Sunday, April 13, 2008


Gourmet Mexican food in Seattle's Capitol Hill district

Tim's new job gives us the opportunity to visit Seattle every now and then, so of course we have to explore the restaurants. Mark wandered up to the Capitol Hill area while Tim was in meetings and liked the look of Galerias, so we went up there for dinner and were not disappointed.

Galerias has the feel of an elegant parlor, with patterned tablecloths, purple satiny napkins, and billowy floor-to-ceiling curtains partitioning the room. The friendly staff occasionally sing along with the ambient Mexican music (Mexican pop, not mariachi music) when they aren't bringing your food out. As you enter, the main space of the dining area is to your left, set off by several beautiful display shelves featuring bottles of tequila and Day of the Dead ceramic figurines.

We didn't have much time before the meal to linger and look at them, though, as we were greeted almost immediately and shown to a table. The menus at Galerias win for heaviest menu ever: printed on large slabs of heavy cardboard or light wood with a metallic veneer, they feel as solid as the steel they resemble. Reading through them necessitated a lot of turning of pages back and forth, as all the dishes sounded delicious.

Our waiter was particularly friendly and eager to help us decide on menu choices. After bringing a basket of tortilla chips and wafer-thin slices of a firm wheat bread, he recommended the chicken stuffed with poblano chilies and onions as a main course, the "Ciel, Mar, y Tierra" for an appetizer, and the spinach salad. We accepted those choices and dipped our bread and chips into the fresh green salsa provided with them, which was tangy, but not too spicy for me.

The salad came promptly, baby spinach with mango and walnuts and a light hibiscus flower dressing. The fruity dressing had a touch of cinnamon as well, sweet but not overpoweringly so. The spinach and nuts were good, but the star of the salad was the mango. Soft and ripe, one of the best mangoes we've ever tasted, it almost literally melted in your mouth. The sweetness worked well with the dressing; in fact, our only complaint about the salad is that it could have used something sharp and crunchy to offset the sweet taste and texture. Perhaps candied nuts, or cinnamon-glazed with spice, and a sharp cheese.

The "Ciel, Mar, y Tierra" (Sky, Sea, and Earth) appetizer came with the main course and actually consisted of more food. Perhaps the fact that the two of us were sharing everything confused him. This dish served chicken, chorizo sausage (pork), and tiny shrimp in different sauces over a masa corn cake, similar to the sopes you find in taquerias, all accompanied by fresh cotija cheese. The chicken was tender and moist, but fairly bland, and was our least favorite. The other two made up for it, though: good, savory chorizo, and abundant shrimp in a tomato sauce, neither of which were spicy at all. The corn cakes themselves were a solid base, chewy and fresh, a nice if inessential addition to the meat. Portion size is definitely not an issue: we were given six corn cakes in all, two with each topping, and it proved a little too much for us to finish completely (though we did eat all the toppings).

The main course, the stuffed chicken, came in a poblano chili sauce that was, again, not spicy at all, but had a wonderful flavor and a pea-green color. The chicken was drowned in the sauce, which would have been a crime had the sauce not tasted so good. As it was, we could probably have done with about half the portion. The chicken itself had been baked perhaps a little too long; it was somewhat tough, and we didn't taste much of the filling. But the side of rice had good flavor, and we enjoyed the sauce so much that overall the dish was a success. It would be nice to see what they could do with a tenderer chicken and a bit less sauce--that would push it from "good" to "great."

We had no room for dessert, but weren't rushed to finish our meal at all. Sitting by the window, we had a nice view out onto Broadway Street and enjoyed people-watching until we were ready to leave. Our waiter was very excited to hear our limited knowledge of Spanish, telling us in near-perfect English that he had only been in this country for six months and was still trying to learn the language.

Galerias is a friendly place to spend a couple hours over some very good food, if you're in the area. But Seattle in general doesn't do spicy food all that much, in our experience. So if you like your food spicy, be sure to tell them. We're sure they could accommodate you.

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