Prior to our visit to Galopin, I had to assure my dining partner that meats of an equine nature were totally absent from the menu, and that the name – a French term of endearment akin to "cheeky monkey" or "wily rascal" – was a reference to the owner's son. Granted, I wasn't entirely certain of a horse-free bill of fare, so scanning Galopin's menu served the dual purpose of offering me some peace of mind and, at the same time, giving me hope for our prospective meals.
After the departure of former Circa 1926 head chef Jason Jessmore, kitchen duties have fallen onto the shoulders of executive chef Guillermo Zayas and his merry band of culinarians. Sourcing organic and local ingredients is now de rigueur at better restaurants, and Galopin is no exception – 75 to 80 percent of the dishes served here have roots in local farms and ranches.
The menu is divided into traditional three-course meal options, as well as tapas items, so we thought tapas to start and traditional mains for our entrees was the prudent tack to take. But when we saw Zayas approach our table in a determined fashion, we feared a great insult had been perpetrated – that is, until we saw the two small plates he carried. In each: a curl of grilled shrimp served with a delectable smoked-tomato sauce and red pepper chutney. The complimentary small bite (another de rigueur practice, it seems) only served to stoke our anticipation. When the cremini mushrooms ($7) stuffed with eggplant ragout and crowned with herb pesto arrived a few moments later, everything from the flavors to the plating duly impressed. For the tuna tasting ($11), we were encouraged to start with the curry-crusted morsels, graduate to the citrus sashimi and end with the spicy tartare. Following the procedure allowed the flavors to build, but when we went back to the mushrooms, it gave them a bolder profile.
The same could be said of the restaurant's interior: White sofas, red banquettes and black tables are set in a contemporary configuration befitting a resto-lounge. I didn't notice a flatscreen anywhere; instead, newly installed kitchen windows present patrons with a far more worthy distraction. We could see the licks of flame as the kitchen grilled our lamb chops ($29) marinated in Chilean cabernet sauvignon. Lollipop chops they're not; rather, superbly thick and chubby cuts deftly executed and served with crisp rosemary fingerling potatoes (some sweet) and a stellar berry marmalade. The duck tasting ($24) presented two distinct renditions – luscious bite-sized cuts of pan-seared breast and a gamier roasted leg, for the serious canard connoisseur. A simple side of quick-steamed carrots, zucchini and squash added a seasonal element to the dish without adulterating the essence of fowl.
Two notable endings were pears poached in red wine ($8) with a crunchy texture and cinnamon and floral notes; and light, lava-less lava cake ($8) served with raspberries and vanilla ice cream.
As they were fresh out of locally roasted organic coffee, we took the opportunity to head upstairs and check out the swanky lounge. No doubt Galopin is one of the sexier sup spots on Park Avenue, but this kitchen ensures the style is backed with plenty of substance. So many restaurants have opened and closed in this space over the years; I just want to see one move in and establish itself as the dining destination on the northern periphery of Park Avenue. If they stay consistent, I'd consider Galopin a dark horse candidate.
358 N. Park Ave.,