Hotel Griffou: A Fashionable Boarding House Reborn – Again
I’ve always been intrigued by Hotel Griffou, mostly because I can’t lie about my mildly embarrassing fascination with supper clubs and their spawn. Granted, the faux supper club on 9th Street and 5th Avenue has gotten slammed for its service, it’s pretensions, an obnoxious crowd, and so forth. However, not even this laundry list of bad reviews was going to keep me away. And good thing it didn’t, either all those reviewers were on crack and prejudiced for whatever reason or Hotel Griffou has really cleaned up its act.
The location is lovely, situated in the basement of a posh building, a former 1870s boarding house, on 9th Street, just off the famous Fifth Avenue ‘Golden Mile.’ The restaurant is dark and twisty, in a good sort of way, with dim sultry lighting and a collection of dining rooms modeled after townhouse parlors and living rooms. Up front is the bar, generally crowded with a fashionable group of after-work suits, writers, gallery owners, fashionistas, and so forth. Its remarkable how attractive every person I encountered appeared to be – perhaps it was the lighting. The dining rooms are cozy and stylish, with luxe dark wood dining tables, petite personal ‘gas’ lamps, fancy wallpaper that seems taken from the stairways of a Victorian home, and all sorts of vintage-y portraits and paintings. Yes, the look is now a little over-done in New York’s trendy dining scene, but it just looks so pretty that it’s hard to get tired of.
I had quite a bit of trepidation regarding the food, given the less than complimentary reviews from the NYTimes and NYMag. However, with the hiring of Chef David Santos in October of 2010, everything has changed: the menu is marvelous and the food even better – magic seems to have made its way to Griffou. The organic poached egg starter is near perfect: a beautifully poached egg sits atop rustic bits of gnocchi romani, which are swimming in a decadent truffled chestnut veloute. When you cut into the egg, the rich yolk explodes over the rest of the plate, coating the gnocchi in a golden yellow glaze. Also excellent is the housemade cavatelli, a perfectly-portioned bowl of well-made cavatelli, cooked to an addictive chewy texture and served with bitter and refreshing broccoli rabe, a dusting of chili flakes, and melted clothbound cheddar that hints at classic mac n’ cheese. Though I didn’t have a chance to sample them this time, I have plans to go back for the golden cod brandade fritters and the fois gras terrine, served with an unusual-sounding jasmine and kumquat marmalade.
The entrees are grand: roast suckling pig, a whole roasted chicken for two, lamb leg, peking style duck, tuna bolognese, and so forth. Of course, there is also the requisite ‘haute’ burger, and this one is pretty damn delicious. Served on a buttery toasted brioche bun, Santos keeps it simple with a perfectly cooked and impossibly juicy patty, a thick slice of sharp Vermont cheddar, and sweet dried tomatoes. On the side, an ‘artful’ mess of golden brown salty and crispy fries – parfait! My friend was lucky enough to find on the menu the branzino, served beautifully filet-ed with crispy skin and a bed of luscious gnudi. Its safe to say that with the arrival of Chef Santos, Hotel Griffou’s food woes are a thing of the past. There was not a single misstep all night for Santos and his kitchen – a rare thing in a restaurant known more for its scene than its cuisine.
Hotel Griffou was a wonderful surprise – you can’t help but feel chic in its sultry renovated ‘boarding house’ rooms, surrounded by beautiful people. The food was hearty and sophisticated, accessible, and packed with flavor; each dish was well-executed. Naturally though, whether because of its coveted location or its fashion-friendly image, the prices are steep. Appetizers rarely dip below $14 and entrees below $25 – glasses of wine or one of the house specialty cocktails add frighteningly quickly to the bill. However, if you’re looking for a quintessentially trendy downtown New York restaurant, where reservations are reasonably accessible and the food is good, Hotel Griffou offers up a pleasant and, at times, exciting experience.
Perfect For: showing off your new shoes, cocktails with friends, pretty people-watching, a night of indulgence, swanky eats before a night on the town, burning a hole in your wallet