Contra

  • Restaurants
  • Dinner
0 Love It
1/6
Photograph: Paul Wagtouicz

Mangalitsa pork collar at Contra

2/6
Photograph: Paul Wagtouicz

Monkfish at Contra

3/6
Photograph: Paul Wagtouicz

Squash with smoked ricotta at Contra

4/6
Photograph: Paul Wagtouicz

Bread and butter at Contra

5/6
Photograph: Paul Wagtouicz

Vanilla ice cream at Contra

6/6
Photograph: Paul Wagtouicz

Contra

Lower East Side

The paper menu posted in Contra’s window offers an interesting proposition: five courses for $55. The $11-per-dish average looks promising for a restaurant filled with in-the-know downtowners, but dinner here is less of a steal than it appears.

With Contra, young guns Jeremiah Stone, 29, and Fabian von Hauske, 23, draw inspiration from Paris’s néo-bistrot movement, which champions affordable set menus served in casual spaces. Their own narrow room verges on spare, stripped down to elemental forms like bare brick, scuffed wooden tables and a slab-oak bar.

Stints at forage-friendly restaurants—Stone helped open Isa; Von Hauske worked briefly at Noma and staged at Sweden’s Fäviken—inform the sparse, hyperlocal cooking. Chefs change the menu every day, accommodating bolts of Greenmarket-induced creativity, but it’s nearly impossible to produce polished food when you’re making new dishes so often.

Inspiration goes awry in chewy rounds of raw squash sprinkled with even chewier half-popped sorghum kernels; the creamy ricotta and fatty guanciale there to soften the texture aren’t quite up to the task. Slow-roasted Mangalitsa pork collar, however, hits every note, with fat-swelled flesh brightened by sweet husk cherries and crisp turnips.

Large intervals of time pass between the small dishes, requiring supplemental bread ($3), cheese ($8) and plenty of wine. All of this conspires to effortlessly nudge the gentle $55 base price toward $100.

Triple digits no longer seem like a bargain for five nonnegotiable courses, two of which were offbeat desserts one night. Where vanilla ice cream sweetened by freeze-dried raspberry jam and squiggles of gjetos (caramelized cheese) tastes like a savvy order from a Scandinavian 16 Handles, toasted-oat mousse topped with apple granita conjures Golden Grahams doused in juice.

For now, Contra is more experimental kitchen than well-oiled machine. And in a town with plenty of stellar tasting menus available for reasonable asking prices, it will have to hit a steadier stride to endure beyond its newcomer buzz.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Meal highlights: The menu changes often, but recent standouts included roasted Mangalitsa pork collar, vanilla ice cream with raspberry jam and gjetost, and whole-wheat rolls with butter.

Behind the bar: Sommelier Linda Milagros Violago—formerly of Chicago’s Charlie Trotter’s and Spain’s Mugaritz—focuses on small, sustainable producers, and, like the menu, will tweak her short, by-the-glass list every day.

Vibe: Stone and Von Hauske seem to teach their cooks dishes on the fly, creating an air of experimentation that’s exciting and nerve-racking at once.

Cocktail chatter: The restaurant gets its name from a hardcore band called Contra, of which Von Hauske’s friend was a member.

Soundcheck: A solid alt-rock soundtrack keeps the mood lively when the pace of dinner lulls.

By Daniel S. Meyer

Venue name: Contra
Contact:
Address: 138 Orchard St
New York
10002
Cross street: between Delancey and Rivington Sts
Opening hours: Tue–Thu 6–11pm; Fri, Sat 6pm–midnight
Transport: Subway: F to Delancey St; J, Z, M to Delancey–Essex Sts
Price: Tasting menu: $55. AmEx, MC, V
LiveReviews|10
1 person listening
Daniel

Sorry, this review is way off. I've been there 4 times and will be returning. The dishes are incredibly polished. Presentations are works of art. Turkey, chicken and lamb dishes were executed perfectly. Readers should check out other reviews and pay a visit before dismissing Contra. It's a find!

Grace

I disagree with this review. I personally found the food at Contra to be delightful. It's also unfair to review a restaurant based on a single visit ESPECIALLY since Contra changes up their menu quite often.

JB

Lots of shills here. Wow. But that was the case before this place even opened. This place is amateur hour, plain and simple. Ambitious but more like a meal cooked by a friend who has a lifetime subscription to Lucky Peach, a heavy denim apron and thinks that Rene Redzepi walks on water. Food comes out cold and the wine list is a hipster train wreck. Go to Acme instead and see what this style of food can be like in the hands of a real chef and mature cooks who have real experience, not random, brief stages at restaurants du jour.

Megan

Just had dinner at this place last week, everything was delicious. The desserts here were great, really dont understand this writing. The mandarin curd and popcorn dessert was one of the best I have ever had.

Ron

Agree with this completely. Will go one step further in that the Sommelier was the least professional I've ever dealt with. Ambitious but uneven kitchen and the front of the house is both rude and unorganized.

James

How wan you judge consistency on one visit? and how can a restaurant be inconsistent if it changes the menu everyday? very poor review and very bad writing, Contra is a new young place thats growing into something that will be great for NYC, CONTRA *****, Daniel S. Meyer...

Aaron

Thorough, responsible criticism would dictate more than one visit to the restaurant, no?

sean mcgary

Very dumb writing, I've been to this place several times and it keeps getting consistently better.