Friday evening, my sister and I had the pleasure of joining a couple of friends from college in a quaint, rustic yet modern restaurant — Louro located in the West Village. It was a no-brainer deciding on the restaurant. Our friend listed several options, but noted that she was close friends with the owner and executive chef, David Santos, therefore we could take a tour of the kitchen. YES PLEASE! I had never been to a restaurant in NYC, let alone one where I could get the grand tour. I was ecstatic and had absolutely no idea what to expect. I didn’t even preview the menu prior to arriving. I wanted to be fully surprised. The minute our taxi cab pulled up to the restaurant, I noticed a sophisticated awning with a bay leaf nestled underneath the font. Louro is Portuguese for bay leaf.
COCKTAIL We sat down in a spacious semi-circle booth with a great view of the restaurant. The lights, dimmed and subtle, offered an intimate and formal setting which delightfully balanced the rustic and warm ambiance of the decor. I ordered a specialty drink, the Hemingway Royale which consisted of rum, grapefruit, lime, and sparkling wine. It was so unique, delicious, and one of those drinks that make you want to just…sip. It offered a hint of tartness along with a sweet finish of a slight floral aroma.
|Prawns with julienne style jicima|
CUISINE The minute we skimmed the menu, it was clear that we could not simply order one item per person. We mutually decided to order a smorgasbord of dishes to share among ourselves. Immediately upon the server requesting our order, we all started calling out dishes from each section of the menu (bites, small dishes, grains and eggs, and large portions). You know that you are at a good restaurant when EVERYTHING sounds good. We finally agreed on several dishes, and because chef David is such a hospitable man, he sent out a couple surprises to throw into the mix. The entire dining experience consisted of — Pri Pri Shrimp, Market Oysters, Pumpkin Salad, Farro Salad, Escarole Salad, Prawns, Octopus Bolognese, Tempura Fried Chicken, “Smores”, and Peaches and Cream. Needless to say, we were beyond satisfied and amazed with the wonderful flavors. I’m going to highlight a few of my favorites. Otherwise, I risk losing about 75% of you after the third paragraph. We started with the Pri Pri Shrimp, a dish of fresh jumbo shrimp cooked to the perfect plumpness and bold spices. If you cannot handle the heat, don’t order it. I would venture to say it is for a mature palate, one who won’t lose their composure after each bite. Don’t get me wrong, the dish is phenomenal and quite delightful, it is just one of the more bolder options. The oysters were simply divine. They each were served with a small slice of lemon laying delicately on the shell. With a gentle squeeze of the peel, the perfect amount of lemon juice surrounded the oyster to balance out the saltiness and earthy flavor of the oyster. One bite, and it was gone.
One thing that stood out to me about the escarole salad was the quail eggs. That’s right, poached miniature eggs that at first glance, look like small fresh mozzarella balls. They sat delicately atop the escarole leaves, stemming (no pun intended) from the endive leaf vegetable. The eggs were mild yet had a slight richness to them.My final favorite dish was the octopus bolognese. I kid you not, the minute I looked at the menu, this dish caught my eye. I had eaten octopus before, but in all honesty, it wasn’t the greatest experience. It was tough and offered a thickness that made the dish tiring after only a few bites. At Louro however, the octopus was diced into small pieces and very tender. It was engulfed in a rich and buttery bolognese tomato sauce with homemade tagliatelle pasta (a wide yet very thin pasta) underneath.
Prior to receiving our dessert, we were invited to tour the kitchen and meet chef David. As the swinging kitchen doors opened, we were greeted with a charming and smiling face in the center of the kitchen. He looked like someone you could talk and laugh with for hours over a good bottle of wine and an imported cheese tray. Chef David stood proudly and welcomed us with such warmth. Literally, the kitchen felt as though the oven had been open for hours while operating at 450 degrees. It was petite, as you would imagine for a New York City restaurant. Quite honestly, I was intrigued and impressed with the amount and quality of food that exited such a small work space. Chef David introduced his kitchen staff which consisted of only four or five people. I couldn’t help but think about the amount of hours spent in the hot kitchen, and match that with the look on their faces. It was priceless– a loo
k of fulfillment. I could tell that they too, were proud to be standing in their assigned stations and each having a roll in the toothsome food exiting the swinging doors. I asked chef David about his culinary past and how he made it this far. He attended Johnson & Wales, a reputable culinary school I too seriously considered attending after graduating from high school. He was an executive chef at Five and Diamond in Harlem, then proceeded to launch a series of supper clubs in is own home. I didn’t want to overstay my welcome but had to ask one more question — How did you come up with the name Louro? A slight glow was emitted as he began talking about cooking with his aunt and uncle in France. His uncle who at the time was struggling with a heart condition, owned a large garden abundant in herbaceous leaves. He led him to the garden and snipped off a few leaves for chef David to take home and share with his immediate family. Upon returning home, his mom planted the sprigs in her own garden and eventually they turned into plants. Sadly, his uncle has passed away but it is apparent that his spirit and love for fresh and flavorful food lives on through chef David. Dining at his restaurant was an experience that will remain with me for a very long time. It was one of those culinary experiences that made me proud to have my appreciation for food, its beauty, and people like chef David to create it.