(Spaghetti Sandwich at M. Wells)
When the bomb dropped that M. Wells Diner would be closing its doors at the end of the month, it came like a sturdy punch to the stomach. For anyone who has come to adore this now famous renovated-sixties-diner-car-turned-foodie-mecca it's like hearing that your favorite childhood summer camp burnt to smithereens.
(Complete accident that I snapped this lady feeding her kid an "off-menu item")
Sure, New York City is home to some of the best restaurants in the world. But I dare say that even the most elaborate evening at any four-star establishment, while exquisite in all of its amuse and mignardises and pomp and circumstance, lacks a certain surrealism and good old-fashioned magic that seems to be the stuff this place is made of. M. Wells is like a kitchen fueled by fairy dust and foie gras. Food this delicious is not merely a product of ingredient and cooking expertise.
(The Lobster "Loll" -- a riff on a lobster roll -- a soda cracker loaded with sesame rice, lobster, mayo, tarragon, and a maple-sweetened-sriracha)
And let's be honest, has there ever been a restaurant where you can find, all on the same menu, everything from a spaghetti bolognese sandwich to gravlax pie, bibimbap, peking duck, bone marrow & escargot, venison jerky salad, fish & chips in a newspaper cone, sunchoke hash, smoked sturgeon, seafood cobbler, pickled pork tongue, tortilla espanola, maple-syrup-poached cake batter, and a microwaved egg sandwich?
(Pudding chaumeur is "cake batter poached in maple syrup" as explained by our waitress)
The devastating closing comes as a result of a dispute between tenants and landlord over rent negotiations. "The details would turn your stomach," explain the owners in a recent e-mail I received. But along with the sad news comes the promising hope that they will soon re-open in a new yet-to-be-disclosed location, still within the Long Island City vicinity.
(The famous Egg & Sausage Sandwich on homemade English muffin)
"In the meantime," reads the latest e-mail, "we are leaving on a HIGH note as we throw a series of mega farewell dinner parties each weekend... We are only taking reservations for these evenings; reservations for dinner and brunch for the rest of the month are closed... one seating at 8PM (We won't kick you out) $200 per person, all inclusive (food, beverage, service.)"
(Seafood Cobbler with biscuits, brussels sprouts, scallops, pollock, razor clams, and gruyere cheese)
The dinner parties will have themes... tonight's is "Our Trip to the Fulton Fish Market" where Chef Hugue and the crew are preparing a "massive, magical feast" after packing up a cargo van of fresh fish. "We went wild filling up our vessel," reads the e-mail.
(Friends of M. Wells gather to celebrate a birthday, family feast style.)
Brunch and dinner are very different meals at M. Wells, where lunch features small plates perfect for individual portions, and dinner boasts a few small plates, alongside enormous dinner platters intended for sharing (a $42 "Mega Hamburger" that could feed an entire apartment complex and a 3-course Peking Duck tasting for the table for $150.) Brunch (Tue-Sun 10AM-4PM) and dinner hours (Tues-Thurs 6-11PM) remain the same through the end of August, and a wait should be expected. Grab a cocktail or cup of coffee with friends, and wait at the crowded bar... or snag a seat on the bench outside. While wait times are anticipated to be longer than usual, the payoff is well worth it. I recommend arriving just as they open.
(Chef-Owner Hugue Dufour with Wife-Owner Sarah Obraitis and Deven DeMarco of the The Hungry Tiger food crawls)
The "Mega Farewell Dinner Parties" should prove the be an entirely unique experience. M. Wells has been known to host past parties for Canadian Hockey Night, and even a mushroom dinner featuring 'shrooms from both Central Park and Quebec. If a recent dinner celebrating the General Manager's birthday is any indication of the feasts to come, diners are in for a once-in-a-lifetime treat. The meal was nothing shy of one of the most elaborate, delicious, and extravagant meals I have ever enjoyed.
Service began with enormous platters piled with sesame glazed whole crabs, complete with finger bowls, mallets, and crackers, along with heaping mounds of sesame-ginger steamed broccoli florets.
Tiny finger sandwiches with whipped sturgeon mousse and shaved hard-boiled eggs circulated the table between courses as a salty interlude.
Next, behemoth multi-pound lobsters arrived, the succulent tail meat blanketed in a cheese mornay sauce, the claws larger than my entire hand.
A recent ex-vegetarian across from me sighed as trays of glistening Peking duck stacked one atop another landed on both ends of the table. "I guess if I'm gonna go all out, this is the place to do it... when else will I have a feast prepared like this again?"
Like some mythological Medieval feast, slice filets of beef appeared at the table bloused in a silky foie gras sauce; an outrageous and over-the-top (and insanely delicious) presentation of beef that I will never forget.
From the open bar, guests sipped on unique spirited concoctions like cans of watermelon beer, or the RIP Topsy cocktail (pictured above), almost a course in and of itself... a Coca-Cola can-shaped glass of rye, lemon, maple syrup, and frothed egg white served with a sidecar jigger of egg yolk and salmon roe with sriracha and "chef's sauce." Gibsons were prepared with gin, pickled onions, and drops of olive oil, and an artichoke liqueur was served with lemon, elderflower, and soda.
Like a scene from Willy Wonka, pies arrived so large the struggling server's arms couldn't grasp the circumference. Plump blueberry and cherry tarts were passed, along with gigantic bowls stacked with canteloupe-sized scoops of vanilla ice cream. If guests around the table knew of the fate of the diner which would be announced the very next day, no one showed it. Sarah Obraitis sliced and served the pie with the same warm glow and devotion guests have seen since the day M. Wells opened.
The NY times recently listed the diner as one of ten places in the world worth buying a plane ticket to experience, and I couldn't more wholeheartedly agree. Although the weekend dinners will be filling up soon, either treat yourself to the meal of a lifetime and book a seat now, or be sure to stop by for brunch before the end of the month. Though only a little over a year old, the future of M. Wells seems promising in its next incarnation; but there's something special--almost historical--about enjoying it in its original location.
Call (718) 425-6917 or email email@example.com to reserve your seats (Fridays & Saturdays in August). M. Wells is located at 21-17 49th Avenue in Long Island City.