Celebrated chef and food innovator Wylie Dufresne opened his second restaurant Alder last week on Second Avenue in the East Village. Unlike Dufresne's lauded temple to molecular gastronomy wd~50, Alder's food and atmosphere are bent towards a more casual dining experience. With Alder, Dufresne wants to create a contemporary version of the neighborhood tavern instead of a dining destination, and to that end nothing on the menu costs more than $25. But that doesn't mean that Dufresne's whimsical and electrifying approach to cooking isn't apparent at the new restaurant, which you notice as soon as you look at the menu. Dufresne is playing with his food again, and it sounds like fun.
A modern twist on "Pigs in a Blanket" ($11) uses Chinese sausage stuffed into fried bits of hot dog buns and dotted with dollops of spicy Japanese mustard and sweet chili sauce. Deceptively simple Pub Cheese ($9) arrives as a smear of creamy, bright purple, red wine-soaked cheese spread across slate with a pistachio-fig brittle and thin, golden brown "potato chips." Illustrating Dufresne's love for the neighborhood is the Rye Pasta, which comes with shaved pastrami, and is a nod to the former 2nd Avenue Deli that has since moved to the Upper East Side. You'll find tender Salmon Tartare ($14) with risotto encased in a neon orb constructed out of avocado slices, surrounded by a whipped horseradish cream.
The space itself is clean and uncluttered, awash in muted tones and soft light that allow the artistic food to shine even more. But the restaurant exudes warmth and includes personal touches like wooden beams across the ceiling sourced from a business partner's farm. Dufresne even named the restaurant after the Old-English form of his daughter Ellery's name. While you're waiting for your table—and you will wait—sip on the equally inspired cocktails like the herbaceous Piney Pimm's ($12) with Pimm's, pine, rum and lemon or clear your sinuses with the Applethy ($12), made with vodka, horseradish and green apple.
157 Second Avenue, 212-539-1900; Open 6:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. Closed Monday and Tuesday.