Dinner Tuesday through Friday 6 to 11 p.m., Saturday until midnight
F, J, M, Z at Delancey St.-Essex St.; N, R at 8th St.-NYU
Tasting menu, $55
Contra, which opened late last year on a relatively untraveled stretch of Orchard Street, looks at first like an advertisement for every annoyingly precious, utilitarian dining trend that has swept through the New York restaurant world in the past decade or so. The signage out front is so small that you might walk by the nondescript storefront once or twice before you figure out that there’s a restaurant inside. The narrow railroad dining space features a small table hewn from a gnarled log and a long aqua-green banquette that looks (and feels) like something you’d sit on while feeding pigeons in the park. The walls are (mostly) red brick; the floors are poured with concrete in the chic, nouveau-bunker style; and the only dining option (save for the à la carte bar menu) is a lean, runically labeled tasting menu served by waiters sporting intricately colored sleeve tattoos.
Unlike other precious tasting menus around town, however, this one costs a relatively modest $55. Your five-course dinner might include a tasty risotto made with wheat berries, uni, and fresh clams, and a chunk of seared monkfish, which the young chefs Jeremiah Stone and Fabian von Hauske finish, not unpleasantly, with a pale smoked-fish emulsion and a pinch of powdered genmaicha tea. My tepid “slow-roasted” pork collar appeared not to have been roasted enough, but my bits of roast chicken leg were more or less perfect, and if the waiter offers you a taste of the house pigeon (honey-colored, like Peking duck, and with the claw still attached), you should order it on the spot. The desserts are less arresting, as a rule, although I’m happy to report that the one constructed with yogurt sorbet and gianduja crémeux works quite well once you remove the desiccated beet chips from the top.Recommended Dishes
Pay special attention to the poultry dishes, like chicken and roast pigeon.