The problem with wine bars is the food. Why is it that the only options seem to be cheese and charcuterie plates? Wildair, the newish wine bar run by the team behind popular restaurant Contra, focuses on natural and funky wines, and the food menu is so much more than cheese and prosciutto. And it lacks that “wine bar” atmosphere that can be a little annoying–pretentiousness, vinophiles taking about how they LOVE this grape, girls night out pre-gaming, etc. It feels like a comfortable neighborhood bar filled with normal people who are there just to hang out.
I have mixed feelings about making a meal out of small plates, but the ones at Wildair are diverse and well portioned so that you can feel like you’ve had a proper square meal. If you only had to limit yourself to one thing, order the fried squid. It looks like the stuff that they serve at Chinese restaurants, except the batter is so much crisper and starchier, and the meat is actually soft and tender and almost ceviche like. And of course, that black ink aioli makes all the difference.
I initially didn’t want to order the bread and olive oil, because why fill up on something so safe and commonplace when there’s a beef tartare to try, but this is one hearty, rustic loaf that represents what we love most about bread. Thick, country crust with a warm, glutinous and yeasty interior and served with the best olive oil, it’s comforting and nourishing and pleasing. It surprisingly outshone the beef tartare I was eyeing, which was disappointingly covered in a blanket of smoked cheddar instead of being left pure and plain.
We ordered a pork milanese in case the other plates were too measly, and we probably could have done without it. It was a perfectly solid dish, but not all that memorable, other than being dense and heavy. I started to notice that all of these plates started adding up. The pork rillettes, which is a shredded paste of mashed pork meat cooked in its own fat, takes up real estate like a foie gras can, and the fried squid and loaf were of course incremental. We were on the verge of canceling the order of Georgia white shrimp with celery and Korean chili, but I was glad to have made room for them and would recommend that others do the same.
If this place weren’t always so packed, I would probably come here regularly, because it’s nice trying a new, weird wine with a little food on the side. Be prepared for disappointment, as the no-reservations policy means that a walk-in attempt at 7 pm will simply be impossible, even if you’re willing to wait for hours, because so is everyone else. A seat here may be a wildcard, but the odds of a good meal at Wildair are anything but.
142 Orchard St (between Rivington and Delancey St)
New York, NY 10002