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Restaurants, Contemporary American Lower East Side
4 out of 5 stars
 (Liz Clayman)
Liz ClaymanBeef tartare at Wildair
 (Liz Clayman)
Liz ClaymanSteak for two at Wildair
 (Liz Clayman)
Liz ClaymanFried squid at Wildair
 (Liz Clayman)
Liz ClaymanWildair
 (Liz Clayman)
Liz ClaymanWildair

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

They call it second-child syndrome: a loosening of the reins, a slight dimming of the overeagerness that comes with adding a sibling to that precious firstborn. Same goes with restaurants—the debut is the pride and joy, painstakingly planned for and helicopter-parented. The second is, often, looser, more casual, given more slack and less push.

Such is the case of Wildair, the 45-seat sister restaurant to chef Jeremiah Stone and pastry chef Fabian von Hauske’s avant-garde tasting-menu den, Contra, two doors down. Contra already had an understated, almost mumblecore approach to set menus—five courses clocked in at $55 when the place opened; elevated to its current $67, it’s still a bargain—but Wildair is even more low-pressure, set with sardine-packed bar tables, a fuzzy midaughts soundtrack and neighborhood affability. (On a recent night, more than one diner recognized wine director Jorge Riera from his tenure at the nearby Ten Bells. Bear hugs ensued.)

And though Wildair’s snacky, à la carte menu has less sharp-edged experimentation than Contra’s, there are low-key innovations at play here. The simple bistro pleasure of breakfast radishes with soft-churned sweet butter are smacked with the briny funk of seaweed ($8), and beef tartare ($14) is sultry with smoke courtesy of a haze of hardwood-kissed cheddar, with chestnuts adding pops of crunch. A snarl of lemony fried squid ($15) proves less heavily battered than it appears, shatteringly light against a rich aioli stained black with ink.

Entrée-size options are well-executed—a dutifully crunchy pork milanese with mustard greens ($19); a fat-bordered for-two Wagyu beef with charred Padrón peppers and shallots ($85)—but lack the brainy tick of Stone’s small plates. Actually, the most cerebral section of the menu is Riera’s economical wine list, focused on offbeat natural varietals. Grab a quartered hunk of Von Hauske’s superb bread, a few small plates and a deep-gold bottle of big-boned Bodegas Gómez Nevado sherry ($36), and see—Wildair proves second doesn’t always mean second best.

By: Christina Izzo



Address: 142 Orchard St
Cross street: between Delancey and Rivington Sts
Transport: Subway: F to Delancey St
Price: Average dish: $16. AmEx, MC, V.
Opening hours: Wed–Sat 6pm–midnight
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