Somewhere betwixt curating a sculpture garden worthy display of pigs-in-a-blanket and an artful arrangement of black bass with a nori salsa verde, celebrity chef Wiley Defresne paused in the kitchen of Alder, not to rest from his travails, but – to wipe the counter.
Alder is this long-haired, pixie-eyed artist’s second venture; his first, wd~50, both bears his initials and cleverly alludes to its industrial technique, which turns the normal prejudice against processed food on its head by doing the processing in-house, the goal becoming culinary pleasure and surprise rather than efficient production and distribution. The few times I visited wd~50 (it has been a long time now) it seemed to me that the point of the place was process, freeze-dried this or that, deconstructed whatever, sous-vide such-and-such, a witty and flavor-popping experience. wd~50 never struck me as a pretentious or hifalutin spot. Its retro decor was unthreatening and its nods to comfort food and lunch bucket sandwiches were genuinely disarming.
The atmosphere at Alder is a bit trendier, and there is less emphasis on process, but the menu is similar in its allusions to familiar foods. In addition to the pigs-in-a-blanket there are versions of regional dishes like New England clam chowder and chicken liver toast. The latter was among the several that we tried, and it is a superb creation. It comes to the table looking like a great antlered moose (the antlers being sheets of fried chicken skin). As appetizers, the stuffed kumquats went well with the pigs-in-a-blanket (made with Chinese sausage and deliciously crisp); it made for a sausage-two-ways starter, as it was merguez that the kumquats were stuffed with. We also matched the chicken liver with a foie gras terrine; the chartreuse yogurt that dressed the terrine sounded interesting, but the effect was on the bland side. The black bass that rounded the off the meal was beautifully plated, and the piquancy of the nori salsa verde was the more enjoyable because it was unexpected.
The house cocktails (including several on tap) are, judging from the four we had, drinkable but fearlessly strong flavored. My favorites were the Piney Pimm, sharp as needles on the tongue, and the Shamrock Amigo, which gives Irish whiskey a Mexican kick and a full head of Guinness.
For information about Alder, click here.