How did two chefs, Jeremiah Stone and Fabian Von Hauske – allegedly lovers of Cheez-its and McDonald’s French fries – come up with such a refined and ingenious menu at Contra? I don’t have the answer really, but one thing is for sure, they deserve their Michelin star without a doubt!
Contra doesn’t allow reservations for parties of 5 or more. Why, I don’t know! It’s probably down to the small size of the restaurant. It has a narrow rectangular shape. A small bar is at the entrance, an open kitchen all the way at the back, and in between brown veined chairs and tables occupied by about 30 patrons.
The atmosphere is very hip and casual. The bare brick walls bring a contemporary industrial touch to the décor. Stone and Von Hauske are all over the place but more so near the bar I must say. They have a passionate and highly tattooed team in the back following carefully the instructions left by the two owners and chefs, Jeremiah and Fabian. The first one is in charge of the savory part of the menu and the latter of the bread, butter, and desserts.
The 6-course tasting menu is only $74, and a supplemental wine pairing is offered for $60! Of course, you have to add tax and tip, but still, where can you find such a bargain in New York City? We’re definitely talking big leagues here: Stone worked at Rino, Paris and The Modern, New York City and Von Hauske at Noma, Copenhagen and Attica, Melbourne. Both went to the French Culinary Institute for their education and together they created this artful seasonal menu. The wine list is quite unexpected as well. There is an interesting selection of bottles coming from small winemakers, mostly from French and Italian regions. Don’t bet on any known names, you will lose your stake. We ventured with the La Roche Bezig white wine and the Terme de Guiu for the red.
The menu changes on a regular basis, and faster than we hope! We started ours with the Gimlet and Sour cocktails. I was not overly impressed but it was refreshing and frankly, isn’t it stylish to start dinner with a cocktail? Our drink was paired with a crunchy amuse-bouche that awakened our senses. We were ready!
First came the bread along with quenelle-shaped butter, it was divine. When the restaurant opened, the bread & butter cost $3 extra, now it’s part of the menu and it’s much better this way.
The fennel and bay scallop salad was perfectly balanced and was topped with celeriac, also known as celery root.
I can still remember the incredible taste of the crab mix covered with a thin slice of kohlrabi coated with pea sauce. The three ingredients blended well and left a delightful imprint in my memory.
The Striped bass was cooked to perfection and shared its flavor with Asian shishito peppers and caramelized onions.
Chef Stone is not keen on seasoning his dishes with too much salt, which I highly appreciate. The pork was subtly elevated by the additions of cabbage, matsutake mushroom, and a mysterious sauce. The mouthfull reached its true meaning when all the ingredients were combined.
The creativity didn’t stop with dessert; the combination of fig and sunchoke (Jerusalem artichoke) was inventive and pleasantly crunchy.
Everything has an end, and the menu at Contra is no exception, but fortunately it had a happy one: a very pleasant grape and walnut ice cream.
138 Orchard St, New York, NY 10002
Dinner-only 6pm to 10pm
Closed Sunday and Monday