Alu is dead, long live Alu. The original Alu, a short-lived German-centric kitchen on Northeast Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard shuttered in February. The new Alu, which reopened in July in the same spot but with new owners Jeff Vejr and Susan Killoran, is a wine bar with inspired cocktails and great sharable plates from former Paley's Place sous Sean Temple (before his stint at Paley's, he was one of six in the kitchen at Manhattan's Jean-Georges when it received its first three Michelin stars in 2005).
Upstairs, Alu looks much the same as its predecessor—gold and silver walls, ornate chandeliers and an overall posh but inviting look. The street-level cellar-like space has been renovated with a cozy fireplace and nicely upholstered antique furniture. There's also a newly landscaped back patio with heat lamps.
Alu's menu, which changes monthly, is on the small side—five pages for wine and cocktails, and one for food. There's a lot of house-smoked meat and seafood, seasonal vegetable dishes, and just about everything is ideal for sharing. I wouldn't call Alu's dishes small plates—they're more medium plates, price fitting. As for wine, there are 20-plus choices by the glass with a focus on biodynamic, organic and sustainable pours.
Although the menu headings are a little vague and off-putting—e.g., "Easy" for marinated olives and almonds ($4) or popcorn du jour ($3), "In House Love" for duck prosciutto ($9) and pork rillettes ($8), or "Indulgence" for desserts ($8)—for the most part three to five plates at Alu make a solid meal for two.
The house-smoked trout ($8) is a plate of delicious, tender, skin-and-tail-on fillets served with a pear mustard and housemade lavasch—a crisp, thin flatbread the width of a lasagna noodle. There's also a smoked salmon plate ($10) with moist portions of the house-smoked fish served with a too-thin aquavit crème fraîche and dill lavasch.
The recent dish of tender, ruby-red kobe beef carpaccio ($12)—lightly drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt—was astonishingly good. It was served with an equally tasty salad of fresh, thinly sliced fennel, dark basil buds, broadleaf parsley and slivers of raw king oyster mushroom lightly dressed in vinaigrette.
The fact that Alu does so much from scratch—from a house-smoked brisket sandwich with onion marmalade ($9) to thinly sliced duck breast and duck gizzard confit ($14) and house pickled veggies ($3)—is impressive considering the kitchen is the size of a small walk-in closet. "Sean was the only candidate who didn't blink an eye at the size of the kitchen," says Alu co-owner Jeff Vejr. "In fact, he really took it as a creative challenge."
Another tasty, space-challenged dish is the panko-and-ground-lemongrass-encrusted scallops ($12) served with a gingery, smoked orange-and-rosemary jam with a side of citrusy vinaigrette-dressed greens.
Look out for new seasonal cocktails soon at Alu, and—in 2010—a new Sunday brunch. And even though Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard isn't known for its ample parking (much of the busy arterial lacks parking lanes), Alu thankfully has a few spots right out front.
- Order this: A Salacious martini ($8) with specialty salts and the housemade duck prosciutto ($7) to start.
- Best deal: Hard-to-find wines ($6-$12 a glass) sourced from 20 wine reps.
- I’ll pass: Too-sweet and not-chocolatey-enough chocolate hazelnut terrine ($8) with whiskey caramel sauce.
Alu, 2831 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., 262-9463. 5-11 pm Monday-Thursday, 5 pm-midnight Friday-Saturday. $$ moderate.