Alan Gotay, a retired professional boxer turned chef, is gearing up for his next fight with the opening of Babalu tonight in Huntington, a Cuban-themed restaurant that pays homage to his paternal grandparents.
Gotay, a career 8-3 super lightweight fighter, who spent five years duking it out to at the nearby Paramount Theater, hung up his gloves and moved north on New York Avenue to the tiny space that once housed Sip Tea Lounge.
“Most people don’t get why I would go from boxing to cooking,” he said. “But boxing led me to cooking. When I cook, I don’t think about anything else, like boxing.”
During his fighting career, Gotay went to culinary school and spent time in kitchens on Long Island and in New York City, including a post-culinary school externship at Lola in Great Neck and as a line cook at celebrity chef Bobby Flay’s Bar Americain.
Babalu takes its name from the well-known Afro-Cuban song that was made famous by Ricky Ricardo (Desi Arnaz) in 1950s comedy series “I Love Lucy.”
The space, in Huntington’s crowded restaurant district, has been given a makeover with sea-blue walls, custom-made tables and photo montages of Gotay’s favorite boxers and his family. The highlights are an antique chandelier that hangs over the dining room and a Cuban-themed mural that runs the length of the restaurant.
The menu is a mash-up of Cuban and Mediterranean dishes, including a house-made pernil ($21), a slow-roasted pork shoulder served with roasted root vegetables, black beans and rice; a Cubano sandwich ($11); and La Bamba ($23), house-made linguini tossed with fire-roasted peppers, calamata olives, sardines and dried apricot in an olive oil and white wine sauce.
As much as he can, Gotay says, “I want to be different.”
Babalu will be open for dinner only through Friday, before switching to an 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. schedule starting on Saturday for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It will be closed on Mondays.
Babalu, 286 New York Ave., Huntington; 631-683-4666, babaluny.com