It's very difficult to change the perception of a restaurant that has been inextricably tied to mediocre food, but David Santos, who drew raves during his brief tenure at the helm of 5 & Diamond, is aiming to do just that at the unhelpfully named Hotel Griffou (no, it is not a hotel). With stints at Per Se, Bouley, and Restaurant Nicholas, the man clearly knows how to cook. After taking over the kitchen four months ago, the food has been changing completely, especially on Sundays, which has become Portuguese day.
Over the long weekend, I had four free slots for meals in the city. So I went to Le Bernardin twice, Per Se once, and finally got to try the Sunday Portuguese brunch at Hotel Griffou.
To start, pumpkin sonhos with housemade cranberry jam demonstrated the craft of proper frying. They were just lightly sweet, braced by the tart fruit.
Among the appetizers, the cod fritters are a must-order. Deftly fried, a delicately crisp crust yielded to a smooth, satisfying mixture of salted cod, potatoes, and eggs. Further richness and spice emerged after dragging the fritters through a small bowl of creamy Urfa biber aioli. Sardines, topped with peppery arugula, tasted fresh and vibrant, and plump Piri piri shrimp were treated gently, revealing an appealingly delayed kick of heat.
A beautiful rectangle of suckling pig came sheathed in crispy skin, adorned with a twirled slice of blood orange, smashed fingerlings (delightfully crunchy and blistered at the edges), and a simply dressed salad. It was a deeply satisfying plate of food, with blood orange acting as an inspired foil to rich, fragrant tendrils of pork.
A spiced rice pudding, appropriately glutinous and also just lightly sweet, concluded the meal pleasantly.
Cocktails were quite good, but to be honest, I think I'd rather just order another dish! Many thanks to Chef Santos for admirably bucking the trend of yawn-inducing brunches that are rife throughout the city.
Comp disclosure: Piri piri shrimp
10 Columbus Circle, New York, NY 10019
155 W. 51st St., New York, NY 10019
21 W 9th St, New York, NY 10011
5 & Diamond
2072 Frederick Douglass Blvd, New York, NY 10026