914 N. Peters St., 595-3400; www.galvezrestaurant.com
Dinner Tue.-Sat., brunch Sun.
A peerless view, seafood entrees and outsized tapas
Underwhelming Spanish set pieces, polite seasoning lacking garlic gusto
Special-occasion ambience with a casual, often slapdash Spanish menu
Galvez is a Spanish restaurant on the second-floor perch above the French Market. It is different in just about every respect from Bella Luna, its pre-Hurricane Katrina predecessor at that spot, except for the one thing people usually bring up first. The sweeping view of the Mississippi River is as captivating as ever, and it remains as much a part of the experience of the place as the stage is to dinner theater.
Bella Luna never reopened after Katrina, so one of the city's most interesting pieces of restaurant real estate sat empty until chef Laura Cedillo and her brother Cesar Cedillo opened Galvez in March. Laura ran a pan-South American restaurant in New York, but at Galvez, her menu is a litany of Old World Spanish dishes.
Galvez is heir to a huge, dramatic dining room, with thick, dark ceiling rafters and crimson walls lending a baronial feel. It's a grand setting, but one that doesn't quite mesh with the loose, rustic, sometimes hasty presentations of Spanish cooking here. The food is usually satisfying enough — and in concert with the ambience and the reasonable, Iberian-oriented wine list, it can anchor a pleasant, easygoing dinner — though a lack of both polish and gusto hold Galvez back.
When dishes rise to the occasion, they usually revolve around seafood. Seared scallops stole the show one night, lined up neatly on a long, narrow potato cake with dollops of guacamole. The salsa over red snapper was more like a chopped salad of cherry tomato, green olive and onion, but a tart vinaigrette gave the fish the invigorating flavor of escabeche.
People seem pulled to paella wherever it appears, but what should be a marquee dish made little impression. The requisite ingredients were all present, but none of them contributed much essence to the whole, so the result was a mix of seafood and meat set in bland yellow rice. The good-looking sirloin for the steak Español arrived cold. A plate of thin-cut pork chops with browned onions, white beans and a heap of rice was fine, especially as a $16 dinner special, but it wasn't much more compelling than a spruced-up plate lunch.
About half the menu is devoted to tapas, which feature large portions and are mostly priced in the low teens. Shrimp ceviche spilling out of a stemmed glass was attractive, but lacked flavor. The sauteed shrimp al ajillo marks one of Galvez's surprisingly rare flourishes of aggressive garlic and comes off the better for it. Skip the dense, all-too-chewy chorizo al vino, but definitely try the always-changing, bubble-crusted empanadas with volcanically hot habanero sauce. The ultra-fine gazpacho could qualify as a tomato smoothie, though a sprinkling of raw vegetables on the surface provides crunch.
Service is generally friendly at Galvez, but the staff doesn't field menu questions well and can seem disinterested in finding answers. One night we couldn't order cocktails from the sprawling bar because, evidently, no one on duty could mix a drink.
There are some distracting letdowns at Galvez, but it is easier to look the other way here when that means taking in its view of the Mississippi.