Thursday, December 27, 2012

Dinner | Louro

Last week, Dani made an evening trip to New York City to visit Lisa and me, which clearly called for an awesome dinner somewhere so the three of us could catch up over our favorite thing to do -- eat! The obvious choice of venue? Well, it seemed almost like a no-brainer for us to check out Chef Dave Santos' new solo spot which opened only a couple weeks ago at the start of December.

I've been to a couple of Chef Santos' Um Segredo Supper Club dinners over at Roosevelt Island, including an uni-focused dinner that Lisa and I went to together, so we've been patiently waiting for his next big thing, and lo' and behold! Louro came to fruition with the help of his Kickstarter project matched with an opportunity to convert an existing restaurant (Lowcountry) to a new one. So amazing how all of these great opportunities all happened in the course of a year for Chef Santos (i.e., leaving his executive chef post at Hotel Griffou, moving onto create his underground supper club Um Segredo, launching a pier-side fish shack on Roosevelt Island, and now opening Louro). A big congratulations to him for working hard and having his dream of opening his own restaurant finally come true -- we couldn't be more excited and happy for him!

Louro is Portuguese for "bay leaf" -- an ingredient that holds a special meaning to Chef Santos. One of his "fondest, food-related memories" was during his last trip to France, where he visited his aunt and ailing uncle. His uncle, who had always been passionate for harvesting and gardening, led Chef Santos to the backyard where he nurtured a flourishing bay plant, from which his uncle wanted him to "share in his pride of the healthy plant," trimming off a few pieces to take home back to America to the other members of his family. Upon his return stateside, Chef Santos' mother (also a green thumb) "replanted the sprouts to create two potted trees to add to her garden." Although his uncle has passed on, his memory "thrives in the many well-seasoned, family meals that have been sprinkled with these clippings." So like his uncle's "gift from the earth that often appears in Chef Santos' cooking, his belief of sharing the joys of life with close company similarly inspires the friendly relaxed dining experience" at Louro. It's undoubtedly stories like these from humbled chefs like Chef Santos that I live to write about.

The bar at Louro. Notice the drawings of bay leaves all throughout the walls of the restaurant.

Boothed tables inside Louro (plus more bay leaves). I love the black-white-and-wood scheme happening inside the restaurant. Keeps the look very minimalist with an organic/rustic tone from the woods.

One of the things I was excited that would be reprised from Um Segredo was Chef Santos' (in)famous Portuguese butter -- a special blend of lard, garlic, black pepper, and artichokes. The version at Louro was a lot more robust and zesty (definitely got its super generous helping of ground black pepper here) than the one from Um Segredo, but still savory on the thick cubes of dense Um Segredo flatbread.

If I recall the name correct, this was the Jackson's Delight with what I remember to be gin with figs and cinnamon. It pretty much tasted like Christmas in a glass with lots of spirit (ha-ha-ha) -- great start to the rest of the evening.

Dani had the Muscat Collins -- ultimately a Tom Collins cocktail (gin, lemon juice, sugar, and club soda) with muscat grape juice. A very sweet and refreshing take on the Tom Collins.

She also tried the Jack Rose -- a winning blend of apple brandy, grenadine, and lemon juice.

Chef Santos started us with the appetizer-sized gnocchi romana with truffle cream, cipollinis, and crispy onions. This was heavenly -- the soft, melty cubes of potato gnocchi bathed nicely in the flavors of the earthy and soupy, generously truffled cream. The tenderly crunchy cloves of cippolinis paired with the thin crispy strands of onions added a balancing texture to it all. So good -- a must order!

Excuse the foggy/dark photographs that follow -- I tried my best!

We also had the salmon tartare with coconut yuzu broth and tempura shiso -- Lisa's favorite out of all the starter dishes. If there's one thing that Chef Santos is great at, it's some serious magic with fish, especially in the crudo/raw department.The diced pieces of salmon were smooth yet firm, full of that marbled flavor and silken texture. The broth was both delicate and exciting, subdued with the coconut and electric with the hint of yuzu. The playful aspect of this dish was the shiso leaves flashfried in tempura batter. They were thin enough to be like kale chips -- so fun to nibble on with the tartare.

Dani suggested we try the baked egg with braised housemade chorizo and heirloom potatoes -- essentially a breakfast entrée baked en cocotte. The eggs were just cooked -- nice and runny against the piping hot, cubed potatoes and spicy and meaty chorizo. The baked eggs was quite good, even in all of its simplicity. Just goes to show you sublime execution of something so basic as a morning protein like chorizo with eggs and potatoes can go along way.

The main reason we opted out of the tasting menu (besides for the opportunity to try more things together) was so we could feast on the sweetbreads from the small plates section -- chicken fried with collards, gravy, and spiced honey. While we appreciated the Southern flair on this generous lobe of sweetbread, we were a little underwhelmed with it overall. The bed of gravied collards were great, but the chicken fried sweetbreads were a little on the blander side -- it wasn't as crisp as we had anticipated, and the interior was nearly an afterthought. I'm sure sweetbreads will get a little more love as Louro's menu evolves.

As part of our main courses that we wanted to share, we had the strip steak with cornbread panzanella salad, pickled garlic, and haricot verts (French for "green beans"). The medallions of strip steak were a juicy pink, medium rare, and the panzanella salad, garlic, and green beans were both gorgeous and delicious. It all came together quite well.

Our favorite of the large plates was the Idaho trout with Himalayan rice, sweet potatoes, and dandelion greens. The Himalayan rice (i.e., a red grain) was nutty and earthy with a playful texture to it, sweeping up the potatoes and greens with their sauce in hearty bites. Further proof that Chef Santos can really be named the Fish Whisperer, the filets of trout were beautifully seared on its skin with a smoky, charred flavor while their flaky flesh soaked up all the sauce from the veggies. You really need to order the trout and sink your teeth into this to know what I mean! :P

We also had the wild rice risotto with hazelnuts and porcini mushrooms. Upon first glance,
I think we may have misread the description to be "wild mushroom risotto" because when we took our first bites, we were startled by the grainy texture (I suppose we were expecting smooth, creamy wisps of arborio), but came to really like it after that initial bite. The wild rice and the definitely adds a little je ne sais quoi to the other more traditional ingredients of a mushroom risotto. The porcinis were exquisite and super flavorful, and the hazelnuts really underscored the overall awesomeness of this dish. Another must order!

We also had an entrée-sized gnocchi romana in addition to all of this -- the earlier appetizer-sized one from Chef Santos and this one from our original order.

For dessert, they were sold out of the coconut tapioca that evening, so we decided to go with two to share.

The first of the desserts was the peanut butter pain perdu (French for "French toast") with grape jelly and peanut butter ice cream -- ultimately a deconstructed PBJ sandwich in dessert form. For those PB&J enthusiasts out there, this has your name written all over it -- nutty, tart, and a little savory!

I suggested we try the poached plums with brown sugar crumble and bay leaf ice cream -- mainly because of the subtle hint of bay leaf (couldn't resist it -- louro at Louro!). I was curious about the flavor pairing here, and somehow, it worked! It tasted like a loosely constructed plum pie a la mode with a hint of bay leaf in the mix, which was very interesting indeed. While Dani and Lisa preferred the peanut butter pain perdu, I really enjoyed the poached plums.

Dani and Lisa at Louro.

Lisa and me at Louro.

Findings: Reunions with some of my favorite people always make any dining experience that much more fun, especially when exploring a new restaurant (both to us and to a given city). So when a much anticipated restaurant like Louro shows itself to be quite good and enjoyable, evocative of what could be many of Chef David Santos' meals with his family, I knew we'd be in for a treat -- one that would bring out the best things I love about dining out. Considering the restaurant had only been open since early December, a mere two weeks before our arrival, I must say it was quite bustling (ressies appeared to be mostly booked). While the lull in between the small plates and the more main course plates was longer than we had wished to wait, the gorgeous fare emerging from the kitchen proved the trip to the West Village to be well worth it. An especial ZOMG for the gnocchi romana, the salmon tartare, and the Idaho trout. Don't be fooled by the "plates to share" element of the menu -- we left quite happily with full bellies. As with any new restaurant opening, there were some subtle kinks that I know will iron out once the restaurant is opened for a bit longer. In any case, I cannot wait to see what else Chef Santos will have cooking up for the menu on my next visit to Louro. Nossa Mesa Supper Club dinners (ultimately, Um Segredo Supper Club 2.0) on Monday nights look like the next possibility!

Congrats again to Chef Santos for finally opening a restaurant of his very own -- we couldn't be happier for you!

Price point: $12-13 for each small plate, $13-26 for each grain (appetizer/entrée sizes), $22-29 for each large plate, $8 for each dessert.

--December 19, 2012

142 West 10th Street
New York, NY 10014

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