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Contra | New York | Feb ’14

9 Feb
  • Address: 138 Orchard St, New York, NY 10002
  • Phone: (212) 466-4633
  • Hours: Dinner: T-Th, 6-11pm; F-Sat, 6-12am
  • Price (after tax + tip, excl. drinks): $70
  • Courses: (5 main/6 total) 1 bread (extra $3 charge) / 3 savory / 2 dessert
  • Price/Main Course: $14
  • Rating: 16/20
  • Value: 5/5
  • Dining Time: 81 minutes
  • Time/Course (total): 13.5 minutes
  • Chef: Jeremiah Stone (ex. Rino (Paris), Isa (NYC)), Fabian von Hauske (ex. Jean Georges, Faviken)
  • Style: New Naturalist
  • Michelin Stars: N/A

Contra is a restaurant on the Lower East Side that serves a constantly-changing tasting menu. At 5 courses for $55, it has been rightly called one of the bargains of New York. The food is New Naturalist in style – a style I believe is defined by:

  1. a “let-it-fall-where-it-may” plating aesthetic
  2. vegetable-and-(heirloom)-grain forward
  3. de-emphasis on meat
  4. 3-4 principal ingredients all mixed up

The sauces were very good: I found myself often licking and finishing whatever remnants of sauce remained on my plate, and I don’t remember not licking my spoon clean.

Contra often has guest chefs over; bringing in chefs such as birch’s Ben Sukle (Providence), and Alma’s Ari Taymor (L.A.). This ferment of guest chef stints is one of the chief reasons why East Coast cuisine, is incredibly dynamic today.

Rating: 16/20

Memory: Beef + Broccoli + Scallop; Tangerine + Popcorn

Other write-ups:

  1. Spanish Hipster – the beet dessert (which I had) features in their 2013 roundup
  2. Docsconz – a lamb head at Contra features in his best of 2013 list


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1. Beef, broccoli, scallop (4.75/5)

What do rough kale, raw beef, and XO sauce have in common? They contrast divinely with slices of sweet raw scallops. Haunting.

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2. Butternut squash, grains, mussels (4.25/5)

A hearty gruel on a cruel winter’s night. Or so I fantasised, eating whole wheat grain porridge, mixed with jardiniere-cut butternut squash, with meaty plump mussels (an ingredient I’m generally indifferent to), along with a mussel stock emulsified with oil, tasting remarkably of American cheese.

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3. Lamb, eggplant, mustard greens (3.75/5)

Lamb sirloin, eggplant puree, sweet sunchoke mash, mustard greens, green garlic sauce. The lamb was well cooked, and reminded me a bit of llama from Gustu (La Paz). The best part of the dish was the sunchoke mash, bringing out the delicate sweet flavour of sunchoke well.

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4. Tangerine, popcorn (5/5)

Toppings: Popcorn powder, malt crumble, tangerine granita.

Underneath: Popcorn mousse, olive oil jam, slices of tangerine.

Bright, fruity, energetic. A slight bitterness from the olive oil jam melded perfectly with the sweet popcorn. The tangerine cut against the oil, and left this diner feeling refreshed.

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5. Beet, hazelnut, yoghurt (4.5/5)

  1. Yoghurt Sorbet
  2. Chocolate-hazelnut cremeux
  3. Beet puree

Yoghurt went very well with the hazelnut cremeux (milk-sour turning nutty-sweet), pliable to a single stroke of the spoon, and the earthy taste of beet brought this dish metaphorically back to Earth. This seems a mainstay of the menu, featuring prominently in Spanish Hipster’s 2013 roundup.

A great menu; I shall certainly be back the next time I’m in New York.