The area around place Gambetta, the heart of the 20th district with its town hall and cinema, offers no shortage of dining options. Most of the contenders are mediocre brasseries and neighborhood restaurants featuring the usual suspects of pizza, Indian, or Chinese fare. But recently, walking home from my Saturday outdoor market, I noticed a newcomer in the desolate dining landscape: a contemporary restaurant whose exposed brick walls and attractively simple logo caught my eye. I immediately reserved a table at Galerna, named for the wind that blows across the north coast of Spain.
Co-owners Iñigo Ruiz Rituerto and Kasia Kucharczyk opened their doors at the end of August, and their smart French-style lunch menus have already attracted a loyal following among local employees looking for a quick and ultra-fresh midday meal.
By night, though, Chef Iñigo’s menu focuses on his homeland of Navarra in northern Spain. His small plates, or raciones, are meant to be shared, and during a recent visit, I was thrilled to discover the fine-dining quality of the chef’s evening menu – and to share more than several dishes.
Both lunch and dinner options are affordable, an important criterion for this working-class neighborhood. At 18.50€, the lunch prix fixe menu – there’s no à la carte at midday – features a choice of two starters, two mains, and several desserts. As in many contemporary eateries, a limited menu means that diners are sure to eat the freshest food possible, and the lunch offerings change every day.
My food-obsessed neighbor and I arrived for lunch on a Tuesday, to a moderately-packed dining room. We decided to sit at the pretty bar, and we ordered one of each dish. Our starters of leek velouté and poached egg were seemingly culled from the most ordinary French repertoire – until we tasted them.
The leek velouté was surprisingly rich – without any hint of cream! – and a smooth and warming soup for a crisp fall day. A swirl of Spanish olive oil and a hint of smoked paprika lent Iberian notes to the classic dish. My neighbor’s well-poached egg sat atop a celery root purée, an earthy foil to the smoky flavors enveloped in the light chorizo emulsion served alongside.
Following the satisfying starters, we sampled fork-tender morsels of beef chuck (paleron) in a tomato-based sauce that was bright and fresh, and the pleasing acidity shined some Spanish sun onto this humble cut of beef. The pollock (lieu noir) was flaky but its mild flesh provided just the right amount of resistance to the fork, a hallmark of precision-cooked fish. Topped with a sauce vierge, or virgin olive oil mixed with herbs, the fish was given a colorful flourish of crunchy pomegranate seeds, tart grapefruit, and parsley.
For dessert, I opted for the café gourmand: the sampling of sweet bites served with coffee included lightly-poached strawberries and just-softened apples, a quenelle of chocolate mousse whose silky texture avoided the pitfalls of many a mousse. The delicate quenelle sat atop a fine crumb of Belgian speculoos that had a fresh hint of orange.
Freshness is the key to Galerna’s food, at lunch or dinner. Chef Iñigo’s experience, honed through years of work in several 3-star Michelin restaurants in northern Spain, really shines in his evening menu based on convivial raciones. Unlike tapas, which technically are meant as a snack, raciones are large enough for each diner to try a bite (or two) of each dish as they’re brought piping hot from Galerna’s open kitchen.
Raciones are casual food, but happily for us, Iñigo ups the ante by adding fine-dining touches. Generous smatterings of herbs cover his “63° egg” (precision-cooked egg), vegetables are crisp and bright, and the plating is so gorgeous I wanted to order one of everything on the menu.
At dinner, we decided on the Morcilla de Burgos, an earthy-flavored slice of black (blood) sausage with rice, and flavorful Chistorra, a type of chorizo from the chef’s native Navarra, topped with a lightly pan-fried quail’s egg. The menu’s second and third courses feature seafood prominently, and chorizo is also omni-present on the menu. That’s fine by me, since chorizo has attained, in my book, the same rapture-inducing status as bacon.
The moderate and varied wine list is a good reflection of co-owner Kasia’s past experience as a caviste. For dinner, we drank a bottle of Manzanilla Micaela from Bodegas Barón. The dry, white fino sherry benefits from the presence of flor, the thick cap of yeast that protects the wine from oxidation in the barrel. Not to everyone’s taste, this fresh wine has a slightly iodized flavor, due to its production close to the sea, and we found it to be an alluring complement to the seafood dishes.
Despite the fine-dining techniques and flourishes, the chef never loses touch with his roots: the bold flavors that are the hallmark of Spanish cuisine. Galerna is not only a most welcome addition to the area, but also, as its name suggests, a healthy gust that sweeps across the area’s mediocre dining landscape.
7 rue du Cher, 20th
Tel: +33 (0)9-81-29-27-12
Lead photo credit : Photo: © Restaurant Galerna