Le Galopin

Apparently, one of the hardest reservations  to get in Paris (thanks to a recent mention in the NYTimes) is for a place called Frenchie, serving inventive and very good good food at a reasonable price. There are countless threads on the foodie websites with people agonizing over their failure to make a reservation, the difficulty of getting through on the telephone, how their trip will be ruined if they don’t dine at Frenchie. It all seems a bit much – and many of the Parisian locals seem to agree, i.e. the food is great, but the hoops one must jump through to get in are excessive.

So, one place mentioned several places as a good Frenchie “alternative” was Le Galopin in the 10th. I called from SF the week prior to my visit and obtained my reservation with no problem.

So, on a rainy Saturday night, I took the Metro a couple of stops and managed to make my way down a small street to find Le Galopin on a quiet corner. The place is quite small – I’d guess they max out at about 24, maybe 30 people.

There is a single 7-course menu offering that changes daily, depending on what is fresh and available. I’m always a bit nervous about a set menu, imagining that it will consist primarily of offal and Limburger or some other combination that I’m not crazy about… But Saturday’s menu all sounded fine by me.

First was an amuse – and I forget how exactly it was described. But it was little ittty-bitty lightly deep-fried fishies, with a few little garnishes. Tasty.

Next, a simple miso broth with scallions and tiny florets of cauliflower, still crunchy as they’d presumably been added to the soup raw. A simple dish, but with good flavors that seemed to grow a bit more pronounced as one finished.

This was followed by a salad of duck with radish and mustard. Here’s where things started getting interesting. The dish was served with the radish and some other vegetables thinly sliced and dressed with mustard seeds and some type of savory herb – so the salad started out crunchy with a slightly bitter edge. But then beneath that were several slices of barely seared duck, meaty and delicious, adding another layer of texture and some richness. This is also where the mustard dressing came into play, as it was at the bottom of the composition. It was sinus-clearingly zippy and when combined with all the other ingredients, the dish not only grew more delicious as one delved further, it grew decidedly more complex. I loved it.

The fish course was next: red tuna with corn and mushrooms. The combination of ingredients here was completely unexpected: fresh corn plus some salty capers an ingenious compliment to the fish – as was the green “sauce,” almost like a more assertive foam. And I remain unsure what vegetable was used to prepare it – obviously not peas this time of year, though that’s what it reminded me of. And a perfect little tempura baby turnip. Even the corn silk, which was not my favorite element texturally, gave a distinct grassy note to this wonderful dish.

The meat course was a filet de boeuf, prepared à point, topped with an anchovy filet and served with beets and a beet purée. Again, not a combination of flavors that would occur to most people – but the meaty steak and the salty anchovy played wonderfully with the sweetness of the beets. Using both a purée and braised beets ensured that textures changed with each bite. Another winner.

The first of the two desserts was figs with yogurt and red wine in both gelato and gelée forms – plus crunchy meringue bits and a couple of cilantro leaves (an astonishingly excellent addition) . Oh and a bit of streusel sprinkled about for good measure. It was superb.

The second dessert was described as “bread, hazelnuts and chocolate.” And that’s exactly what it was – yet so much more. Tiny cubes of sweet, almost doughy bread, served alongside an intensely chocolatey concoction – maybe a mousse is the best way to describe it, plus ground hazelnuts. I might describe it as similar to a deconstructed bread pudding – with dollop of chartreuse crème standing in for the whiskey sauce. And don’t forget a fat, juicy raspberry. Truly sublime – to the point that I got a bit verklempt. Though I suspect this had as much to do with the fact that I was lucky enough to be in Paris that night as it did with the wonderful meal.

I should also add that the wine was great – a small, reasonably priced list with a good selection by the glass (I had a Pouilly Fumé and a Cotes du Rhone – ok, maybe a few CdRs…). The waiters were charming (and adorable – this is France, after all. Le sigh…) and very kind to the sole English speaker in the place that evening. It was quite a treat to discreetly observe the other diners – a beautiful young couple, clearly in love, holding hands; two other couples, one with their adorable 6-month-old who smiled and laughed the whole evening while mom and dad took turns holding and kissing him; the other party of four who took got up in shifts to smoke out on the stoop; two boys next to me who only had eyes for each other… Really everyone in the place just seemed to enjoy themselves immensely, myself included. And I must say, it felt pretty cool to have found my way off the tourist path, if only for a couple of hours. Just a completely excellent evening in every way possible.

Oh, and if you can believe it, my bill was €70 – including wine.

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