Entries in David Santos (4)



Note: Louro closed abruptly in June 2015, after being hit with a steep rent increase. I had thought that Louro would be the place where chef David Santos finally had the stage he deserved, after several rounds of bad luck. But Pete Wells criminally underrated it, at one star—remarkable, given the number of unimpressive places that received two stars from him. And after just two and a half years in business, the rent went up, and Louro had to close.


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: ★★
Why? Wonderful, especially at this price point


Pier NYC on Roosevelt Island


Pier NYC offers a bit of summer fun, in a beautiful location with unbeatable Manhattan skyline views. The food isn’t bad, but it’s beside the point.

Oh yeah: it’s on Roosevelt Island, which I’d never been to. It’s one of those spots that sounds a lot farther away than it is. You can get there on the F Train or via a four-minute ride on the Roosevelt Island Tramway, from Second Avenue and 59th Street.

The island wasn’t always so appealing. Formerly known as Welfare Island (and earlier, Blackwell’s Island), it once housed a penitentiary, a lunatic asylum, and a smallpox hospital. If New York had had a leper colony, it probably would have been there.

It was converted to residential use in 1969, but was not reachable from the Manhattan side until the tram opened in 1976 and the subway arrived in 1989. (A bridge to Queens, opened in 1955, is the only vehicular route to the island; before that, there was an elevator to the Queensboro Bridge.) Originally dedicated to lower and mid-priced housing, recent construction on the island is considerably more upscale.

All of which brings us to Pier NYC, new to the island this summer, from owners Jonathan Hoo, Salvatore Hoo, and Alfonso DiCioccio (pictured above left), who opened the nearby Riverwalk Bar & Grill in 2009.

I guess they wanted some foodie cred, so they brought in well known names to cater the place: Josh Bowen of John Brown’s Smokehouse for barbecue; David Santos of Um Segredo Supper Club for seafood; and Alyssa Gangeri of AllyCakes for desserts.

Catering, really, is what it is. The menu is short and inexpensive, and most of it is made elsewhere.


We were invited to an opening party at the publicist’s invitation. We were served a few finger-food samples from the regular menu, probably not enough to judge it fairly.


Neither of the two barbecue offerings floated my boat: smoked beef brisket (above left) and smoked turkey (above right), both served on lightly toasted white bread. The regular barbecue menu (pulled pork, lamb sausage, house-made pastrami) sounds more interesting.


A rock shrimp roll (normally $12; above left) was a lot more impressive. Order this. If you have room for dessert, the Red Velvet Whoopie Pie (normally $3; above right) is well worth a try.

The one thing they don’t have is a first-rate mixologist. The cocktails are strictly beach stuff, like mimosas, screwdrivers, margaritas, and daquiris, along with a basic list of sodas, beers, and wines.

Pier NYC isn’t a dining destination, but it’s the first Roosevelt Island dining venue I can recall to have received any mainstream media attention at all. That’s progress. But the views are really the attraction here.

Pier NYC (Slightly North of the F Train and the Tramway, Roosevelt Island)


Hotel Griffou

Note: This is a review under chef David Santos, who left the restaurant in August 2011. After chef shuffles too numerous to mention, the restaurant closed in August 2012.


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)


5 & Diamond

Note: This is a review under chef David Santos, who left the restaurant in August 2010.


What do Tribeca, the East Village, and the Lower East Side have in common? They’re all neighborhoods that, not so long ago, were considered absurd locations for destination dining. Today, no one thinks twice about it.

Is it Harlem’s turn? That’s the bet Marcus Samuelsson is making, as he prepares to open the Red Rooster at the corner of 125th Street and Lenox Avenue. And that’s the bet the owners of 5 & Diamond have made at 112th Street and Frederick Douglass Boulevard.

The geographical barrier is more psychological than real. 5 & Diamond is just a few blocks from subway stations at 110th Street on the B, C, 2, and 3 lines. From many midtown locations, you can actually get there faster than you can get to the East Village or the Lower East Side. It just seems far away.

Without the benefit of a celebrity name like Samuelsson, the owners of 5 & Diamond decided to rent a name. Serial job-hopper Ryan Skeen was brought in to open the place, and promptly made a mess of things, as only he can. It wasn’t long before Skeen had a foot out the door. By the time the Village Voice filed its rave review, critic Sarah DiGregorio was giving Skeen credit for dishes he no longer had anything to do with.

The permanent chef is David Santos, who doesn’t bring Skeen’s press clippings, but has an impressive resume and plans to stick around. With the review cycle basically over, 5 & Diamond will need to win destination diners via word-of-mouth.

The restaurant occupies a pretty storefront; the build-out is handsome, and would fit in without apology anywhere downtown. For a place still fighting for attention, it could use a sign, and frankly a website.

Santos’s eclectic American menu is sensibly edited, with just seven appetizers ($10–16) and seven entrées ($22–32). There’s a quintet of desserts ($5). A five-course tasting menu is only $50, and as three standard courses will set you back at least $40, this is the way to go.

Our tasting menu showed great promise, but there were also some missteps. One of these was a raw Long Island Fluke with pickled rhubarb, sea beans, and chili oil. The first three ingredients were too delicate to withstand the fourth. The taste of chili oil overwhelmed the dish. (In the photo, you can see a pool of it, underneath the fish.)

But we loved seared scallops with apricot gazpacho, spring onions, and lovage (above left), as well as the grilled Portuguese Sepia with piquillo pepper puree, sherry shallots, and olives (above right). In both of these dishes, the ingredients were in the right balance.

The chef sent out an extra item not on the tasting menu, a Keepsake Farms Hen Egg (above left) with chorizo, roasted garlic, and potato foam. Like all such egg dishes, you puncture the yolk, and then have a gooey delight as all of the ingredients mix together. This was the highlight of the evening—and curiously, the least expensive savory course on the regular menu, at $10. If you order à la carte, this is perfect for sharing, as it is a very rich dish.

According to Santos, Idaho Brook Trout (above right) is one of the few Ryan Skeen contributions still on the menu. It was conceptually simpler than most of the other items we were served, but beautifully cooked.

We weren’t at all fond of the “Philly Cheese Steak” (above left). The quotes signal that it’s a deconstructed dish, with clothbound cheddar, crisp shallots, and red pepper foam on a bed of bruschetta. In our view, when you are serving 14-day aged sirloin, there shouldn’t be so many side-kicks on the plate. In addition, the bruschetta became soggy, and the fried shallots left a bitter after-taste.

We had no complaint at all with warm Brioche Doughnuts (above right). Along with the tomato rosemary focaccia served at the beginning of the meal, they showed off a kitchen with strong baking skills.

We eschewed the offered wine pairing ($35pp) in favor of a 2006 Château du Cèdre Cahors ($48). In general, the wine list struck us as slightly too expensive for the area.

While we were there, we saw at least eight people outside look at the menu posted in the window, and keep on walking. Santos needs to find ways to get them in the door, given that the restaurant was only half full on a Saturday evening.

A $5 menu offered weeknights from 5:30–7:00 is a start. We suspect that the neighborhood needs a few approachable dishes to balance the foams and the high-end French technique.

A burger ($13) is buried under a list of side dishes. We asked Santos why it wasn’t more prominent. He said that he doesn’t want people to think of 5 & Diamond as a “burger place.” But with three-star restaurants serving $26 burgers nowadays, we don’t think there’s much danger of that.

Service was very good, for the most part—certainly in line with the quality of the food Santos aspires to serve. As we know him from a food board, we are not going to rate the restaurant with “stars.” We’ll only say that it shows every promise of becoming the destination restaurant that Harlem should have.

5 & Diamond (2072 Frederick Douglass Blvd. at 112th Street, Harlem)