It takes a minute or two to register you’re in a restaurant as M. Wells is housed in what looks like just another room at PS1 MOMA in Long Island City. Walk in and you notice people are eating; there’s an open kitchen at the back and a large blackboard lists specials. Smaller tables look like school desks with swollen arms and under-chair spaces for books and there are also larger, long tables for groups.
The restaurant is the reincarnation of the original M. Wells Dinette, brainchild of Hugue Dufour and Sarah Obraits. The couple hail from Montreal and apparently the food on offer changes as often as they want it to or when they run out of a particularly hot item. The food is delicious but not for the cholesterol-obsessed as butter and other animal fats play a major role. The menu might include a rabbit terrine or a Quebec-style meat pie with ample pork. Want something lighter –good luck, although there was a Caesar salad when I was there but not your average Caesar. This one has smoked herring instead of anchovies and so much Parmesan you think you’ll drown in it but the entire creation works. If it’s on the menu, the Salt Cod Brandade has tomato, whipped potatoes and, of course, the cod but it’s not a fishy-fishy dish. The Bi Bim Wells is a takeoff on the Korean classic bimbimbap, this version served in a hefty casserole dish combining marinated raw tuna, scallops, pickled veggies, avocado and hot sauce along with an oyster and poached egg to stir into the gooey, yummy mess.
If all you want is coffee, tea or lemonade and a sweet, there are plenty of options to choose from. The house croissant is so laden with butter I can’t understand how it can still be flaky but there you are. There are various teas, hipster sodas like Fizzy Izzy tangerine, Reeds Ginger Beer and Boylan’s orange and all manner of coffee from espresso to macchiato. Drinks and pastries can be transported (by you) to the outside area (Spartan but nice in warm weather) but everything else is consumed inside.
Don’t overlook the setting. PS 1 displays very contemporary art with exhibits that change about four times each year. If you are a super-picky eater, M. Wells might not be the spot for you as the eclectic menu combines ingredients in a somewhat off- the- wall manner—for instance, a Banana Crème Brule Pie or bone marrow with escargot. There are pastas that are not as gigantic as some of the other dishes, some of which are suggested for two to share. Inventive? Yes. Unusual blend of flavors? Check. Heavy on the carbs and fats? Make that a double check. Overall it’s a cool spot with interesting food that might not be worth the trek from midtown Manhattan (although it’s a quick subway ride) but if you’re either into a) art, b) food experiences or c) a unique setting you won’t be disappointed.