On Nov. 30, 2014, many of the food world’s biggest names arrived at 50 Clinton Street in the city’s Lower East Side. David Chang was there. Daniel Boulud too. The chefs were among the 72 diners who ate foie gras in the round, scrambled egg ravioli and nine other courses of Wylie Dufresne’s avant-garde, era-defining cooking.
They came for the last supper at wd-50. Dufresne’s playful, challenging restaurant closed its doors for good that night. The restaurant was a victim of his own success: by bringing three-star cuisine to a once gritty neighborhood Dufresne helped drive up the area’s prices and welcome in luxury development. His landlord had decided to turn the restaurant into an apartment building.
wd-50 opened in 2003 to head-scratching reviews, its style of molecular gastronomy viewed by many of the city’s top critics as not much more than a whole lot of foam. But over the years, Dufresne won admirers, taking his namesake restaurant from underestimated to beloved. New York’s chefs and most avid eaters were losing a landmark institution. Where could they go now to get wild inventions like noodles made from meat and grits made from shrimp?
During its last days, wd-50 opened its doors to TIME’s cameras, providing a rare glimpse into its final service and its dismantling. And earlier this month, Dufresne announced plans for a new restaurant to open in Manhattan’s Financial District in 2016. He’s still cooking at Alder, his restaurant in New York’s East Village.
“Our goal was to add to the dialogue, to add to the body of knowledge,” Dufresne says of wd-50. “There are things that we’ve been a part of that are gonna be in kitchens from here on.”—Sarah Begley