New England clam chowder with “oyster crackers” at Alder
Molecular whiz Wylie Dufresne reaches into his bag of kitchen tricks for this elegant chowder. In a play on the name, the golden-brown “oyster crackers” accompanying the bowl are actual oysters. For the illusory crispy orbs, chefs puree West Coast bivalves, stir them with corn and tapioca starches, and fry thin slices of the dough until they puff up to resemble the plastic-wrapped originals. 157 Second Ave between 9th and 10th Sts (212-539-1900, aldernyc.com). $16.
Arctic bird’s nest at Aquavit
Pastry chef Emma Bengtsson’s nature-miming dessert looks like something straight out of the woodland. Cradled in a twiny cake nest, speckled dark-and-white chocolate eggs are filled with white and yolk in the form of an alabaster goat-cheese custard and a yellow curd flavored with the sour berry sea buckthorn. Chocolate twigs and dirtlike brownie crumbs complete the foresty look, and, in the winter months, frozen-yogurt powder is added to symbolize drifts of snow. 65 E 55th St between Madison and Park Aves (212-307-7311, aquavit.org). $20.
“Rock” at Atera
In an homage to the clay-coated potato rocks at the world-famous Mugaritz in Spain, Matthew Lightner—who spent 18 months at the innovative restaurant—offers his own version of edible rocks with this trompe l’oeil dessert. To nail the stony look, Lightner molds bergamot ice cream, dips it into brown butter and hay ash, and blasts it with liquid nitrogen so the dirt-browns and mottled grays adhere to the frozen treat. A dusting of tarragon powder resembles moss, while crumbles of rye berries stand in for dirt. 77 Worth St between Broadway and Church St (212-226-1444, ateranyc.com). Part of a $195 tasting menu.
“Pralines” of Foie Gras Terrine at the Modern
Chef Gabriel Kreuther riffs on the traditional French dessert with these rich savory bites. The decadent filling is a velvety terrine of foie gras whipped with muscat and brandy. The crackling, candy-thin shell comes courtesy of a crunchy coating of poppy seeds and fried celeriac. Breaking character with its sweet inspiration, grilled bread is served on the side for swabbing up the indulgent spread. 9 W 53rd St between Fifth and Sixth Aves (212-333-1220, themodernnyc.com). Part of a $108 prix fixe.
Bibim at Jungsik
Remixing the rice classic with Italian influences, Jungsik Yim ditches the bap (rice) in bibimbap for a Caprese salad fashioned after the Korean staple. Piles of crispy potato strips, chopped tomatoes and cubed mozzarella form the base, which is crowned with a scoop of arugula sorbet. 2 Harrison St at Hudson St (212-219-0900, jungsik.kr). $15.
This Halloween, drunk New Yorkers aren’t the only ones pulling on a mask. Thrill-seeking diners take note: Boundary-pushing chefs are waving their magic tongs and pulling out all the molecular gastronomy stops to serve sleight-of-hand plates. At modern restaurants like Alder, Atera and Jungsik, you can find crackers made from oysters, edible rocks and a Caprese salad that mimes bibimbap.