What is it like to be young and acclaimed? Ask Chef Stone and Chef Fabian of Contra, the owners of two critically acclaimed restaurants in LES, and both under 30 when they did it. The two met at the French Culinary Institute (now International Culinary Center), then the duo went and did their stint separate ways. With resume like (respectively) Jean-George, Noma, the Modern, Isa among other places, the pair met up again and opened Conta in 2013. In an interview, Chef Fabian said they set out to open an ice cream shop, somehow other ideas got thrown in, and it evolves to become what we now known as Contra, a contemporary restaurant. I have yet been to Contra, but on a late June evening, we visited the younger , hipper little brother, Wildair, which is just two doors down from Contra on Orchard street.
Love the Uni, and there is plenty of it!! But where is the jalapeno??? I was waiting for the kick, but that didn’t happen. Instead, we have a bed of salty pickle underneath the uni. Which made the dish somewhat salty. The darphin aka hashbrown is fantastic, perfectly crispy outside but soft and fluffy on the inside. And the thickness of it is comforting, satisfying. We like it so much, we ordered two.
Wildair opened in June 2015. The year old place is more a wine bar than a restaurant. As the weather finally getting nice, the French doors open up and music pouring to the street, welcoming us into it casual atmosphere. The boxy square place is very limited in space, and it couldn’t hide the kitchen in the back. Or perhaps it is by design, the kitchen (to the right of the restaurant) has its own French door/window, the actions inside are totally visible by any patrons on the street. Inside, it is dark and loud. The air is stale, simply because the ceiling isn’t tall enough to allow circulations, not anyone’s fault, old buildings has its limitations. In result, it’s a little warm, even in this not-too-hot June weather, I can’t imagine what it would be like in mid August, when it is sticky, humid and hot. But on this June evening, we were fine, and the high chair is more comfortable than I anticipated.
Wildair doesn’t take reservation, and the place can fit about 50. With all the praise from various critics, we were worry there might be a wait. We arrived at around 630 on a Thursday evening, the place is half packed. As we sat down, we noticed that the tall tables are custom made. They have drawers!!! Like the tables I had in middle school, only more fancy with finer lines, and better material. It cleverly hid the utensils and the menu in the drawer, to allow more room on the tabletop. I would love to get one home.
There are 18 items on the often changing menu. It breaks down into 3 sections of 6, with 2 desserts. It is petty clear that the first sections is appetizers, and the second is small plates, but the third section can’t all be entree. It seems to me, only the wagyu steak for two ($85) and the pork Milanese ($19) can be serious entrees. I was a little confused. Nevertheless, we treated them all as small plates, we weren’t going to drop $85 for steak tonight anyway. One thing did caught my eye however, is that Bread and olive oil are an paying item? And they charge $4 FOR BREAD?!? Is charging for bread a new thing nowadays? And from the look of the half eaten bread left by our table neighbor, the bread is underwhelming.
While the menu is somewhat limited, the wine list is extensive. It is a wine bar after-all. While the sommelier was quite helpful and knowledgeable, there’s no bottle under $60. I don’t know wine, so I’ll stick to the food. And honestly, I was here for one thing, the Uni potato darphin. Yes, we are crazy for anything uni.
Why is the fluke all chopped up?? Tough to pick up. And the bite is not big enough to bring out the taste of fluke, and also musk the crispy texture of the fluke… Pineapple is all chopped up too. I couldn’t see the pineapple….
We were told the Georgia white shrimp is freshly netted off from Georgia coast, so it should be sweet, fresh with great texture, chewy but not rubbery. But our Georgia white shrimp is more work than I ever wanted with a shrimp. Shell sticked to the meat and can hardly be separated. Either the shrimp is not fresh or it’s been undercook, in this case…. Not fresh. We attempted with our forks and not-so-sharp knifes to do the surgery, but soon gave up and dig in with our fingers. And even so, took us each more than 3 minutes to un-shelled the shrimp. But the time we finally get a taste of it, it’s already cold. And all that work didn’t came with reward. The shrimps were overly salty. The wild freshness was totally lost. I was hoping the celery would give me a fresh taste to clean my palate. But only got myself a mouthful of saltiness.That’s when we ordered the radish as we choke down the rest of our wine and water.
We were saved by the radish. It is so refreshing, like a cool breeze in a hot summer day. A sweet break from all that saltiness.
Oh… Stay away from the soft shell crab. We wouldn’t have order it if we have another choice, but we were not interest in the pork Milanese, and not about to drop $85 for wagu steak after we stuffed ourselves with 2 potato darphin. But the soft shell crab deemed to be a huge disappointment. More batter than I have seen in a long time. It’s layers of oily batter after batter. Where is the crab?? When I finally dig my way to the crab… the shell is not crunchy nor crispy. And there were no meat at all… so basically, I just ate a mouthful of batter….. may be we would be better off ordering the $4 bread…
Wildair | 142 Orchard St | June 2016