NYC
Posted April 23, 2022

It was my partner’s friend’s birthday, and they had asked for my partner to make a reservation to a Michelin Star restaurant that was not overwhelmingly expensive (< $120 per person before wine). My partner started looking for more contemporary cuisines, and stumbled onto this which was a bit below the radar of restaurants. I remembered looking at the menu a while back, and nothing really struck me as a must-have … but I’m always open to trying to prove myself wrong.

Ambiance

The restaurant was of course fairly small, and they sat us about halfway in the restaurant between the bar area and the more noisy dining area. You can see the kitchen directly in the back as the wait staff comes in and out. Our waitress was phenomenal and recommended the right amount of courses, such that we would be pleased. With a party of 4, you can easily order the entire menu, and it will come close in price, if not cheaper, than the $110 carte blanche tasting menu. The tasting menu is basically chef’s pick on 5 savory dishes and 1 dessert dish.

Do keep in mind that they only have 1 bathroom for the entire restaurant.

The service was outstanding. They always kept our waters filled even after we paid, and when it comes to payment, they bring the card reader directly to your table.

Food

The Contra Spritz ($18 - left) came with contratto bitter, yellow chartreuse, and sparkling rosé. This was pretty smooth and good.

The Ve d’Avior, Son Llebre Blanc, 2020 ($21 - right) was a skin contact wine from Mallorca, Spain. It has a unique and distinctive taste to it that is very fresh. It is quite complex with many different layers to the taste, and I am no wine expert. According to a site, it says that it has pineapple, peaches, and banana skins with aromatic nose of pineapple and custard apple, floral, and some acidity. Regardless of all these details, it went well with all of the foods we had tonight. I highly recommend it if you’re looking for a white wine that is different.

The complimentary bread was delightful because it had that nice crisp on the outside with the warm innards. The butter that came with it was very sleek and easy to spread.

The blue prawn ($16) came with turnip, umeboshi, and etrog. We had to order two plates of this to accommodate our party of 4. The blue prawns were good, though it seemed strange to slice them in half. The flavor profiles were fairly muted and also a little forgettable.

The wagyu beef tartare ($24) came with quince mole, guajillo chili, and sesame. The mole and chili were very apparent, and they matched well with the beef tartare. From a taste perspective, it really just tasted like raw minced meat with chili powder and sesame oil, but my party did enjoy this.

The scallop ($22) came with kohlrabi and seaweed. This was not an easy dish to share, but the scallops did taste fresh. Everything else on the plate was forgettable though.

The monkfish ($32) came with koginut squash, maitake, and swiss chard. The monkfish was cooked perfectly, though I did not quite enjoy it as much with the swiss chard since it didn’t really add much to it. My partner really loved the maitake mushrooms and says it was one of the best they have had.

The lobster tart ($31) came with porcini and rose. This was interesting in that the tart was similar to a dense crab cake except it was made from lobster chunks and had lobster flavors. There also appeared to be some very thin shaved slices of black truffle in it.

The smoked eel & white asparagus ($29) came with sauce pearà, onion, and nasturtium. The eel was decent, but I thought this was a little plain for my palette.

I also ordered a Mátyas Family Estate, Sandwich Pinot Gris, 2019 ($20) skin contact wine from Strekov, Slovakia. This one had some very interesting flavors and smells. The smell was similar to cough syrup somewhat, but the taste was very complex. It had a very earthy flavor and just reminded me of farm dirt in a good, albeit, funky way. According to some wine sites, it says they use crushed grapes to line the bottom of the fermentation barrel, then layer fresh, unpressed Pinot Gris grapes on top, and then lastly layer another layer of crushed grapes on top of that. This is the so called “sandwich” method. It was easy to drink and complemented with the food very well if you’re into a different style of Pinot Gris.

The wagyu coulotte ($32) came with broccoli rabe, turnip, and anchovy. We ordered two plates of this. The steak was very small for the price, but it did taste good of course. It was cooked perfectly medium rare, and the quality of the cut was sublime. There were no tendons nor chewiness.

The stilton ($18) came with rosa di veneto and rhubarb. This was simply cheese and rhubarb leaves, so not much to this.

We also ordered a dessert wine, Lindenlaub, Ma Petite Chipie, 2018 ($18) which comes from Alsace, France. It was not as sweet as other dessert wines, and it paired great with the desserts below.

The blackberry & pistachio ($15) came with semifreddo and olive oil cake. This tasted pretty good though I was slightly disappointed because the ingredients sounded better than it actually tasted.

The strawberry & almond ($15) came with almond mousse and strawberry granita. This was by far the favorite of the group due to the balanced flavors of the almond and the strawberry together. It’s a very refreshing combination.

Final Verdict

Contra was a good overall restaurant that can fit well if you are on a budget. For a Michelin One Star, it’s a good entry restaurant for those to try a bit more refined dishes if you haven’t done so before. However compared to other Michelin Star restaurants, I find the flavors to be much more subtle, arguably forgettable, and not as explosive. They do have a decent wine selection, especially their skin contact wines, and the service was phenomenal.

Yelp Jabs

This review is based on vegetarian items and I cannot speak for the non-vegetarian menu items at Contra… The bill was over $200 and I don’t think it was worth it at all. As a vegetarian I would not recommend this restaurant to anyone

Yelp should probably have tags for vegetarians on their review section. This Yelper complained about many of the items being boring and plain. Personally even for the seafood and meat dishes, I did not find many of the items to be very bold in flavors. I can only imagine how much more plain would be if you’re just a vegetable eater.

The place was super unique and had dishes that I’ve never had before. The beef tartare was their most signature dish but unfortunately I had stomach issues from the raw beef. My friend that went there the same day didn’t have any issues so it might have been my own problem.

Beef tartare definitely isn’t for everyone, especially if you have never had it. If it’s your first time, it might be good to try it out in very small portions just in case if you have a bad reaction to some bacteria. If you do have a reaction, it doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily the beef’s fault.

My boyfriend had been dying to go here, the menu and options are very much his palette (bold/rich flavors, unique pairings, one of the kind type meals)

Price aside, many of these flavors were far from being bold and rich nor one of a kind. I think this restaurant is targeting a specific audience. For those that are willing to spend a little bit more, it will be very difficult to recommend this restaurant over those. For those that are looking to begin their adventure into $100 dinners with a little more uniqueness than your average restaurant, then this is a good start.