De Santos is one of those West Village restaurants built to look like it has been there forever. The building is an 1800s townhouse (and former speakeasy) that the likes of Janis Joplin, Edward Albee, and Bob Dylan once called home. Jimi Hendrix played in the downstairs lounge (now called the Janis room); Warhol hung out there, or so they say.
All of that pre-dates the restaurant, which opened in 2008 with an Italian theme, since revised. The current chef, as of about a year ago, is Angel Vela, a Pastis and Waverly Inn vet. He serves a mid-priced contemporary American menu, with starters and salads $12–16 and entrées $18–29.
Technically, De Santos is a mini-chain with three Latin American owners and outposts now and/or forthcoming in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico City, Rio, and Buenos Aires. But the chef here seems to cook his own menu, and I can’t imagine a space quite like this one in any other city.
The dining room has a vintage rustic look, with a bit of taxidermy here and there. The main dining room seats 80, with another 40 on an enclosed patio and 40 more downstairs. An outdoor garden was closed when I visited. They serve weekend brunch and dinner every night till 11:00 pm or midnight, although the bar stays open until 2 or 3 am.
I visited with the publicist and didn’t pay for my meal. There were four of us at the table, which allowed us to sample a wide swath of the menu. Prices shown below are from the menu on the website.
We started with the Garden Salad ($15; above right), which offered a thick pile of arugula, avocado, and feta cheese, with balsamic dressing.
The chef’s main weakness is that he uses too much truffle oil. Fortunately, it was barely detectable in the so-called Truffle and Lobster Macaroni and Cheese ($22; above left), an excellent dish. We also loved the luscious Tuna Tartare ($16; above right) with avocado and soy ginger vinaigrette.
Roasted Salmon ($26; above left), with dill sauce and Greek salad, was quite a bit better than restaurant salmon usually is. But scallops (above right; not listed on the menu) were ruined by a heavy-handed shower of truffle oil.
A New York Strip with Béarnaise sauce ($26; above left) was surprisingly good for a non-steakhouse restaurant, but the fries would have been far better without—you guessed it—truffle oil. The Grilled Pork Chop ($24; above right), with couscous, sautéed greens and mustard sauce, is a winner, and far larger than the photo does justice to. For the price, it may be the best dish on the menu.
I was worn out by now, or rather my stomach was, but the desserts seemed pretty good: Crêpes with dulce de leche and toasted almond ice cream ($8; above left) and Chocolate Lava Cake with strawberry sauce ($10; above right).
The restaurant was not very busy when we started, at around 7 pm, but the bar and main dining room had mostly filled up by about 9 pm on a weeknight. Obviously, I can’t comment on the service, as we were known to the house.
If you visit De Santos, a couple could easly share the Lobster Mac & Cheese, the Pork Chop, and a dessert. You’d go home happy and your wallet wouldn’t be much lighter. De Santos is an attractive place, well worth dropping in if you’re in the area.
De Santos (139 W. 10th St. between Greenwich Ave. & Waverly Pl., West Village)