Contra has been our go-to restaurant in NYC since its opening in september. The vibe in this tiny well designed restaurant is one that is hard to come by in nyc/brooklyn: it’s laid back, doesn’t take it self too seriously despite being serious about food, the price is reasonable, the people watching is always good, and as a diner you don’t have to make any decisions, it is all done for you. Perhaps now its more clear why we end up here a lot!
The young chefs behind this ” tasting menu only” spot are some of our favorite people. They are talented, ambitious and willing to go out on a limb and do, –what many find one of the trickiest/balsiest things to do in NYC –open a restaurant.
These boys are not playing it safe and you gotta love them for it. As we all know, opening a restaurant is risky as hell. It is expensive and there is no room for failure. At the end of the day, restaurants need to make the numbers, one bad month and the business suffers. The inherit pressures that come from trying to break even every month can weigh on a chef and greatly impact their creativity and whittle away their freedom necessary to innovate. Often times restaurants end up adapting their menus to what is demanded by the NYC customer (and what is worst, their food critics) the result is a lot of redundancy in a somewhat uncreative culinary landscape. We must applaud the Contra team for staying true to their vision.
Fabs and Jeremiah, like many great designers I know, have found a way to harness their creativity through the use of constraints. Their constraints being budget, seasonality, total number of courses and time. They do not start from scratch each week, instead they build off of the foundations of what they know works. A slight change of sauce here and addition of produce there. These constraints keep them honest and give them the ability to make more with less, innovating carefully through one small iteration at a time.
Whenever you hear of this dynamic duo it often starts with mention of their age and their strong friendship. Yes it is true these BFFs are pretty young but they are far from green. Both Fabs and Jeremiah have built up quite the CVs, working at some of the hottest restaurants around the world.
These impressive resumes often get them in trouble especially when people set the bar too high. Pro tip: If you go to Contra thinking it is an affordable way to try Noma, Faviken or Rino, you will be disappointed. Contra may be inspired by the learnings from their past experiences but their cuisine remains autonomous and uniquely their own.
Linda, like the chefs, has a pretty unworldly resume. She has worked at some of the most impressive restaurants and her wine knowledge rivals some of the best and brightest out there. Linda has set an incredible foundation at Contra and has sadly decided to move onto her next adventure. We will miss her but are super elated to hear about her next adventure, wherever it might be. stay tuned…
Below is the menu of our very first meal at contra back in September.
The interior at Contra is like it’s food, casually sophisticated. The restaurant’s clean and modern lines play well with the organic edge of the community table and the irreverence of the paint dunked family portrait of Fabs’ great great grandfather. ( Fabs is such a creative story teller, you can never take him too seriously)
To say that Jeremiah’s food is solid is an understatement. Each of our meals he has surprised us with some incredible hits. The chicken, featured above, is one of those memorable dishes. The chicken is moist on one side and the skin perfectly crispy on the other. If you find the chicken on the menu that night consider yourself a lucky man/woman!
Jeremiah’s perfectly cooked monkfish is a frequent player on the tasting menu and there is a good reason why. Without a doubt one of our favorites.
Fabs’ bread and butter may cost a little extra but it is delicious and oftentimes the best vehicle to mop up any leftovers from the plate. (Far more elegant than the straight tongue to plate approach.)
You will not find anything chocolately and safe here on the dessert side of the menu! Fabs’ creations are genius and will push you too rethink and redefine your associations with dessert. His dishes can be so creative and unusual that people often don’t know what to make of them. In my opinion, this response of confusion is the mark of true innovation and success. His flavors and textures are beautifully varied and playful and never too sweet. I greatly respect what Fabian is doing in the kitchen here and think more and more pastry chefs should be pushing the boundaries in the way that he has. We are really looking forward to seeing/eating what new creations he has in the works!
The above dish was incredible! I can honestly say that we have never had a dessert quite like it!
Jeremiah and Fabs open up their kitchen in order to feature their chef friends every couple months. Fabs, who used to do all the flyers and design for his old band, takes this opportunity to expand his creativity past the kitchen and back into design. The flyers that he crafts for each dinner are edgy and full of eye catching graphic depth. Every guest chef dinner I not only look forward to the food but also the art.
As for the food, each dinner features a unique menu that showcases the talent of the guest chef with a few collaborative dishes between all minds in the kitchen. We love these dinners especially when they feature chefs whose restaurants are far outside of NYC like Ben Sukle from Birch in Providence. Sadly Jose usually can’t make it to these dinners given that they fall on a weekday. Despite his absence I was able to take a few pictures of my own of the Alma dinner featured here. btw I did take pictures from the Birch dinner but I guess Jose deemed them unworthy. He is such a tough critic.
Overview: Contra is a restaurant that you should not miss! Its fun, laid back vibe and fantastic progressive cuisine will create a regular out of you as it has for Jose and I. Follow these guys, they are bound to do great things!
138 Orchard St, New York, NY 10002