Wednesday, December 14, 2011.
Eat Club At Galvez. Making A Break For The Pontalba.
Cold and wet. Were it not for hurricanes and tornadoes, I'd call this the worst kind of weather we get in New Orleans. I have no question that global warming is underway, but it sure seems colder than normal this year.
Fortunately, something warm and delightful awaited my evening, as the Eat Club took over the magnificent private dining room of Galvez for dinner. Almost without a doubt the most impressive dining room in New Orleans, our venue is the former open second-floor patio of Moran's Riverside. That restaurant opened in the French Market during the major renovation in the 1970s. The restaurant later became Bella Luna. During Chef Horst Pfeifer's hegemony there, the patio was enclosed and made to look like a Italian palazzo. As superb as the view of the river is from the main dining room, it's even more atmospheric from the private space. And the whole French Quarter is spread out on the other side.
I missed the reception with cava and tapas. As soon as the radio show ended, I fulfilled a commitment to sign copies of Lost Restaurants at the 1850 House in the Pontalba. It was a big event for the Friends of the Cabildo, and Peggy couldn't make it. But it was only a block away from the restaurant. I strode over, put my name and smartass remarks in about two dozen books, then returned to the dinner.
The first course was just coming out: ceviche of shrimp and peppers, corn, and citrus, served with--a Spanish beer! Good idea, we all though, bridging the gap from the bubbly to the still wines.
A seared sea scallop followed, sitting atop a potato cake, with two grilled asparagus radiating from its left flank. Scallops have appeared in almost every one of our dinners lately, but I can't say I'm getting tired of it.
With this came a Basque white: Txomin Extaniz Txakolina. I found it much easier to enjoy than to pronounce.
The fish course was the high point for me and a lot of other people. King salmon (that would make it Pacific and wild-caught) had been seared in a pan with brown butter and almonds. What made it wonderful was the presence of roasted fresh cherries, which manager Aaron Angelo told us had been pitted just that afternoon. (He showed me the pitter. It looked like an instrument of torture.) Chef-owner Laura Cedillo told us later that serving fresh cherries from the Valledolid is as Spanish as anything. New to me, and deliciously so.
A rack of lamb emerged next. Marinated with garlic and rosemary, roasted to a very dark brown while remaining medium rare in the center, it was covered with a sauce so thick and with such an unusual flavor that I suspected the presence of chocolate. None of that, Chef Laura said. Just a highly-reduced demi-glace from lamb bones. Very good on its own merits, and it complemented the big red wine (Mas Sorrer, Monstant, 2009) as well as one could hope for.
I had some doubts about the stuffed dates as a dessert. The stuffing was roasted pecans and goat cheese; a belt of bacon held everything in place. It wound up impressing not just me but also people who'd never eaten dates before.
Puzzling more people than the dates did was the dark, sweet sherry served with it. This was Alvear Pedro Ximenez, from a solera started in 1927. That means that while newer vintages of sherry have been added to this pile of aging barrels since that year, there was indeed a small percentage of wine from 1927, and every year good enough to save since then. It was unctuous and wonderful to my palate. A bit much on the syrupy side for others.
The polar opposite form of sherry came with the second dessert. Lustau Light Manzanilla was a sharp and almost bitter wine, without much of the oxidized flavor for which sherry is noted. If anyone liked this, I didn't speak with him. The brioche stuffed with double-cream brie and a coulis of all the stuff they mix into red wine here to make sangria was much more to our liking.
Chef Laura is from Ecuador, and ran a restaurant like this in New York for ten years. Her family came to New Orleans, saw the abandoned Bella Luna space, and moved in. She speaks English imperfectly, but she was smiling when I sang the Johnny Mercer song Laura (from the movie of the same name) to her. It was my pleasure. (Probably more mine than hers.)
Galvez. French Quarter: 912 N Peters. 504-585-1400.
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