Restaurant reservations may be NYC’s most competitive sport. (Take our baseball teams, please.) I have half-a-dozen Resy notifications set at any given time and only two have come through in the past several months. As a result, snagging a hot table always feels like a win.
Contento opened on 111th Street in June and swiftly garnered extensive press—and tons of buzz—surrounding its important, and often woefully overlooked, mission of providing “accessibility to all.” About half of Contento’s bar is positioned at a height to accommodate wheelchair users, its tables are slightly raised to do the same and adaptive utensils are available on request.
Sommelier Yannick Benjamin (previously of Le Cirque and Jean-Georges) and business partner George Gallego considered these details as wheelchair users themselves. Chef Oscar Lorenzzi (the Waverly Inn, Marseille) authored the Peruvian-influenced menu that includes some early highlights.
The ceviche clasico ($21) is plated like a kaleidoscope of corn, cilantro, slivered onion, dollops of potato purée and plump scallops in a daring leche de tigre. The bright marinade flies as close to the sun as it can without bursting into an acid burn, beautifully balancing the cool, mild bivalve. The studied small plate authoritatively underscores the talent and experience in Contento’s kitchen.
A generous portion of duck liver mousse ($19) is a more substantial appetizer—rich and a little airy under a deep purple chicha morada gelee named for the corn-based Peruvian drink. It’s served with a lovely purple corn focaccia that’s a short zag from the expected and another well-executed reminder of why you’re dining at Contento and not just wherever pâté and toast points are sold.
Mains are nicely finished with nuanced follow-through, the best of which, short ribs over udon noodles in peanut sauce ($34), achieves each element’s peak form: The meat is tender, the noodles are buoyant and the light sauce coats rather than cloaks. The arroz con pato’s ($33) bone-in duck leg is also successful, with crispy skin and an easily shredded, juicy interior. And, although the crispy-skin salmon’s ($32) exterior could be a bit more brittle, its accompanying pillows of hominy are expertly textured and one of the menu’s most memorable bites.
A few months into operations, Contento delivers on its promising initial headlines with good food and drinks, a comfortable space and surprisingly available reservations. In NYC’s unending game of have you been, it’s a terrific place to tally up some points.
The Vibe: Intimate and convivial with a fun soundtrack late-90s kids will love.
The Food: Nicely-executed Peruvian plates unique to Contento’s kitchen, including a bright ceviche with a leche de tigre you’ll want to sip straight from the bowl.
The Drinks: Contento’s billed largely as a wine bar, but mixologist Heidi Turzyn’s (Gotham Bar & Grill) cocktail menu is a list of hits. Accomplished drinkers can start with the bourbon-based, autumnal Spruce to Meet You, switch to an excellent wine recommendation for dinner, and finish with the rummy, perky Lime & the Coconut.
Time Out Tip: The short ribs’ peanut sauce is described as spicy on the menu. I did not detect any heat, but spice-resistant palates might.
Contento is located at 188 East 111th Street and is open Tuesday-Thursday from 4pm-9:30pm and Friday and Saturday from 4pm to 10:30pm.