A canter on gastronomy’s wild side
Claim to fame: The restaurant all foreign chefs hit up when in town.
Reason to go: Boundary pushing experimentation and new twists on old favorites.
To look out for: It’s often crowded in this no resy-restaurant.
Wildair takes its name from a prizewinning Civil War racehorse, an apt name for a wine bar that gallops across vast expanses of the culinary landscape. Chefs Jeremiah Stone and Fabian von Hauske already had a show horse in Contra when they bred this sleek kid sister next door on shabby-chic Orchard Street. It didn’t take long for the younger sibling to outrace her older brother; Contra is a contemplative restaurant with a refined six-course menu, Wildair is where Stone and von Hauske go (What else?) wild. This is where they jockey high-flying ideas, mixing the familiar and the uncharted in very competent ways.
Take for instance that bistro staple steak tartar, here it’s made with Colorado wagyu, chopped into pleasantly chewy bits, augmented by puffed buckwheat, a jab of fresh horseradish and a punch of sprightly smoked cheddar. Homespun yet sophisticated, just like the little gem lettuce with pistachio that has been primped, instead of slathered willy-nilly, with a pretty dressing of caramelized lettuce tucked into its folds. Of course your unavoidable wine bar-buddies appear on the menu; oysters, cured meats and cheese selections (From cheese superstar Ann Saxelby), they ground this Wildair mustang that would rather prance about more experimental pastures where fluke crudo flirts with ‘nduja and Hokkaido uni cozies up to a dense slice of potato darphin, making for a dish that miraculously smells like the restaurant-lined streets of Yurakucho, Tokyo. von Hauske’s a bread master, his addictive, brilliantly crusty sourdough ball is served warm with a salted olive oil from southern Sicily. Like everything else it’s not overdone or fussy but always one step ahead of the curve.
Jorge Riera is Wildair and Contra’s very friendly and ultra knowledgeable wine director. When he’s not in the restaurants he’s roaming the hinterlands of Europe, searching for winemakers who believe in letting nature have its way. Sulfite-free wines make up his impressive list of libations, Riera thrives on introducing rare, biodynamic, mostly French and Spanish finds as well obscure artful liqueurs and sherries.