Chef Gerardo Gonzalez has left hip Lower East Side restaurant El Rey. The chef — widely praised for his California-style, vegetable-focused menu — departed last week to pursue other projects after more than two years at El Rey, a spokeswoman for the restaurant says. Owner Nicholas Morgenstern says in a statement that the popular kale salad will remain on the menu. It's still unclear what other changes will be happening to the hit cafe in Gonzalez's absence, but word is that the menu will be seeing some changes.
Gonzalez will be traveling to Mexico and Europe until the fall to work out the concept for a new restaurant in the former space of legendary Chinatown dive bar Winnie's, a project he's working on with Mateusz Lilpop and Benedict dos Remedios, managers of Australian restaurant Dudley's. A preliminary menu submitted to Community Board 3 described "an all day and night" place with items like coffee, kale salad, and roast chicken, but Gonzalez tells Eater the menu will be completely different when the restaurant opens later this year. It will still feature Latin food and will likely remain an all-day restaurant, but he's using the travel time this summer to nail the final menu down, he says.
Originally, the team planned to call the 25-seat restaurant Winnie's, as an homage to the neighborhood bar that came before it. The Community Board opposed the name, and Gonzalez says that they're working on a new name out of respect. "It's not going to be anything remotely [like Winnie's], concept-wise," Gonzalez says. Their liquor license is pending with the State Liquor Authority.
As far as eating Gonzalez's food before the restaurant opens, the chef may be doing pop-ups outside of the country this summer with people he met while working at El Rey, he says. He learned a lot from working with Morgenstern, he says, and he's confident El Rey will continue as a solid neighborhood place. "El Rey was just a really great experience," Gonzalez says. "I know it's going to continue to be awesome."