Although I can’t promise that each night time at Contento, a brand new restaurant in East Harlem, is a celebration, I can report that, on a latest Saturday, round 10 P.M., when a number of patrons started to belt out “Seven Nation Army,” by the White Stripes, an worker rejoined by taking part in it on the sound system, inspiring an impromptu dining-room-wide rave. The following Tuesday, somebody was marking one other 12 months across the solar; a rousing sing-along to Stevie Wonder’s “Happy Birthday” ensued.
The Peruvian-inspired menu features a ceviche clásico that includes market fish, candy potatoes, corn, leche de tigre, and corn nuts.
There is way to rejoice at Contento, whose title is a Spanish cognate for “content,” as in “happy”: the opening itself, lengthy delayed by COVID and longer dreamed of by its co-founder Yannick Benjamin, an achieved sommelier and restaurant veteran (Le Cirque, Jean-Georges); Benjamin’s thoughtfully curated, internationally sourced wine record, with a variety of costs; a Peruvian-inspired menu from the chef Oscar Lorenzzi (a local of Lima who as soon as ran the kitchen on the Waverly Inn), that includes such dishes as ceviche clásico and “quinotto,” i.e. quinoa ready like risotto—nutty, creamy, and brightly jewelled with fava beans and candy peas.
But Contento’s undercurrent of pleasure appears particularly attributable to the restaurant’s uncommon dedication to inclusivity. In 2003, on the age of twenty-five, Benjamin—raised, in Hell’s Kitchen, in a household of French immigrants who labored at eating places together with La Grenouille and Lutèce—was confined completely to a wheelchair after a automotive accident. Though he didn’t let paraplegia cease him from pursuing the bold profession he’d already begun in meals and wine, he confronted no scarcity of bodily challenges, plus a substantial amount of stigma.
Yannick Benjamin (proper), one in every of Contento’s co-founders, is an achieved sommelier who was completely confined to a wheelchair after a automotive accident in 2003. His companion George Gallego (left), the founding father of a company referred to as Wheels of Progress, was Benjamin’s mentor earlier than they went into enterprise collectively.
Benjamin and his companions designed Contento’s small eating room, fairly subtly, to accommodate each friends and employees members with disabilities. There are broad passageways between tables constructed barely taller than common to match wheelchairs, a handsomely curved bar bifurcated into two heights, and a roomy toilet with an unlimited, easy-sliding door. Adaptive flatware—supposed to be used by, say, somebody with quadriplegia or A.L.S., with adjustable metallic rings that make handles simpler to grip—is out there upon request.
Benjamin, a seasoned para-athlete, wheels effortlessly across the eating room and the sidewalk patio, a personalized wine tray on his lap, making suggestions and pouring tastes with a laid-back method belied by his private uniform of crisp fits. Of the classes on his record—Wines of the Ancient World, East Coast Terroir (together with a glowing blueberry selection from Maine)—essentially the most intriguing is, maybe, Wines of Impact. These bottles come from winemakers who’re ultimately marginalized: a clean Viognier from Kishor Vineyards, in Galilee, Israel, staffed by folks with mental disabilities; a Pinot Noir from Kitá Wines, a winery on Chumash land in California’s Santa Ynez Valley, run by a Chumash lady named Tara Gomez.
Roasted asparagus on a mattress of whipped spicy ricotta, topped with quinoa crumble and a soft-boiled egg.
Before the automotive accident, “I was a six-foot-two white guy,” Benjamin advised me. “It’s incredibly humbling to go into a situation like where I am now, in a wheelchair, paralyzed for the rest of my life.” In the wine world, he stated, “I stick out. I’m different.” Contento’s location, a forty-minute “push,” as Benjamin calls wheelchair journey, from his dwelling, within the South Bronx, reminds him of the varied Hell’s Kitchen of his youth. Lorenzzi’s meals, too, bridges cultures.
A comforting entrée of shaggy brief ribs over saucy peanut udon noodles, dusted in togarashi, highlights Nikkei delicacies, a results of Japanese immigration to Peru within the first half of the 20th century, as does the wonderful Kurobuta (a Japanese time period for Berkshire pork) katsu, served with spicy daikon slaw and yuzu aioli. Lorenzzi’s devilled eggs, laced with a punchy, acidic hit of ají amarillo, a gentle, citrusy chili important to Peruvian cooking, hyperlink his roots with the American South. Contento stands proud, totally by itself phrases. (Dishes $8-$31.) ♦