It’s a pleasure to cheer when good things happen to great people. The chef David Santos certainly deserved better than his last two NYC restaurant gigs, both fatally flawed for reasons not his fault: 5 & Diamond (wrong location) and Hotel Griffou (wrong crowd).
It’s fair to say that the former sous chef at Bouley and Per Se might have known he’d be a fish out of water at those two spots, but I suppose he had to give them a shot. After he left Griffou, he ran an acclaimed private supper club (Um Segredo) out of his apartment for a while, then launched a project on Kickstarter to open his own restaurant—finally on his terms.
Louro (Portuguese for “bay leaf”) occupies the space that was Lowcountry, and before that Bar Blanc and Bar Blanc Bistro. It’s still under the same owners, but the Kickstarter funds paid for a new décor (nearly as blanc as Bar Blanc was) and upgraded kitchen equipment.
Santos refers to Louro as a causal restaurant (no tablecloths, low-end glassware), but by today’s standards the staff is smart, attentive, and polished. An OpenTable spot-check shows that it is usually full at prime times; we pulled strings to get in at 7 pm on a Thursday evening.
The quasi-American, quasi-Portuguese menu is divided into four categories: Bites ($6–8), Small Plates ($12–16), Eggs & Grains ($12–18), and Large Plates ($22–28). Portions are generous. A five-course tasting menju is $65. We ordered that and paid full price, but we were known to the house and received an extra course or two.
Bread (above left) was served warm, with a “butter” (more like a dipping sauce) made from pork and duck fat, along with black pepper, caramelized onions, and scallions. The amuse-bouche (above right) was a lighter-than-air seafood fritter with smoked paprika aioli, and a very spicy piri-piri shrimp (both from the “bites” section of the menu).
The main menu started with a Puntarelle salad (a bitter green vegetable in the chicory family) on a large crouton with parmesan and bottarga (above left).
I especially liked the soft/crunchy contrast in kampachi (above right) with purple carrots and carrot purée.
Gnocchi (above left) were terrific, with a poached duck egg and a creamed truffle sauce. There was a vague taste of bacon in there too, though I don’t recall any mention of it from the wait staff. Cobia (above right) was beautifully done, with a curried mussel emulsion and sun-dried tomatoes.
Duck (above left), on a bed of roasted beans and plantain sauce, offered simple pleasure. Dessert, also simple but effective, was pain perdu (above right), served warm, with cinnamon toast ice cream and huckleberries.
I tried two cocktails from the house list: both were excellent, but I neglected to take notes, so I’ll leave the critique to others. The wine list is brief, but good enough. It is something to build on.
In short: every dish was skillfully prepared; none fell back on obvious clichés. At the price point, Santos is doing a remarkable job. After two restaurant jobs that misfired, he finally has the right location, a strong supporting staff, and a customer base that appreciates what he is doing.
Let’s hope that Louro is around for a long time to come.
Louro (142 W. 10th St. between Waverly Pl. & Greenwich Ave., West Village)
Food: Excellent Portuguese-inspired cuisine
Service: Remarkably assured for a new restaurant
Ambiance: Upscale casual
Rating: Critic’s Pick
Why? Wonderful, especially at this price point