de Santos, a modern Italian spot with more atmosphere than a Venetian piazza and more scene than a Broadway show, is the poster child for trendy restaurants that focus more on the look than on the food. It’s the type of place you want to go to for drinks with your lady friends (mostly to pick up the well-dressed Latin men often seen hovering), not to eat bland mediocre Italian food.
The restaurant itself is gorgeous – intimate, sexy, and rustic in a glossed over sort of way. Set in a brick townhouse on West 10th Street, de Santos is designed to evoke a secret garden. Up front is the bar, all dark wood and soft lighting, backlit bottles and a canopy of faux Monarch butterflies. A rich brown leather banquette along one side of the wall lets lovely ladies in stilettos rest their feet while sipping fancy cocktails and watching the night’s catch amble from one end of the bar to the other. In the back, a small interior dining room seats about 40. Exposed brick walls, industrial lamps, potted plants, dried herbs, teetering sprays of flowering plants, and even a regal exotic deer’s head transform a quirky space into someplace luscious and seductive. Beyond the dining room is a year-round back patio that’s perfect for relaxing and popping open a chilled bottle of wine during the summer months – just be careful its not too hot out, without AC or any real air flow, the garden gets super steamy.
de Santos is visually stunning, both in its verdant and sultry decor and in its uber-stylish Euro clientele. Yet, unfortunately, the modern Italian cuisine by way of Mexico tastes uninspired. The menu has the right idea with jumbo savory salads, a rich truffled beef carpaccio, a selection of pastas such as trofiette with spicy Italian sausage, and simple entrees like roasted chicken, filet mignon and roasted duck. Yet, everything from the cheap-tasting ingredients to the bland preparation disappoints. The delicate beef carpaccio is smothered in a too thick, too dense, and too creamy potato gnocchi, so much so that even the rich truffle flavor got lost in the melee. The spinach fettuccine with jumbo shrimp in a curry cream sauce was cooked well in the al dente style, yet the flavor combination was strange with spicy curry, heavy cream, briny shrimp, bright lemon zest, and earthy zucchini and spinach – just too much. The trofiette with spicy Italian sausage and mixed mushrooms was perhaps the best dish put out, surprisingly hot and feisty while maintaining a lovely earthiness.
de Santos isn’t a red-sauce Italian spot. It is modern and luxurious, trendy, glossy, and mega-sceney. Unfortunately, the kitchen doesn’t deliver food worthy of the frustratingly hefty price-tag; a full dinner for two can run at upwards of $60-$70 a head; bottles of wine slip under $40 in just one instance; cocktails go for $12-$15 a pop. At these prices, the food and the general experience better wow because there are so many places in the saturated Manhattan market that will knock your socks off for far less.
seeing and being seen, cocktail hour, ladies night out, staking out Latin Lovers, al fresco dining all year, blowing cashmoney