If you’re looking for great vegetarian food in the West Village, you really ought to check out Louro, a now-one-year-old restaurant run by Chef/Owner Dave Santos. Santos, you will remember, was doing a “supper club” at City Grit; they did a great vegetarian dinner a while back which I quite liked. Chef Santos now has his own restaurant, but he still maintains a bit of the inventiveness of his old dinners with the “Nossa Mesa Supper Club” at Louro. Every Monday, the restaurant serves up a prix fixe menu that changes with the seasons and the kitchen’s whims. The restaurant opened last December and one of the first supper club menus was completely vegetarian! My wife and I checked it out and had a great time.
The meal started with some bread and olive oil, which sounds standard enough, but this was more interesting than the usual. The olive oil had some hot pepper and salt, but it wasn’t too spicy. The bread was served warm, which I think makes a huge difference and I much appreciated.
Normally I put the menu at the end of the post, but because this was a set menu (and a set seating time) I thought I’d put it at the top. Just like the City Grit dinners, the Monday suppers feature a fixed menu and a set time. There is one seating, at 7 pm, so everyone’s eating the same thing at the same time. It’s a fun way to compare notes, and since everyone’s got the same food, you don’t have to lean across the table to try some of your friend’s pasta. (You really ought to get there at starting time; my wife and I were a bit late, which didn’t throw off the entire meal, but did require the kitchen to scramble a little to get us caught up.)
The amuse was an eggplant purée with cauliflower romesco. This is a play on a dish that might feature meat, but with the eggplant instead of the meat. The romesco sauce was great — this was actually my first exposure to it, although I didn’t fully look into what goes into the sauce until I had it at State Bird Provisions in San Francisco about a month later. At SBP, the romesco was more of a scene-stealer; the amuse here was much more low-key but still impressive.
Next up was the pumpkin salad. At the City Grit dinner, Chef Santos did a “mushroom carpaccio;” this time, it was a pumpkin carpaccio. The salad was good, though the pumpkin “carpaccio” itself I came off a bit flat. There was pumpkin purée, which added a lot of flavor, and pumpkin seeds, which I loved. This dish is an example of Chef Santos taking things you’re familiar with and repackaging them in different ways. In some cases, it might involve a meat dish being prepared without meat (“pot pie” and “cassoulet” made an appearance). At other times, it’s a dessert that’s been “deconstructed,” evoking familiar flavors but with a unique spin. This is an interesting them to unify a menu, and it worked well, though there’s a chance that too much of it can come off as gimmicky. I didn’t get that sense at this particular dinner, but it’s a risk.
The second course was the parsnip soup. I did not think I would like it. The menu says it comes with macadamia nuts, though in my notes I have that they were chestnuts. Either way, I was surprised that they lasted through the entire soup. Chef Santos, as you might remember, introduced me to the idea of “palate fatigue” — in short, getting bored as you eat a soup (or whatever) because every bite tastes exactly the same. Having the chestnuts mixed in went a long way to making each bite interesting; the chive oil was a good touch, too. This was probably the most “traditional” item on the menu, which is really saying something.
The mushroom “pot pie” was unusual for a couple of reasons. First, a “pot pie” usually features meat, but second, even if it had meat, a pot pie wouldn’t look like this. The bit of puff pastry on top was a different take on the usual “crust,” and obviously the mushrooms were a good substitution. The dish was hearty, as pot pie should be, without being heavy. Surprisingly enough, even the “truffle cream” wasn’t too rich. (A picture of the pot pie is at the top of the post).
The bean “cassoulet” was the final savory course; this was really similar to what Chef Santos served up at City Grit. The slice of bread was too salty for my taste, but the dish itself was better than last time. I can never get over how delicately the egg is poached. Of course, the yolk is still runny, so when you cut into the egg, the yolk mixes with the beans to give everything an extra dimension of flavor. For a long time I wasn’t a fan of runny yolks — if they aren’t your thing, steer clear of the egg. The rest of the dish is still quite good, hearty and very “winter-appropriate.”
Dessert was described as “French toast.” Obvious from the picture, right? Last time, I had a “pineapple upside down cake” that was unlike anything that comes to mind when you hear that phrase; this time, the same applied to French toast. It was yet another example of taking a dish apart and putting it back together in a way that is familiar without being boring.
And that is a good summary of basically the entire meal. Pumpkin, mushrooms, beans… all things you could get anywhere, and all ingredients you’ve had a million times before — but probably nothing like this. The Nossa Mesa Supper Club gives Chef Santos the ability to play around a little, so it is understandably more creative. But the regular menu at Louro looks pretty interesting too — escarole salad with quail eggs, gnocchi with wild mushrooms, etc. I haven’t ordered off of the a la carte menu, though it does seem a little light on the vegetarian “large plates” (there are quite a lot of vegetarian “bites,” “small plates,” and “eggs and grains.”).
All in all, this was a really good meal. I give Louro points for doing this kind of a dinner at all, and of course the execution was very good. (It doesn’t matter if you throw an all-vegetarian dinner if it sucks.) From concept, to presentation, to execution, Louro did a very good job pulling this dinner together. I won’t give it a star rating yet — I want to go back and experience the regular menu — but if you want great vegetarian options in an inventive-but-not-wacky menu, this restaurant ought to be high on your list.
Disclosure: The meal was complimentary. As always, all opinions are my own.