It’s funny. If you listen to all the jibber jabber on the streets of New York, you’ll hear people talking about the Lower East Side as grungy, cheap, and where all the bars are. Therefore, you wouldn’t imagine that New York’s best new restaurant this year would be located there right? If you haven’t heard yet, Wildair, the natural wine restaurant that focuses on seasonal produce and creative plates, has made the Best New Restaurant list in top magazines and food sites such as: Bon Appetit, GQ, Thrillist, and Eater. I went two weeks ago, feeling a bit excited, trying not to reach the peak of my hopes because it always backfires when I do that. Luckily, SPOILER ALERT, Wildair is perfect. Seriously, it’s casual, high-top seating, intimate yet social at the same time, no pressure dining, and you can order just two plates or the entire menu and no one will judge. The gracious attitude of the staff here even after wining all this recognition is so humble, pleasant, and straight up cool (not hipster cool, just cool). I’m telling the truth when I say there isn’t a bad seat in the house. You can sit along the counter by the kitchen and flirt with the chefs, or sit in the communal areas and make new friends. How nice is that!
Now onto what you can stuff in your mouth. The Little Gem Lettuce with Pistachio is not something I would ever order until I saw it sitting on the pass staring at me. The crunchy leaves, green creamy dressing, and pistachio sprinkles work like a charm in every flavor profile and texture. Who knew salad could be this good? The beef tartare with smoked cheddar and brazil nuts made me instantly think in Passover language “Why is this beef tartare different from all other tartare?” It’s super tasty, memorable, and all of the dishes are the ideal size for sharing with 2-4 people. Skip the crispy grain salad. It’s a little bitter and outshined by everything else we ate.
However, don’t miss the second tartar which is Spicy Tuna Toast, Tomato, Scallions, and a Kewpie Mayo. This was new on the menu two weeks ago, and you should race over there now if you haven’t had it yet. This made me confirm my hate for spicy tuna rolls at sushi restaurants since the flavor of the tuna here is not hidden by all that mayo and you know it’s actually fresh. The crunch on the crusty bread is a major score. You could actually eat this for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Tuna Toast forever! It’s $18 – think about how much you pay for a sushi roll that has way less tuna in it. What a steal!
The Fried Squid with Spring Onion, Lemon, and Basil is nothing like that silly calamari you might envision. It’s thick cut pieces of squid with a light layer of breading that melts in your mouth, I repeat melts– not crunches like a chicken tender in your mouth. I’ve never had squid like this. I didn’t want it when we first ordered, and now I will never be able to enjoy calamari again because it will never be as good as this. It’s almost like meeting an entirely new food category it’s so different. Also, I think I ate a fried lemon. Not mad about it.
With most dishes under scoring under $20, delicious wines, an easy yet uplifting vibe, and a menu you can’t compete with, my expectations for one of the country’s Best New Restaurants in 2016 is met if not surpassed. Thank you, Wildair. Wait can be up to two hours for a party of two on a Friday at 730 so beware.