint. He has stayed with wd~50 for a decade, an eternity in today's New York restaurant years, avoiding television fame or branded pasta sauces so he can keep to his work. This new restaurant (with executive chef Jon Bignelli) and bar (director Kevin Denton) takes the best of that studied creativity and deploys it with great care.
Ambitious but unfulfilling small plates restaurants are a dime a dozen these days, so leave it to Dufresne to school them on how it's done. Because Alder may be the very definition of a great small plates restaurant. It's fun here. You can drink well. The food is exciting even when it's not perfect. And you can eat to feel nourished, not just entertained. People have been calling Alder a "pub," which is wrong both for pubs and for Alder, but the restaurant makes a strong case for better living, and drinking, through chemistry.
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Alder bar director Kevin Denton's dinnertime drink menu includes what I contend is a mighty nifty feature: the option to order several of the cocktails as "shorts." You get less than a full drink and pay half of the full price. For instance, you can have yourself a Bloody Mary tasting by ordering a trio of shorts. Our favorite: the Yellow Light, a bright, savory-sweet combination of pineapple, yellow pepper, and jalapeño tequila.