If only the owners of Hotel Griffou had had the good sense to hire David Santos as chef from the get-go. Instead, they hired a journeyman best not named, who got zero-star reviews from both the Times and New York.
Those owners, veterans of sceney joints like Freemans, the Waverly Inn, and La Esquina, may have thought the scene would follow them there, never mind the food. It didn’t, and the restaurant got a re-boot.
Enter Santos, who was last seen marrying his Portuguese heritage to French technique at 5 & Diamond, where his cuisine was too challenging for the neighborhood. It fits right in at Hotel Griffou. The crowds, if not at capacity, are slowly catching on.
Too bad it’s almost impossible to get the critics to re-visit. They’d have to rename the restaurant for that. But if the critics ever do return, they’ll find an excellent menu completely changed from the one that got no stars in 2009.
Hotel Griffou isn’t a hotel at all. It’s named for a boarding house that occupied the site in the 1870s. It has had many other names since then, most recently Marylou’s. The place is laid out as a series of connected rooms, each decorated in a different theme: library, salon, bat cave (just kidding). They’re a bit kitschy, but cute all the same. There’s not another space quite like it.
The food is on the expensive side, with appetizers $11–18, entrées $24–45, or an $18 burger. Long-term success depends on attracting and retaining a clientele that recognizes the technique and craftsmanship in Santos’s dishes. This isn’t just a neighborhood canteen.
My friend Kelly had the fresh oysters off the specials list (above left), but I had to try the Tuna Bolognese ($14; above right), a stunning dish the food boards are in love with. A classic tagliatelle with Italian tomato sauce, and the added delight of shredded, high-grade tuna, it deserves all the accolades it can get.
The kitchen sent out an extra mid-course, a luscious Organic Poached Duck Egg with gnocchi and arugula pesto (normally $11; above left); and meaty, Seared Sea Scallops with roasted pineapple, jalapeño, and piquillo tempura (normally $16; above right).
Roast Suckling Pig ($30; above left) was a tender, hearty entrée, with its accompaniments of butternut squash, sunchokes, hazelnuts, and brandied plums. So-called Peking Style Duck ($32; above right) was mildly disappointing, as the presence of a token pancake wasn’t enough to remind me of that iconic dish. The duck itself was beautifully done, and gained nothing from the comparison to a preparation it doesn’t really resemble.
Of the desserts we tried (all $10), two very good ones balanced one dud. We enjoyed the Coconut Pineapple Chiboust with Spiced Rum Ice Cream (above left), and an extra one the kitchen sent out, the Chocolate Hazelnut Brioche Pudding with Hazelnut Anglaise and Tahitian vanilla Bean Ice Cream (above center). But a Poppyseed Soufflé (above right) was ruined by an inedible, sickly-sweet Limoncello Sorbet, and it was not a particularly good soufflé either.
We were known to the house, and received very good service, but I didn’t notice any difference at the other tables. The crowded bar was a completely different story. There, we struggled to get the bartender’s attention, and the $15 cocktails were just average.
If your perception of Hotel Griffou is colored by the early reviews of a chef no longer there, you should put them out of your mind. David Santos is now serving destination food, well worth the trouble of going out of your way to visit.
Hotel Griffou (21 W. 9th Street between Fifth & Sixth Avenues, Greenwich Village)