I’ve been so many great restaurants in NYC, and there are a few that I keep thinking about and try to re-visit at least once every year. Contra, opened by a duo of chefs von Hauske and Jeremiah Stone in Lower East Side a couple of years ago to critical acclaim, is definitely one of them. While I haven’t always had the perfect dining experience (my first visit was absolute show-stopper, while my second visit was somewhat mixed), the way the kitchen uses different ingredients in some ingenious fashion always made Contra an intriguing restaurant that I would be happy to bring my friends every once in a while. When a foodie friend visited from out of town, I figured it is now time for a re-visit to show him what Contra brings to the table. While not all dishes were perfect, I still saw the flow of creative energy that makes Contra such a fascinating restaurant.
The tasting menu, which is now $67 per person for six courses, is still one of the best bargains in the city. Don’t be afraid to spend extra $3 for bread which is absolutely fantastic. The first course of salad consisting of blueberry, nasturtium and sorrel was a little bit too citrusy for my taste, but the second course of clam, agretti and potato cream had very nice balance of flavor and texture (even though not everyone at the table loved it). I wished the swordfish that came with seaweed and tomato were grilled with slightly less seasoning but the fish was otherwise quite well cooked to fully display its unique texture that I had grown to love over time.
The best savory course was the veal with onions and hay. The meat was more or less perfectly cooked and the seasoning quite even throughout the meat, and the way the ingredients worked together made it such an elegant dish, even more so with its splendid plating. Just like my last visit, the desserts were a little bit more successful. I still can’t forget the refreshing blend of elderflower, pistachio and milk that everyone at my table savored with happiness, and the peach ice cream with herbs was also delightful without being overly sweet. Both dishes were simply perfect for summer season with the refreshing sensation that was quite memorable to my taste bud.
Despite its relatively small size, it isn’t terribly hard to secure a reservation at Contra. I wish the restaurant keeps more wine selections that are not natural or biodynamic; I’m unfortunately not a huge fan of these types of wine. The casual vibe of the restaurant reflecting the ethos of Lower East Side, with the dining space looking somewhat like a hipster joint with that kind of experimental spirit you would normally associate with a tiny corner in Brooklyn, is still there. Contra will not always wow you in terms of execution, but the playful approach of the kitchen is really what separates this place from other fancy restaurants and why I will keep coming back.
- Creativity: 9.0/10
- Execution: 8.5/10
- Ingredients: 8.5/10
- Flavor: 8.5/10
- Texture: 8.0/10
Address: 138 Orchard Street, New York, NY 10002
Telephone: (212) 466-4633