Wildair Stirs a Neighborhood Vibe, with Seasonal Plates and Natural Wine

Breakfast radishes with seaweed butter at Contra spinoff Wildair, now open on Orchard Street.
Breakfast radishes with seaweed butter at Contra spinoff Wildair, now open on Orchard Street.
All photos by Adam Robb

Don't think of Wildair (142 Orchard Street, 646-964-5624), chefs Jeremiah Stone and Fabian von Hauske's more casual spinoff of next-door Contra, as a wine bar or bistro. "People always have preconceptions so we avoid descriptors," says Stone. "It's the same with music, it has to be alternative or hip-hop or indie."

Instead, they want you to think of their medley of small, shareable plates and natural wines as a hangout, both filling and reviving the vibe of their once favorite neighborhood hangouts. "Jorge [Riera], our wine director, used to be at Ten Belles, and we'd go there all the time when it was being built and we wanted to bring that energy here," recalls von Hauske. "Inoteca closed down, Ten Belles went through management changes, so we wanted to do the same as them." And while Riera's bottle list caters to the drinkers who give the room its din, blackboard raw-bar specials and seasonal ingredients — like fried squid with spring onions, and cut asparagus dressed with hazelnuts and smoked chili vinaigrette — give the kitchen its pulse.

The menu also includes some dishes familiar to Contra regulars. Von Hauske's breads aren't brushed with lardo as next door, but are married to the beverage program by a side of olive oil from Sicilian wine producer Arianna Occhipinti, whose wines they serve. "We used that oil for desserts next door, but we wanted to use it for bread here," says Von Hauske, who's currently awaiting the arrival of the restaurant's bread oven, which will spawn a more serious baking program. "We plan on opening for brunch and lunch, and making a small bread program, with laminated doughs and brioche. Then maybe we'll change up bread more often for dinner."

Stone envisions serving coffee and a baked item for breakfast in the morning as well, taking cues from the wave of modern Parisian bistronomy that has spun-off more casual spots overseas, like Frenchie to Go. Although he's quick to add, "I don't make very good sandwiches."

Stone does serve toast at Wildair, however; topped with clams and brushed with that infamous lardo. Seafood dishes here are creative yet uncomplicated, and composed to be shared without sacrificing on taste, including a quartered potato pancake piled with plush sea urchin, under a rainfall of pickled ramps, jalapeno, and shallots. "It's a simple side thing to share because you won't eat that much uni by yourself," says Stone. "Most of the dishes are plated in a way that every bite incorporates all the flavors and elements."

Fabian von Hauske's chocolate giandjua tart is assembled to order.
Fabian von Hauske's chocolate giandjua tart is assembled to order.

Von Hauske's lush desserts are assembled to order. His salted chocolate hazelnut tart is made with hazelnut flour and praline, and finished with a gianduja cremant as rich and creamy as the soft-serve Dominique Ansel now pumps. "The other dessert is a custard with rhubarb and strawberry granita. One is fresher, one is heavier," says von Hauske, who just acquired a Pacojet and will be adding ice creams to the menu in coming weeks.

And while there's no prix-fixe to guide guests at Wildair, there's also no shame in ordering everything, something guests at Contra have been known to do to an extreme despite the restaurant's set menu. "People always want more," says Stone. "Before we even start the meal guests ask for supplements, order the cheese, ask if they can order additional courses. And we do the same thing when we go out. We want carte blanche, give us everything."

Adam Robb is a food and travel writer and photographer based in Jersey City. Follow him on Twitter, @lifevicarious, and on Instagram, @adamrobbatlarge.


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