More than a few people thought Alias might give up the ghost when chef Shane Coffey left last year. But the place has a way of staying in business, and new chef Mark Barrett seems to have stabilized it. (Barrett was hired in April but has only been cooking in the place for three weeks.) The menu at Alias has a split personality: On the one side is the pub grub that has helped keep the place in business these many months, all burgers, nachos, and the like; on the other is Barrett’s upscale, seasonal Italian food, reflective of the work he did at Babbo. (Readers of Bill Buford’s Heat will remember him from the book, in which he made a memorable clam sauce for the staff.) Why the long delay? Barrett was away in Uzbekistan, of all places, where he ate “tons of plov [pilaf] and sashlik [kebabs], some horse meat, and even dog.”
Barrett, though, isn’t about to create an Uzbek fusion restaurant on Clinton Street. “I don't think the Lower East Side is ready for horse meat,” he says. The best-selling dishes on the new menu are a polenta-crusted cod with broccoli rabe, green garlic, and romesco, and a sautéed tiger-shrimp appetizer served with parsley, Pernod, and lime. That’s good to hear. But for us, the most significant part of Barrett’s installation lies in the fact that we have now lost the trail of Jason Neroni. The Desperate Chef was filling in for some months but is gone now, headed toward his next adventure. And where might that be? “He’s not here,” was all Barrett could tell us.