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Alobar: A bit of ‘Portlandia’ in Long Island City

Wild Mushroom Toast served at Alobar in Long Island City. Photo by Suzanne Parker
TimesLedger Newspapers

Get over your Brooklyn envy. Locavore artisanal restaurants, passionate about their food and drink, are popping up around western Queens like fungi after a rainy spring. Not only that, but they’ve breached the final barrier to restaurant wonderfulness: service. We’ve previously lamented, usually to ourselves, the undeniable resemblance of Queens’ wait staff to extras on “Jersey Shore.” Happily, that stereotype seems to have given way to the Inner Borough’s tendency to hire savvy aspirants to the arts waiting for their big break. At least that’s the impression they give.

Alobar is a recent addition to a string of restos that call to mind “Portlandia,” an IFC show based on the earthy, hippie-ish Portland scene, with its insistence on locally sourced ingredients. Its name, another Pacific Northwest connection, derives from King Alobar, a character in the Tom Robbins novel “Jitterbug Perfume.” Being slightly more spacious than some of its counterparts, it makes an equally relaxing venue for imbibing, grazing or dining. The kitchen is open to view amid the dimly lit earth-toned rest of the house. If we have one little kvetch, it’s that the decibel level of the recorded music is not conducive to conversation. But maybe that’s our fogey sensibilities.

Do begin with something from the bar. If you like something that’s both tart and sweet, try their Quince Cooler of gin, lemon, elderflower and membrillo (quince) for some “I-can’t-quite-place-the-flavor” goodness. They also have a thoughtfully chosen and well-priced wine list, and an interesting collection of micro-brews.

We could have happily spent the evening working our way through the small plates. Who knew that pig tails, Amish pig tails yet, make such a tasty snack. The pigs, we were assured, were non-sectarian. It is the recipe, gleaned from an Amish community in Canada by Alobar’s Canuck chef. The experience is kind of like eating chicken necks that were lacquered with a glossy brown sugar and tomato glaze.

Littleneck clams in their shells with escarole, gigante beans and smoked tomatoes included what appeared to be chorizo rather than (or maybe in addition to) the pancetta listed on the menu. Just dipping the bread into the broth would have been a sufficient treat but the combination made for perfect synergy.

We were tempted by the roasted bone marrow with blue cheese croutons, snail butter and smoked salt, but our conscience got the better of us, and besides we don’t want to have to up our dose of Lipitor, so we went instead with the Wild Mushroom Toast, which was another triumph. The toast is layered with wild mushrooms along with smoked ricotta, roasted garlic and red wine onions. A glistening golden fried duck egg tops the heap.

By many accounts, Alobar’s signature dish is Mac & Cheese “Carbonara.” Kindergarten comfort food goes Italian. Kraft’s this is definitely not. A decadent sauce made of a blend of four cheeses graces a mound of orecchiette with strips of pancetta crowned with a truffle braised egg. You will oooh while your kindergartener eeyeew’s.

If mac ‘n’ cheese is the signature dish here, pork is the centerpiece of the menu. The preparation style varies, but there is always something porky on the menu. Our visit coincided with roast pig with cheddar risotto and Kentucky fried apples. The pig was falling apart tender, the risotto creamy.

Alobar’s website makes the claim that “every ingredient came from less than 200 miles away.” We accept as evidence the provenance of their coffee, which is roasted in Queens’ by Dallis Bros. in Ozone Park.

The Bottom Line

It is gratifying to see establishments like Alobar helping our borough earns its locavore, artisanal, sustainable Michael Pollanish foodie chops. The more the better. Now all we need is a great molecular gastronomy joint. Where are the foams and beads?

Suzanne Parker is the TimesLedger’s restaurant critic and author of “Eating Like Queens: A Guide to Ethnic Dining in America’s Melting Pot, Queens, N.Y.” She can be reached by e-mail at qnsfoodie@aol.com.

Alobar Restaurant

46-42 Vernon Blvd

Long Island City, NY 11101

(718) 752-6000

alobarnyc.com

Price Range: Small plates: $9–15; Large plates: $15-–21

Cuisine: New American locavore

Setting: Small, dim, with open kitchen

Service: Professional, attentive, well timed

Hours: Lunch & Dinner daily, Weekend Brunch

Reservations: Recommended on weekends

Alcohol: Full bar

Parking: Street

Dress: Casual

Children: Welcome

Music: Recorded

Takeout: Yes

Credit cards: Yes

Noise level: Music loud

Handicap accessible: Yes

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Reader Feedback

LIC Resident from LIC says:
I'm afraid that I was terribly disappointed in this place. Although I've been there only twice, I've not met anyone that disagrees with my opinion.

The food is not very good, it is sparce and is a bit pricy, as are their drinks.

I will probably give them another try after they have been open a bit longer. Hopefully things will improve, as I do wish them well.
Feb. 18, 2012, 7:28 pm
N from LIC says:
I disagree with the commenter below. I've been twice and while the pours are skimpy, the food I had was incredible and my company agreed. I brought home a piece of chicken for my mom who was visiting from GA and she said, "How can chicken be so good? This is the best chicken I've ever had."

The prices make it a once-in-a-blue-moon thing, though.
Feb. 21, 2012, 1:03 pm

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