Not many small, privately owned restaurants in New York City can survive all of the changes that come along with the replacement of an executive chef, especially when those changes mean you will have to rebrand your entire restaurant concept, hoping to retain the former regulars, while acquiring new ones.
In a city like New York, after all, no excellent chef would be content stepping into the role merely as a replacement, executing the same dishes as his predecessor with the same finesse, enthusiasm and integrity. That requires nothing more than a well-trained parrot.
This dilemma is precisely what faced Alobar in Long Island City last year, when their previous chef left the space he had built as a snout-to-tail porcine sanctuary. What was left was a menu with loads of bacon, guanciale and pig tails with no leader to cure the pork in the basement any longer. This little piggy had gone to the market, with no plans of returning.
Fortune favors the brave, and Alobar found a new leading man just about four months ago. Astoria’s own Greg Profeta is one of the sweetest, most jovial of souls you would ever meet, and his eyes twinkle when he talks about vegetables for the spring menu. He mentions hearts of palm he has flown in from Hawaii that are the best he has ever tasted — and will be a supporting character in his beet salad. Profeta describes the menu he has been developing as ‘whimsical, fun, and cheeky,’ which are probably the three words anyone would use to describe him, as well. And everyone knows what can happen when a chef with some serious skills puts his own charisma into his dishes. It can be real magic.
On the menu that will be unveiled this month, gnocchi becomes a playground for the flavors of a loaded baked potato. Potpie is stuffed into an alabaster ceramic dish, loaded with braised rabbit and bubbling gruyere over a golden pastry crust, almost like a hunter’s French onion soup.
“And I really like to work around the vegetables… they are so delicate,” said Profeta with a smile as he placed the hearts of palm over a meticulously stacked mound of beets and greens. Jeff Blath leaned in and proudly whispered, “He just knows all the right techniques and takes those things and makes something fun.”
Outside of the menu, Blath has been having some of his own fun, creating the largest selection of whiskey in Queens. He has collected a selection of more than 100 whiskies, which can also be enjoyed in flights. There is even a whiskey made with quinoa.
Cocktails showcase some clever mixology that has been registering high marks with the customers. The Vernon Smash features bourbon with blackberries, mint and ginger beer. A mix called the Chauvinist Pig wuzzles scotch with chartreuse, ramazzotti, and eaux de vie.
With all of the changes, one might wonder if anything stayed the same. “We kept the maple bacon popcorn,” said Blath with a laugh. Of course. They might be rebranding, but they aren’t dumb.
46-42 Vernon Blvd., Long Island City
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