The retro diner trappings of the old M. Wells have been replaced by a bright, airy space housed within a postmodern museum (the aesthetic theme is school cafeteria redux, which is thankfully not overdone).
French Onion Soup ($9)
Simultaneously so rich but balanced that it's an inspiration to lesser soups everywhere. Large chunks of ham are nestled within the onions, and the broth is more savory than most.
French Onion Soup ($9)
Best of all: the melted cheese goes all the way down; we didn't realize just how much there was until it started to firm up and turn stringy—which, thanks to the cast iron pot the soup is served in, took about an hour. This is Dufour's cooking at its best: comically, delightfully bold, but all in service of flavors and experiences that other restaurants wish they could provide.
Caesar Salad ($8)
Strong fishy flavors are the refreshing things at M. Wells, and this salad does manage to lighten a meal while hitting a sweet spot all its own. You have to dig through a half inch of fluffy Parmesan to reach the lettuce, which seems like too much of course, until you take a bite and realize it's exactly what's needed to keep the herring in check. Best of all, the romaine is crisp and almost buttery sweet.
Blood Pudding ($13)
The brick of pudding, more intense pâté than bloodbath, is beautifully creamy beneath its charred crust, and comes studded with little nubs of crisped pork meat. Soft, tart-sweet braised cabbage and a surprisingly savory apple butter cut the richness just so.
Salt Cod Brandade ($10)
A lighter, decidedly elegant dish that feels right at home in a museum cafe. Be sure to get a bite with all the elements together: sultry roasted tomatoes, neat leaves of parsley, and a forkful of whipped potatoes that sing fishiness, but don't shout it. This is a lunch you could take home to meet the parents.
Escargots & Bone Marrow ($12)
One of the iconic M. Wells classics, it's just as lovely as it used to be. The snails are garlicky and tender, the marrow rich and savory but hardly overwhelming. Spread the mess on toast and you feel almost as elegant as the black-clad artsy types who populate MoMA's galleries.
A straightforward plate of thinly sliced charcuterie with sauce gribiche and tufts of frisée. Sometimes Dufour decides to make a simple plate of food and just do it right. And he does so here, to our great pleasure, with meat that summons just enough porky funk to cut through the egg- and herb-enriched dressing. There's chewy pork fat and creamy egg fat, and yet it's not a leaden dish.
Bi Bim Wells ($22)
Pricier at $22, but hey, it fills a ten by eight casserole, and the mix of soft sushi-esque rice, raw tuna and marinated raw scallop, pickled vegetables, avocado, and sweet Korean hot sauce had me picking with pleasure long after feeling full. Oh, yeah, and there's an oyster to shoot, and a poached egg yolk to stir into it all. It's messy and wild, and likely has Korean chefs and Japanese sushi snobs gnashing their teeth, which makes me love it all the more.
Beef Cheek Stroganoff ($16)
Less recommendable is the Beef Cheek Stroganoff. It's lovely cheek indeed, spoon tender and all, but the underseasoned sauce is rich to the point of gluey.
A massive pastry for
two four to six doesn't have as eggy-crisp a pastry or as hazelnut-forward a cream as some others around town, but it's a solid pile of creamy bliss and a fitting end to an M. Wellsian meal.
Pumpkin Tres Leches Cake ($10)
It has a near-savory spiciness, and floats in a crème anglaise because three milks just aren't enough. It's a nice thing, but we would have licked the bowl clean had it been served warm instead.
PS1 used to be a public school before getting converted into the Queens branch of MoMA.
The pavilion in the middle of PS1 features large, open-air concrete rooms.
A limp red "Happy Birthday" balloon tries to escape from one of the concrete chambers. It's an exhibit on loan from Berlin.*
* Not really.