Few things inspire me to leave the West Village, head above 14th street and travel beyond Manhattan city limits—to Long Island City. But that was before Alobar.
It was any other November evening when my +1 and I emerged from the Midtown tunnel onto gentrifying Vernon Boulevard. Before then, the only thing I knew of Hunter's Point was the express train that went from NYC to the Hamptons in 2 hours. Needless to say I kept an open mind. Intrigued by what Cocktails & Joints' founder, Dale Winspeare, described as "a very cool snout-to-tail experience."
Unassuming from the outside, with double awnings marked by only BEER WINE and CAFÉ BAR respectively, I make my way inside Alobar. The vibe is casual and intimate, the décor industrial yet rustic, and there's a small crowd at the bar clad in plaid flannel and vintage tees. The best word to describe the place is welcoming
. It seems like everyone in the room knows each other.
Upon further inspection, it occurs to me Alobar is actually quite stylish. Designed with a keen attention to detail, right down to the Depression-era light fixtures. And above me, a ceiling lined in a million strips of multi-colored wood. I'm told each sliver was laid by hand, a meticulous process that took over 30 days to complete.
Through the restaurant's expansive dining area I spot an open kitchen where chefs toil amongst stainless steel and blackened iron. But the focal point is, unequivocally, the bar. It takes up half the room in milky white marble lit by votive candles, making everyone look a little sexier.
Convivial owner, Jeff Blath, hails from 5 years at Soho's ever-popular Jane Restaurant as well as The Smith in the East Village. He's long-time resident of Long Island City and one if its biggest cheerleaders. He describes Alobar's menu as a modern bent on American with traditional European influences. The twist? Keeping it local. The restaurant being "snout-to-tail" means nothing goes to waste (and yes, they do transform pig's tail into a gourmet starter).
Chef Ian Kapitan is no rookie. He hails from some of NYC's most notable fine dining establishments: Jo Jo, Vong and Danube. Trained in techniques ranging from Tuscan Italian to French-influenced Chinese, its no wonder the food is sublime. His menu at Alobar boasts the gamut of elevated comfort food, creatively rendered meat and seafood dishes with a serious emphasis on pork. Aside from these, must-tries include the charcuterie plate with piles of norcino salami, Virginia prosciutto, and boar pate. Then there is the Mac & Cheese Carbonara complete with four cheeses, pancetta and truffle-braised egg.
These are all fine reasons to eat at Alobar, but I was on a mission for one thing—the meatloaf. And let it be known that carnivorous is not normally how I roll, this is a testament to my faith in Chef Ian's gourmet execution. I was in Long Island City after all, and feeling a little rebellious.
As it turns out my opus entrée was even better than expected: a behemoth slice of heaven wrapped in crispy bacon atop a pillow of creamy mashed potatoes. My partner ordered the equally decadent shepherd's pie, both proving equally divine. And because no meatloaf entrée can be complete without a salted-caramel bread pudding, I ordered my dessert to go. Pleased with myself the next morning as I indulged with Jack's coffee and the NYT Style section.
So as the chilly bustle of the holiday season approaches, I can't think of a better reason to escape to Alobar. This persnickety New Yorker says it's worth the mission. Bring a date, bring a group, heck, bring your entire office party. You'll get mad props for discovering a diamond in the rough outside the city. And if you book this very second, you might actually get a table before New Year's.