After David Santos left New York’s now-defunct Hotel Griffou, this Per Se-trained chef found he was fed up with working the restaurant scene and decided to skip getting a kitchen job. Instead, he wanted to host dinner parties out of his Roosevelt Island kitchen. The supper club got dubbed Um Segredo (Portuguese for “a secret”), and it was here Santos dished out themed dinners two to four nights a week. He would not, he said, work in a restaurant again until the perfect opportunity came up. Low and behold, last year he had the chance to open Louro in the West Village with some partners he knew from working at Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Bouley. However, Santos wasn’t satisfied just having his own space, and, in the spirit of Um Segredo, he decided to host Nossa Mesa, a Monday-night dinner party at Louro.
Each week the theme changes, from meals hosted by guest chefs to servings focused on a particular spice (the Some Like It Hot event) or ingredient (Lobsterpalooza) to suppers organized around a popular television show or movie. One of Santos’ recent dinners revolved around the series finale of Breaking Bad, where he offered guests test tube soup shooters, a “blue ice” dessert (blueberry granité with cornbread pudding and cardamom curd) and a “desert delight” dish (grilled cactus salad with cactus-pear vinaigrette and cured milk-fed pork) inspired by the New Mexico-set show. I caught up with Santos after this epic meal to find out what makes him tick and how he continually creates seven- to 10-course meals so expertly themed.
How do you incorporate your fine-dining training and Portuguese upbringing into your meals?
Well, those two are just second nature to me at this point. My training is what I know — it’s what I do as a chef. My Portuguese influences are seen throughout the menu — no matter if it’s in a classic like the piri piri shrimp or a twist on the traditional French duck rillette with Portuguese kimchi.
How do you come up with your whimsical dinners?
I allow the world around me to inspire me. I always say you can find inspiration at any time or anywhere, so it can be something like a TV show or a walk in the park, even a ride on the subway, especially in New York City. I love watching everyone; it’s such a mash of cultures, but it works.
What have been some of your favorite dinner parties that you have hosted at Louro?
The guest chef [dinner parties] are awesome, like when I had Justin Severino of Cure [in Pittsburgh] and Ken Vedrinski of Trattoria Lucca [in Charleston, S.C.] here. But I love the challenge of vegetarian menus and sustainable menus. I like to focus on food issues and help educate the dining public. It’s important to understand what and why you’re eating something.
Why did you decide to continue a weekly supper club in the spirit of Um Segredo at your brick-and-mortar joint?
We were racking our brains over if we should be closed on Mondays, but being closed didn’t really fit the style of place we wanted Louro to be. However, it’s such a pain to try to get people in on an off day, so we decided that maybe offering something different would reverse the role: Make Monday something people would look forward to coming in for. That’s where the supper club came in. What better way to get people interested in coming by than by doing really fun menus that change every week? Then, we decided to make it BYOB as an added bonus. In the end, you get a great tasting menu and you can bring that special bottle to enjoy. I think it’s a great start to the week.
What themes are you looking forward to executing?
The two I have in the works are the sustainable seafood menu and the Boardwalk Empire-inspired menu. All are going to be great for different reasons.
If you could do any sort of dinner party anywhere, what would you do?
Because working with great chefs and exploring a new place is what I live for, I would really like to be part of one of the events by Cook It Raw [an organization launched in Copenhagen in 2009 that uses cuisine to address social, cultural and environmental issues].
Do you think your concept would work in other cities?
Possibly, and especially now since I think people want to learn more and chefs look forward to having fun and exploring new things — particularly in major cities like Chicago and San Francisco, among others.
What are your favorite places to eat and or drink in New York City?
I love — and I mean love — Hot Kitchen. I also recently had a great meal at my good friends’ restaurant, Uncle Boons in NoLita. But late night, we get a burger at the nearby Corner Bistro, or a slice of 99-cent pizza when money is a little tight.
Photo Courtesy of Linnea Covington