About one year ago, I had a goodbye dinner with a friend who was moving away. Our mode before that was almost always Vietnamese noodles and ice cream cones, but I encouraged a splurge at the tasting-menu-only Contra in honour of her departure. We had a really great dinner that night, and it is a place I’d love to return to. When those behind Contra recently opened a more casual, a la carte restaurant, Wildair, I knew I would make an effort to go. But when everyone (media, Instagrammers, and bloggers) started to go wild (sorry) for it, it rose on my list from want to need.
A “we” rather than just “I” went on a warm August Saturday night when we expected a quiet city to make it easier to get some seats, which it did. Within 10 to 15 minutes, we could have sat at the chef’s counter… but the part of the counter that faced a brick wall instead of the kitchen. A fancy name for a shitty place to sit. We waited 10 minutes more for seats at one of the high-top communal tables, while although high-tops, had full-back comfy-ish seats.
The menu is mostly small plates, save for a few entrees and introductory snacks. With a stomach bigger than my eyes most days, I wanted everything except the entrees. But I exercised restraint. Because of size and price. I normally don’t like small plates because of the difficulty in the division and the inability to have more than just a bite or two. With two people, however, I’m game. And if I can get two small plates instead of one entrée, I want the diversity. We were only limited by my friend’s shellfish allergy, so I will be coming back to try the clams and lardo on toast we could not get. Let’s hope it stays a while.
Missing the toast was okay because, of course, we ordered the bread and olive oil. One of Contra’s supplemental courses is freshly baked bread, and it is worth the extra $3. More than worth it. I figured Wildair would not stray far from the family path in this regard. I was correct. Warm and crusty, it sucked up the grassy olive oil dotted with sea salt and brought me bliss. If I came here alone, I would have no shame in eating all four quarters.
Everyone now loves a plate of radishes, butter, and salt, and Wildair asks if you will continue to love the dish when the funk of seaweed is added. I did, my friend did not. I happily scraped the plate making bites that were 2:1 butter to radish. The squash dish was nice, light, fresh, but not one that becomes burned in your memory. It’s something that you order to balance out the tartare, meat with some veg to make your mother happy. And like in many cases, the meat was what you really wanted. The soft and slightly chewy tartare was richer than the one I had recently at The Catbird Seat, and the salty cheddar definitely added to the decadence. It was excellent. I may have missed out on the clam toast, but the spicy tuna came atop gorgeous dark-crusted bread that yielded to bites much easier than its exterior suggested. The juicy, in-season tomatoes made you think more of textbook bruschetta than a maki roll, thankfully, even if the tuna wasn’t very spicy. And that squid (with squid-ink aioli, or can I just say mayo?). SO good. No rubber band texture here. But, I might have liked the fried lemon slices best of all on that plate. There were only two desserts, and I could not have the chocolate hazelnut tart because of an allergy. So, we both ordered the panna cotta (I’m not a good sharer). Our server ended up bringing us the tart gratis. The verdict was that the filling was good, but not so much the crust. I’m always a fan of something cool and creamy, and the panna cotta portion of my dessert was textbook. I don’t usually like icy things, but the delicate flavour of watermelon played nicely off the vanilla and the finely-shaven crystals of the granita were a textural contrast I enjoyed.
Speaking of our server, while not always there when we needed her, she was lovely. And very helpful with the wine list, which has many offerings by the glass. Wildair is known for having a good Pét-Nat selection, of which we each started with a glass of cider from that list on her suggestion. A fantastic one.