The Lowdown on New LES Restaurant The DL and Their Chef WESLEY WOBLES
By Jonathan Metzelaar
New LES restaurant The DL is no stranger to wordplay. In fact, it’s built into the restaurant’s very name, DL being both an abbreviation of “down-low” and the first letters of the respective cross streets where the restaurant is located (Delancey and Ludlow). Even the menu cleverly toys with your presumptions, as The PB&J is not the staple of American lunch sandwiches you might expect it to be, but in fact a shredded pork belly sandwich served with guava jam.
If The DL’s name is a nod to the fact that the restaurant is being kept on the “down-low” though, it’s certainly hard to imagine it staying that way. Though unassuming from the outside, The DL stands in stark contrast to other establishments in the area, both in regards to their incredible menu and their expansive space.
Seemingly surrounded by nothing but fast-food establishments and fried chicken joints, The DL is something of an oasis for foodies in the neighborhood. Their menu is as diverse and original as it is delicious; both their truffle and their lobster mac & cheese dishes are as flavorful as they come, the perfectly-seasoned lamb moussaka melts in your mouth, and the tiramisu—extra fluffy and made with just a slight hint of bananas—is absolutely mind-blowing.
And then there’s the space itself: three floors (the top two of which will be opening in the coming weeks), complete with an open-air roof deck that offers incredible views of both Delancey Street and the Williamsburg Bridge. With a space like this, it’s hard to imagine The DL not making a name for itself on the late-night scene in the near future.
I was fortunate enough to stop by The DL recently to have a look around and taste some of the brilliant dishes (and cocktails) executive chef Wesley Wobles has crafted specifically for this spot. Wesley was kind enough to sit down with me and talk a bit about his food, his inspiration, and his hopes for The DL.
Jonathan Metzelaar: So how long have you guys been here?
Wesley Wobles: About a month and a half. The space has been open since before, but I’ve been here a month and a half.
JM: And how did you first get started cooking?
WW: I started when I was 14. I left school when I was 15 and started working in restaurants. My grandmother was a great home chef in Norway, and after I spent some summers with her I knew I wanted to do it full-time.
JM: How much free reign did you have in terms of the menu?
WW: Total free reign.
JM: So there was no outline that was given to you?
WW: Maybe not 100%, I guess. The only outline I had was small plates. But basically I did what I thought would work while still keeping things affordable.
JM: How long did it take you to come up with the menu?
WW: It took about three hours to come up with the menu. I thought about it for a few days, but then I really got in the mood and sat down to write it out. My concept was to do a play on words and go with irony and try to attract people with things that sounded fun.
JM: The PB&J for example is something that jumps out at me as a clever take on a dish’s name. People associate PB&J with Peanut Butter and Jelly, but instead it’s Pork Belly with Guava Jam.
WW: Yeah, definitely. We’ve also got the Lobster Crack. A lot of it’s just a joke. It’s good to have fun with it.
JM: What are some of your favorite dishes?
WW: Lamb moussaka is definitely one of my favorites. I spent the past five years in Paris, and that’s a very popular dish there even though it has Greek roots. It’s pretty much layers of lamb and potatoes. I had a lot of influence from Paris since coming back, both in terms of dishes I really enjoyed there and styles they have there that aren’t really found here.
JM: So would you say French cuisine is your background?
WW: I’ve been all over the place, but my passion tends to lie towards French and Caribbean. I love spicy food. I don’t really like to label my food, except to say that I try to go for big flavors with a fresh finish. I’m not going to overdo it with cream or butter. I use a lot of herbs in my cooking, so you’re going to taste everything, but you’re not going to leave here like, “Ugh, I need to go take a nap”.
JM: The theme of The DL seems to be soul food with a twist, would you say that’s fair?
WW: It’s definitely soul food. It’s mostly dishes I like to eat, things I’d be happy having in my house and that I wouldn’t mind eating on my day off.
JM: Any challenges with coming up with the menu?
WW: The menu has definitely been a work in progress; I’ve been slowly editing it and finding dishes that will work in the long run. I want this place to be known as the late-night spot, and to have people know we’re open seven days and you can come eat whenever. We’re not junk food. There’s not much around here. I just moved out of the neighborhood two days ago, and there’s really nothing around here except for McDonald’s and fried chicken. It’s tough. Sometimes I’d come home from work and there’d be nothing.
JM: What would you say sets The DL apart from other restaurants?
WW: I think there’s a lot. I’m trying to stray away from everything in this neighborhood. You go to places around here, they’re going to have tacos, they’re going to have French fries with truffle oil. Everybody just follows the trends and serves the same thing. I’m trying to stray away from the norm, but I’m not trying to go so far that the food becomes unrecognizable. I think it should be fun food that’s recognizable but different. I mean, maybe everybody wants the same exact thing, but if they do then I won’t like my job anymore.
Wesley Wobles received his formal culinary education at Le Cordon Blue. He is currently the executive chef at The DL, and has served as executive chef at Siren and Cafe del Mar, among others.
Written and Edited by Jonathan Metzelaar
Photography Courtesy of Wesley Wobles & Nick Carcaterra/Susan Blond, Inc.
Design by Marie Havens
The DL, 2012, Photography Courtesy of Wesley Wobles & Nick Carcaterra/Susan Blond, Inc.