De Santos restaurant is housed in a charming, Landmarked, mid-19th Century West Village townhouse with a rakish history. The building has always been a gathering place and performance space for artists, both during its days as a “speakeasy,” and more recently, as a home and watering hole to Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan, Edward Albee, and many others.
As an “homage” to that tradition, Sabastian Gonella, one of De Santos’s three owners, who runs the restaurant, integrated art back into the premises. There are Short Films on Tuesday Night, Live Performances (downstairs in The Janis Room) on Wednesday Night, Poetry Readings on Sunday Night and, occasionally, art exhibits on the walls. Also, as Gonella informed me, with pride, all of his staff are artists, including himself, a graduate of the Actor’s Studio.
I haven’t yet sampled the entertainment but, courtesy of the establishment, I’ve sampled the food and am happy to report, it is excellent. The unpretentious but well chosen menu takes traditional fare – from burgers and popcorn shrimp to lamb and duck — and gives it an extra ingredient or sauce (courtesy of Executive Chef Angel Vela, formerly at Pastis and Waverley Inn) that bumps it up to something special.
The midweek night we were there, throngs of men and women in their twenties and thirties (with a smattering of older folks) were happily packed into the dining room and three deep at the bar. (If you prefer a quieter scene, arrive at six, when De Santos opens.)
It was a chilly evening and I ordered a glass of red wine, a Sicilian Nero d”Avola ($12), similar to a Shiraz, which I then enjoyed throughout my meal. We sampled three First Courses chosen by the chef. Each, in its own way, had its merits. Everyone looked forward to the Truffle Macaroni and Cheese with Lobster ($22), a huge serving that could easily be shared or ordered for one as a main course. Three out of four of us thought it was the best starter, but I’m not much of a mac-and-cheese person. I actually preferred the Garden Salad ($15), an ample mix of arugula, avocado, and feta with grilled vegetables, including delicious charred onions, bathed in a lovely balsamic dressing. I also enjoyed the Tuna Tartare and Avocado ($16)– two of my favorite ingredients — with a soy-ginger vinaigrette.
We then sampled four main courses and the overall quality was high. My particular favorite was Scallops nestled on a creamy and totally delicious Mushroom Risotto with a hint of truffle oil ($29), topped with slivers of sweet potato chips. Outstanding flavors and a total treat. I could have munched on those chips all night. Next, for me, came a wonderfully moist Pan Roasted Salmon ($26) with a creamy dill sauce over Greek Salad, an exceptionally well-executed version of a, by now, traditional dish, with the added virtue of being healthy. The meat mavens at the table loved the hearty Grilled New York Strip Steak ($26) with fabulous Truffle French Fries and Béarnaise Sauce (what’s not to like?) as well as the Grilled Pork Chop with Israeli Couscous, sautéed Broccoli Rabe and Mustard Sauce ($24).
Unfortunately for my waistline, the desserts (also the handiwork of Angel Vela) were irresistible. The molten Chocolate Lava Cake with Ice Cream and Strawberry Sauce ($10) was heaven, and the Crepes with Dulce de Leche and Toasted Almond Ice Cream ($7) was sticky-sweet perfection. I would go with friends who like to share so you can taste them both.
De Santos, serves Dinner seven days a week (6- 11, Sunday – Wednesday; 6 – Midnight, Thursday- Saturday), and Brunch (11- 5) Saturday and Sunday. A year-round patio and seasonal backyard patio plus the downstairs Janis Room expands the seating in good weather or for catered events.
If you enjoy De Santos in New York, you might want to also check out the De Santos restaurants in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico City, and Rio, run by co-owners, Alexander Gonzales (well known as part of the Mexican Rock Band, Mana), and Luis Miguel Amutio. The guys know what they are doing.
Photos by Eleanor Foa Dienstag