After entering Wildair, a small natural wine bar on Orchard Street in the Lower East Side, it feels as though you have stumbled upon a gem hidden right under your nose. The music is loud; exposed brick covers the wall, and the metal tables are equipped with small cubbies to house napkins and silverware. A group of girlfriends laughed as they sipped from their glasses; a young couple, intimately close at a corner spot against the wall, giddily engaged in conversation; young servers busily made their rounds amid the cheerful din of slightly tipsy guests and pumping music. Wildair’s atmosphere promotes a sense of ease as one absorbs the laid-back vibe, enjoying the wine the server recommended, along with a few small plates from the menu.
Wildair has thought of everything — which is no surprise, given the fact that its chefs are Jermiah Stone and Fabián von Hauske of the East Village’s upscale restaurant Contra. But while Contra earned a Michelin star in 2017, solely offering prix fixe tasting menus, Wildair enjoys a more relaxed approach. Its menu is small, yet diverse, containing a variety of sophisticated, shareable plates, which serve as satisfying accompaniments to one’s bottle of natural wine.
The appeal of Wildair lies in its versatility — it is an ideal place for a date, drinks with friends or a glass of wine enjoyed with some delicious snacks. While the food is certainly ambitious, it can sometimes disappoint. An appetizer of breakfast radishes, arranged artistically over a plate of seaweed butter sprinkled with matcha, was unsatisfyingly small. But the black maitake mushrooms, coming nestled on a bed of creamy stracciatella and topped with bits of crunchy chicken skin, were satisfyingly slippery and salty, highlighting the chefs’ genius. Two petite wedges of lettuce, each topped with pistachios, chili and a sprinkling of dill, were delicious but far too skimpy a portion.
But perhaps this strategy of leaving diners wanting more is precisely how Wildair maintains their revolving door of guests.
The most satisfying dish of all was unquestionably the dessert. The tiny chocolate hazelnut tart, with its luscious chocolate mousse encased within a sturdy shortbread-like crust, deserved to be savored slowly. Moments like these more than make up for any inconsistencies present among some of the other dishes.
Here is a space where chefs Jermiah Stone and Fabián von Hauske can freely experiment without fear of losing a star or eliciting a damning review. Instead, guests have the opportunity to experience the pleasure and joy of cooking and, like the chefs, focus on the food, wine and atmosphere as opposed to maintaining a certain reputation. Dinner here will undoubtedly be at once fun and delicious, free from pretension but far from ordinary. Wildair does not strive to be perfect, and that’s precisely why it is.
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