Crispy Potato with Flounder Roe and Pickled Pepper
Green Blueberry, Radish, Fennel, Horseradish, Goat Feta
Sourdough Bread, Cultured Butter
Squid, Smoked Rhubarb, Lardo, White Asparagus, Oxalis
Halibut, Green Peppercorn, Spring Onion, Morels
Beef, Asparagus, Walnut Pesto
Strawberry Semifreddo, Tarragon
Hazelnut Ice Cream, Hazelnut Praline, Blackberry
As the rare traveling-diner who does not watch FoodNetwork or any sort of culinary programming my knowledge of Chopped is only that which I have been able to glean from discussion, but if the premise is indeed Chefs being given a random set of ingredients with which they are to create something edible then Contra seems to be the Michelin starred equivalent of the hit Television show, dinner for one at 6pm seeing the prix-fixe offering a six course menu of arranged items that were not necessarily bad, but also seldom delicious.
Opened in 2013 by friends Fabian von Hauske and Jeremiah Stone, stints at Noma and Faviken proudly touted as the pair carved out a tiny space in the Lower East Side known for loud music and interesting ingredients served without compromise or substitutions, it was in the 2017 Red Guide that the duo earned its first star, the original price of $55 since increased to $74 with their walk-in only Wildair offering an alternative for those unwilling to trust the chef implicitly.
Only accepting reservations two-weeks in advance, the daily menu revealed less than 24-hours prior to Dinner, though usually similar to the offerings from a day before, it was just as the restaurant’s doors were unlocked that entry was made as music boomed overhead, a brief conversation with the waitress declining Wine in favor of water and asking her to not even waste the ingredients for a palate cleanser of Passion Fruit and Spruce, no substitution requested or expected, just a genuine disdain for the ingredients and an understanding of the menu’s rules.
Seated at a tight two-top sharing a wall with the hallway towards the restroom, not a bad table as it allows for good lighting and full view of the kitchen, dinner at Contra is served in a fashion intended to be accommodating insofar as the Chefs are able to customize the pace at which it was served, the amuse featuring a Potato Chip topped in Pickled Peppers and Flounder Roe a bold bite signaling flavors to come and quickly followed by the bracing combination of sour Blueberries with Radishes, freshly grated Horseradish and Goat Cheese.
Often spoke of fondly in regards to their Bread, the hefty Sourdough Rounds served as part of the Prix Fixe as well as at Wildair for $4, there is no doubt the Chefs learned a bit about how to make a rustic loaf during their time in the kitchen, the Cultured Butter adding a bit of Salt and Cream as did the Lardo present on plate two featuring several rings of grilled Squid atop a bed of smoked Rhubarb Puree and lightly cooked Asparagus.
Serving sizable portions that will not leave an average diner hungry, the slice of Halibut bathed in Peppercorn infused Butter and Spring Onions likely a bit over 3oz and topped in Morels without a doubt the night’s standout dish, it was only forty minutes after sitting down that the final savory of rare Beef was presented, in this case with tender green spears of Asparagus and Walnut Pesto – a perfectly fine plate, though nothing that would really seem all that out of place at Morton’s or Ruth’s Chris.
Expecting one last course before hitting the road, though the kitchen graciously proved a bit less hard-nosed than their policy suggests by sending out a puck of Strawberry Semifreddo with bits of Tarragon and fragrant Oil in place of the aforementioned Passion Fruit, dinner was completed by 7:05pm with a ball of Hazelnut Ice Cream set against Praline powder and fresh Blackberries in their juice, the flavors pure and clean but in reality nothing more than a reminder of the importance of employing an actual Pastry Chef.