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Fresh corn polenta with basil pesto and a poached egg

Sweet and Lowdown

by Gael Greene | Photo: Evan Sung | Manhattan magazine | August 29, 2013

It’s Wolverine Night at Louro in the Village. I’m hoping to find Hugh Jackman on the half shell. Every Monday night is “Nossa Mesa Supper Club” at this plain-Jane little Village joint that used to be Bar Blanc and, later, Lowcountry. Mondays mean BYO wine and beer and many courses for $65 in the spirit of Um Segredo, the popular supper club chef-owner David Santos used to host in his Roosevelt Island apartment. Grape nuts with serious cellars can drink great bottles without paying corkage fees, and the rest of us can drink retail from a brown paper bag.

Otherwise, Louro is à la carte, reasonable and full of surprises. Foodie friends and I were astonished one Tuesday night by gently cooked shrimp in a sassy piri-piri peanut sauce—five big heads-on beauties for just $7—and by confit’d goat and falafel with Middle Eastern spices in lemon mint cream. That’s why we’re back.

It’s certainly not for the pinchpenny decor—eccentric chandeliers and a blowup photo of library books on the back wall. Though maybe it’s not all that shabby, considering the Portuguese-born Santos had just two weeks to trick it up after Lowcountry closed, and moved in with the same partners.

No sign of Hugh or his massive chest, alas. Actually, tonight’s dinner pays homage not to the movie but to the comic book Wolverine, at the suggestion of a Louro regular who works for Marvel Comics. Instructed to arrive at 7pm, we’ve been sipping Manhattans and nibbling bread with lard-infused Portuguese butter as stragglers arrive at the communal table in back.

Finally, near 8pm, waiters dash from the kitchen with the amuse, the chef’s signature seafood fritters, creamy little rounds to dunk into smoked paprika aioli. We ask for more bread to dab up the last drop.

I smash the fried quail egg tilted atop a mound of venison tartare, “inspired by the Wolverine’s living wild in the wilderness.” The fragrant mash seems quite civilized to me, sweetly elegant. I drag a forkful through mustard mayonnaise and pile it on toast. I know what to expect of the heads-on shrimp, recycled here because, apparently, Wolverine has the bad habit of cutting off his own head. I’m not a comic fan. But menu notes explain the chef’s thinking.

The ebb and flow is a bit erratic. It can’t be easy plating for 60 in that tiny kitchen. But the freshly made polenta with basil pesto and another egg, this one poached, makes me sit up taller. The colors celebrate Wolverine’s debut (yellow) in a Hulk (green) comic. Who cares? It’s the sweet taste of summer that has all of us ooh-ing.

This is definitely a bone marrow crowd in a bone marrow era. Stuffed into the huge bones, meant to invoke Wolverine’s claws, is a sticky soufflé hiding curried mussels and tufts of brisket. It’s almost too voluptuous to spread on fragile rice crisps. A waiter, grinning, walks through the room offering seconds on crisps. They look like Styrofoam or deflated balloons, but, being just fried, are surprisingly edible.

Poutine. No, not poutine. I tried it once in a Canadian bar: fries with melted cheese and gravy. I consider it the dirty secret of Canada (not that American fast food doesn’t have plenty). But these are wonderful hand-cut fries. I separate them out from the cheese and the chorizo mush in duck gravy, eating them in spite of my best intentions. One of my companions asks for ketchup. Is he shameless or just bold? A small dish of housemade ketchup arrives, delivered with no trace of disdain or irony. I get a warm feeling the customer is always right here. But it could also be the faltering air-conditioner.

Wolverine’s dalliance in hell inspires wonderful old-fashioned devil’s food cake, simple and sincere, not even frosted. It sits in Labatt beer pudding, nestled against just-made Canadian whisky ice cream. (The comic hero is a drinker.) Of course, one can’t possibly eat another bite, but one does, as servers swarm through the room pouring coffee. That sturdy, bearded, chef-like guy is the chef, making the rounds, lingering if you’re willing to hear his story, interrupting to hug friends who’ve dropped by for a nightcap.

Come for more inventions on the everyday menu. Before he went residential, the chef, a veteran of Bouley and Per Se, was executive chef at Hotel Griffou and The 5 and Diamond. As his own boss, he’s not predictable. Imagine octopus Bolognese with hand-cut tagliatelle and house-cured goose pancetta. Sound weird? It’s delicious. So is eggplant tortellini with ricotta and Parmesan crisps. Eggs and grains, $12 to $18. Large plates, $24 to $29.

Ricotta with truffle essence and honey to spread on crostini is a cinch, easy and good. But maybe truffled cream with pig’s head and clams on a polenta cake with summer truffles is too much of a much. “Broccoli in Textures”—watercress, charred broccoli, tempura and sour cherry puree—melds art and nutrition.

I’m sure we would have fallen all over the juicy roasted chicken with black-eyed peas and that Anson Hills polenta if it hadn’t gotten lost somewhere for half an hour, while the chef kept sending out more dishes we hadn’t ordered. We could only taste.

Desserts tend to be homey, like peaches and cream upside-down cake with fresh peach ice cream, or s’mores with graham cracker sorbet, toasted marshmallow pudding and chocolate crumble. Amateurs might be paralyzed at the end, but tenured professionals like us always seem to revive for dessert.

Louro
142 W. 10th St., between Greenwich Avenue and Waverly Place, 212.206.0606

Mon. Supper Club: 7pm seating
Tues.-Sat.: 5:30-11pm
Sun. brunch: 11am-4pm