Entries in Hotel Griffou (3)


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)


Review Recap: Hotel Griffou

Record to date: 10–5

Star bettors could be in for a rough few months. After five years, it was usually apparent what Frank Bruni would do. Pete Wells has thrown a curve ball two weeks in a row, first dumping a FAIR rating on Gus & Gabriel Gastropub, and today unloading the dreaded SATISFACTORY on Hotel Griffou:

At every restaurant I’ve seen, a three top is a four top missing a chair.

Not at Hotel Griffou, where we were sent to the bar while someone hunted down our table. The restaurant has four dining rooms, and we had an excellent view of one, a bright space with long beer-hall tables that sat empty. We imagined that they were being held for a group. Naturally, this is where we were seated, 50 minutes after we had arrived.

I was afraid that if I returned they would hit the one-hour mark and lead me to a produce crate by the dishwasher. So I stayed away…

The cooking is hard to classify, partly because the menu is divided into “Seasonal” and “The Classics.” In the first category are garden-variety takes on Mediterranean-derived dishes… As modern as these dishes were, their presentations were often scattershot, as if the food had been lobbed in the general direction of plates as they sailed toward the kitchen door.

Frank Bruni never gave two goose-eggs in a row, as Wells has now done. Bruni’s philosophy seemed to be that, as the Times does not review every restaurant—indeed, it does not even come close—there’s not much point in calling attention to places that aren’t any good. So he gave out just enough goose-eggs to remind readers that it was possible to get less than one star.

I’ve long felt that too many of Bruni’s one-star reviews sounded like zero, and it led to a perception that one star could never be a compliment. Wells could be giving the star system a long-overdue course correction, which would be terrific if Sam Sifton keeps it up.

Unfortunately, I doubt that we’ll be so lucky. I suspect that the worthwhile restaurants have been laid aside for Sam Sifton, which has left Wells to pick up the scraps. Poor fellow.


Review Preview: Hotel Griffou

While we wait for Sam Sifton, the Times’s Pete Wells is trolling the landscape for insignificant restaurants that do not demand the gravitas of a full-time critic. Last week, he gave us the smackdown of Gus & Gabriel Gastropub. Tomorrow, we have Hotel Griffou.

I doubt that Wells will deliver the goose egg two weeks in a row, but no critic yet has suggested that Hotel Griffou is an Important Restaurant. By process of elimination, we arrive at one star for Hotel Griffou.