M. Wells Lives Up to Expectations, but not to its Reputation

M. Wells. Don’t pretend like you haven’t heard of it. After Alan Richman’s rather soured view of the restaurant hit the internet last week, I wouldn’t be surprised if beings living on Mars had heard of the Quebecois influenced haute-dining-meets-diner food served in Long Island City. 
Hoping to see what all the hoo-ha was about, I set out to M. Wells, run by Hugue Dufour and Sarah Obraitis,  for lunch last week. When we got there at 11:30, there was a 20 minute wait. That’s right…at 11:30. On a weekday. Plan accordingly.
*Also…when you get out of the 7 train, walk TOWARDS the New York City skyline. If you walk the other way, you will end up in no man’s land. I speak from experience. And bitterness.*
The diner was just that – a diner. An actual dining car, with burnished chrome accents, stools at a countertop and a long communal table at which I sat. It was cramped, it was hot, and I couldn’t have been more excited.
Smoked Herring Caesar Salad. 
For those of you who hate anchovies or salt, this is your salad. All the punchy, umami, garlicky taste of Caesar, but with a more pungent, fishy, intensely smokey taste to it than the original. It was reminiscent of both bacon and the whitefish salad you might get at brunch with your Bubby. With crispy homemade croutons and layers of fluffy, nutty Parmesan cheese, this was a unique and delicious take on a Caesar. Well deserving of its acclaim. 
Spaghetti Sandwich.
If this isn’t hangover food, I don’t know what is. Spaghetti and tomato sauce, bound with egg and fried, served on a soft, squishy bun. I didn’t try it, but my mom said it was fantastic. And trust me…that wild woman has had her share of drunk food. 
French Fries
Some crisp, some squishy, some salty, some flecked with herby parsley and all perfectly cooked. Not too salty or oily but enough of both to remind me that I was indulging in the world’s most perfect guilty pleasure. Good french fries are a  thing of beauty. These were perfect french fries – truly some of the best I have ever had. Deliciously savory next to the sweetness of ketchup, they were even better on their own. Just fluffy, crunchy pieces of potato. In fact, this would have been my favorite part of my meal if it hadn’t been for…
Gaspacho with foie gras. 
Sweet and acidic summer tomatoes blended with pungent onions, vibrant basil, a touch of heavy cream and a myriad of other ingredients. Incredibly complex, I can’t even begin to imagine all the ingredients in there. I definitely detected the tang of sherry vinegar but beyond that…I don’t know. It was earthy and comforting but also intricate and refined. It showcased how the most simple ingredients can be transformed into something unexpected and unusual with the right technique. If you like tomato soup, you will love this. If you like salad you will love this. Hell, if you like LIFE you will love this. This soup was the soup of the day, so it is ever changing, but if it is on the list, you MUST get it. 
And, of course, you must get it with the  seared foie gras. A generous love of seared foie floated in the middle of the vibrant bowl of soup – the most decadent ile flotant I have ever encountered. Crisp, syrupy sweet crust gave way to melting, rich, velvety insides. Warm contrasted with the coolness of the soup, the flecks of salt on the buttery foie blending in with the sweet tomatoes and the herbaceous, zingy basil. 
Banana Cream Pie
Have I told you I despise bananas? Because I do. I hate their gummy texture, their stringy outsides, and their almost sickeningly sweet taste. 
But my good friend and greenmarket guru was dying to order it. 
So we did. 
And it BLEW me away. 
Let’s start with the crust. The savory, flaky crust that was so supremely rich that Jen gasped “There must be 6 pounds of butter in there! That’s amazing!” The custard was not sweet either – speckled with vanilla beans, it was rich, smooth and deeply vanilla but only barely sweet. The sweetness came from the bananas. That’s where the brilliance lay. The bananas, naturally sweet, gave all the sugar necessary to this pie. They fairly melted into the custard, making it one smooth, cohesive layer underneath a mound of freshly whipped, unsweetened cream. By a mound, I mean a mountain and by a mountain, I mean Kilimanjaro. 
By the end of the meal, I have to say…I was a little disappointed. I received great service. Courteous, efficient, helpful and enthusiastic. The prices were INCREDIBLY cheap and the food was totally fun and delicious. I didn’t get even a whiff of the terrible service that had Richman writhing in anger. The only thing that angers me is that the restaurant is closing at the end of the month. So get there while you can. Because, even if you hadn’t heard about M. Wells before…you damn well have no reason not to visit there now.
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