The Lower East Side’s acclaimed tasting-menu-wine-bar duo Contra and Wildair is back this week following temporary closures — sort of. The neighboring restaurants are teaming up on a new project called Contrair, a delivery and takeout only project brings together both of their sensibilities in a new menu.
At Contra, chefs Jeremiah Stone and Fabian Von Hauske Valtierra earned a Michelin star for their upscale but not stuffy $89 prix-fixe dinner, and at Wildair, they’ve become known for composed small plates. Contrair, though, takes a decidedly different tone.
Divided into hot, cold, and sweet sections, Contrair’s eclectic menu consists of cross-cultural stews, braises, soups, and sauces — “homey dishes” that can weather both a bike ride uptown and thirty seconds in the microwave, Stone says. There’s slow-cooked golden crab congee with Old Bay wontons, braised beef tripe with cotija cheese, and lamb-stuffed cabbage. A leg of barbecue chicken called Jerry’s Jerked Chicken also makes an appearance on the menu.
These dishes might be lukewarm when they get to someone’s door, “but if you pop them in the oven, they’re going to taste the same as when we made them,” he says.
The more, mostly new casual menu is intentional. Contrair is mostly inspired by dishes that Stone and Von Hauske have made for events, pop-up dinners, and friends in their home kitchens, but also their own misadventures with delivery. “I order delivery every now and again,” Stone says. “Last week, I ordered a pasta dish. It looked good online, but when it got to me I thought, ‘No. This just doesn’t make sense as a delivery dish.’”
Still, there are clear references to Contra and Wildair from when they were open to dine-in service — two options Contra’s final tasting menu have been turned into delivery-friendly dishes, including tabbouleh with pomegranate and a miso kale and chopped beet salad.
The famed natural wine lists from the two restaurants will also be available for delivery, with a hefty roster that includes sparkling, red, white, and rosé bottles.
The pre-mixed 16-ounce cocktail bottles are new though, available in three flavors: the Gold Lion, made from vodka, ginger, and lime; the Paper Crane, with bourbon and lemon juice; and a mezcal passionfruit drink called the Tide Pool.
The cocktails displayed on Contrair’s Caviar page over stock photography of the Milky Way Galaxy — a Photoshop job done partly because a representative from the had to cancel a photography session, but also because the team is trying to have fun with their new delivery restaurant despite the environment. Also part of the playful vibe: the dessert item called “dirt cup,” which is literally the childhood dessert of the same name, made true-to-form with pudding, cocoa crumble, and gummy dinosaurs.
“We don’t want it to be all doom and gloom,” Stone says.
Having fun can seem like a luxury in times as sobering as these, but for restaurant workers like those at Contrair, it’s also vital, Stone says. The ten employees who work out of Contra’s kitchen have each agreed to a set of terms outlined by Stone and Von Hauske Valtierra. For one, they are not allowed to take public transit, let alone see friends or family that they do not live with. Once they get to the kitchen, they must record their temperature, change into clean clothes, put on gloves, and wear a mask at all times.
“It’s been a very serious two weeks,” Stone says. “Our staff has been wanting to get out. They’re excited to be cooking.”
Contrair is available for delivery starting at 12 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. Order through Caviar from 138 Orchard Street, between Rivington and Delancey streets.