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Eastside Discovery

A Wrightstown Road strip mall is home to an amazing restaurant with strong New Orleans influences

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Discovering a new restaurant is always fun, but discovering a great new restaurant is even better. Galo's--located in a strip mall on Wrightstown Road--is a great new restaurant, no doubt about it.

Technically, I didn't discover Galo's; quite a few folks on the eastside already know about this tiny place. On the recommendation of a loyal Weekly reader, we made reservations for a Saturday night to scope it out.

We walked into Galo's and were greeted immediately by a friendly staff and a wonderful aroma emanating from the kitchen. Only a few of the 10 tables were filled at the time, but everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves. A mix of soft music played in the background: some Beatles, a classical tune, and New Orleans jazz. Lighting was subdued; tables were topped with linen tablecloths and glass, and interesting artwork hung on the walls. The artist, it turns out, is the uncle of Robbi, wife of Chef Galo.

Pride in product is evident at Galo's. Whether it was the appetizers, the entrées or the desserts, our food was carefully prepared, beautifully presented and damned good. In fact, the two meals we ate there were some of the best we've had in a while--and that includes recent visits to San Francisco, Napa and Boston. Service, too, was done right: there when you needed them to be, not there when you didn't. Any questions we had were answered.

New Orleans has a definite influence on the menu, with plenty of fish and seafood choices; several entrées are prepared "blackened," and many of the dishes are flavored with garlic, capers and lemon.

The wine list is small but most serviceable. All wines are available by both bottle and glass except the sparkling wines, which come in full bottles and one option in a split. Several bottled beers are also on the menu. No hard liquor is served.

On our first visit, I ordered the calamari ceviche ($5.95), and John had salmon cakes ($5.95) for starters. Interesting salads also caught our eye, but we decided to stick with appetizers and entrées. John decided on the blackened 12-ounce rib eye steak ($22.95) with the potatoes du jour, and I went with one of the specials: grilled tilapia ($11.95) and pecan rice.

My ceviche was nothing short of wonderful. The presentation was beautiful--tiny tentacles of squid peeked out of thinly sliced roasted peppers in all colors. The bright colors of the peppers and bright flavors of lemon, cilantro and capers made this an outstanding beginning. The portion was small, but it didn't matter--entrée portions are all quite generous.

John's salmon cakes were thick with chunks of fresh salmon. Definitely more fish than filler, the two cakes would stand in as an entrée at other places in town. The tartar sauce on the side complemented the fish nicely.

Our bread basket was placed on the table with only three tiny rolls. Airy, oven-warm and flecked with black pepper, these disappeared quickly but were immediately replaced, as if by magic. This nice touch (serving only a few rolls at a time, then a few more) keeps the bread warm and flavorful.

When my tilapia was placed in front of me, I nearly swooned from the heavenly fragrance that arose from the plate. The presentation was beautiful as well. Three large slices of perfectly grilled fish were topped with a dazzling lemon butter sauce that had been spiked with fresh tomatoes and capers. The edges of the fish were crispy while the middle remained tender and moist. The aromatic pecan rice was a treat; each grain was lightly infused with the nutty flavor of this southern specialty. Pecan pieces added a nice crunch.

The rub used in blackened dishes often overpowers the flavor of the meat underneath. Not so under the deft hand of Chef Galo. The beef was tender and juicy, cooked perfectly both on the outside and in. The potato du jour was pan-fried potatoes, cubed and lightly seasoned--sort of upscale American fries. They were very well done, or should I say, done very well.

That night, three choices for dessert were brought to the table on a silver platter--all prepared in-house. I chose the crème brule ($5.95), and John went with the chocolate cheesecake ($3.95) over the regular cheesecake. Not surprisingly, the desserts were very good, especially the brule. The burnt sugar topping crackled when I put a spoon to it, and the custard was creamy, with just a hint of lemon. John's chocolate cheesecake was dense, with a perfect balance of chocolate and cheesecake flavors. The chocolate crumb crust was a dessert in itself. Again: all desserts, with the exception of the mud pie--not available on either visit--are made on premises.

Our second visit met with identical results: good food, great service and a relaxing time. It could've been a disaster, though, as all the tables were filled within minutes of our being seated, and there was only one server. The measure of a well-run restaurant is what happens when things go wrong. Our server, with the backing of Robbi, handled it all with the highest degree of professionalism. Everybody's needs were met in a timely and calm manner. The phrase "grace under pressure" comes to mind.

We went totally seafood/fish this round. John started with the smoked mountain trout ($5.95): thick slices of mesquite smoked rainbow trout served with toasted French bread, a wholegrain mustard sauce and a cucumber salad. Truly inspired!

My New Orleans BBQ shrimp ($6.95) was a unique preparation of five, plump shell-on shrimp seasoned and served in a beer based broth. Seasonings made the broth red and lightly peppery, with a fine trace of garlic. John's salmon filet ($11.95) flaked apart with the touch of a fork, as it should. The fish was moist and flavored with a delicious rosemary and green peppercorn butter. This time, the potato du jour was red potatoes sautéed with chives and other spices. Both were outstanding.

I decided on the grilled mahi mahi (market price, $13.95) with pineapple macadamia nut butter and the pecan rice. The sauce was unique--warm chunks of sweet pineapple and crunchy nuts brought out the best in the mahi mahi. Again, an amazing dish! I'd highly recommend this dish to anyone, but as it was a special I'm not sure if it's always on the menu.

Dessert that night was the key lime chiffon ($3.95), though I seriously considered the pineapple upside-down cake. Fluffy and light with a graham cracker crust, you might call this dessert a lite version of key lime pie.

Lunch is also served, but only from Labor Day to Memorial Day, a wise choice considering the summer heat in the Old Pueblo.

Galo's offers ordinary foods put together in extraordinary ways. It's obvious that Chef Galo and staff truly want their customers to enjoy the experience, and at this, they are most successful.

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