After Hurricane Katrina, Dominick Lee’s whole world shifted — but the devastating events pushed him to connect deeper with his home of New Orleans and share his culture through food as a profession. It’s a spirit he’s taken with him as he worked in restaurants in his hometown, before going to culinary school in Houston, and later worked for the acclaimed chef Kiran Verma, before becoming the executive chef at Houston’s Poitín Bar & Kitchen, where he drummed up local accolades.
Now, the chef is at the helm of his first New York restaurant, Alligator Pear, at 150 W. 30th Street, between Seventh and Sixth avenues. The massive three-floor restaurant is Lee’s largest and most personal showcase yet. It opens Tuesday, July 18. Kevin Doherty, also behind bars Tara Rose and Bosco, and Rehan Alam, of the Red Lion and the Ellington, are co-owners of the operation and sought out Lee to lead the kitchen.
Alligator Pear, a nickname for the avocado, does also serve alligator. “It’s the chicken of the swamp,” Lee says. He’s on a mission to get New Yorkers to like the swamp meat with bite-sized poppers that come with a Thousand Island sauce. It’s sourced from an alligator farm in Louisiana.
Lee’s roots run through the menu, dishes he worked on through pop-ups gearing up for the launch at places like Williamsburg wine bar Sauced and Bushwick Vietnamese Mexican restaurant Falansai. There’s a Creole-style mac and cheese, black-eyed pea hummus, char-broiled oysters, as well as a blue cornmeal breaded catfish with cabbage slaw and pickles, and gumbo. His grandmother inspired the recipe for his slow-cooked okra with tomatoes and shrimp, which he says is the “first dish I remember eating as a child.”
The Louisiana Red Devil sausage, more commonly called hot sausage, popularized by the brand Pattons, was located in Lower Ninth Ward, until Katrina. At Alligator Pear, it’s sourced from Brooklyn’s the Meat Hook and appears on Lee’s menu with whipped potatoes, golden raisin relish, and broccoli.
Of course, what would be a love letter to New Orleans without the requisite beignets? At Alligator Pear, they’re in the style of Café Du Monde’s, presented with powdered sugar in a paper bag. Upon opening, the bread pudding will be a white chocolate and cranberry version, but eventually, it will be presented flambeed, with brandy, in the style of a Café Brûlot, an after-dinner libation known around New Orleans at spots like the acclaimed Arnaud’s.
The main dining room at Alligator Pear can seat 60, while the upstairs bar fits 44. There are several areas bookable for private events, including the Oak Room, which can seat 16. To start, Alligator Pear will be open from 4 p.m. to midnight, Tuesday through Saturday. Later this fall, the restaurant will open for lunch and brunch, as well as dinner service seven days a week.