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Galopin dining roomThe rear dining room at Galopin is modernistic, if austere. I first visited Galopin, the latest tenant in the space at the top of Park Avenue that many people, including those who inhabit it, consider to be jinxed, shortly after it opened. Prior to Galopin, the list of restaurants include, most recently, Circa, and before that East of Paris, Chapters, and Zak’s. Before that it was home to Park Avenue Grill, which lasted several years, albeit under different owners and with varying degrees of quality.

Even my server on my second visit to Galopin alluded to a curse. If I had gone with what I had experienced on my first visit I might have agreed.

I don’t believe in curses, though I’ll admit to having tried to place a few from time to time. They never work. I do believe in bad management and poor business sense. And I know there is such a thing as bad food. All of those things can put the hex on a restaurant faster than you can say bibbity-bobbity-boo.

There were certain combinations of those things in many of the previous restaurants. And I suspect at least some ignorance of the business model necessary to make a restaurant successful (from what I’ve heard, the rent on that space is astronomical, requiring high volume just to make the monthly nut).

But back to that first visit. The restaurant was rather busy that night, and everyone seemed to be having a good time.

Galopin NapoleonThe Napoleon Tower didn't quite.I started with the grilled Napoleon as an appetizer, which was described in the menu as an eggplant and mushroom tower. There was no tower. There were barely two levels. There also was no flavor, neither in the Napoleon itself nor in the greens that shared the plate as a salad.

On to the duck tasting, a pan-seared breast and roasted glazed leg. The medallions of breast were tough; the leg was dried out. But I marveled at the absolute blandness of the steamed vegetables, carrots, onions and zucchini. No seasoning, no butter, nothing. The catchphrase for the restaurant is “unique organic dining/healthy natural ingredients.” Why should that equate to flavorless?

That was back in September, and I was content to just sit out and wait for the curse to kick in. But I arranged a luncheon with a good friend, and for the sake of convenience suggested we meet at Galopin.

What a different experience. This time there was creativity, there was quality -- there was flavor!

What could possibly have changed in just seven weeks? The management in both the front of the house and the kitchen, as it turns out.

Now at the helm in the back of the house is Guillermo Zayas, whose tunic still identifies him as sous chef. 

My friend and I chose one of the entree items of shrimp and grits. We were also curious about Galopin shrimpShrimp and grits (really a polenta and parmesan cake).the few tapas that were offered. The tapas on the lunch menu have no descriptions, and something listed simply as “hot antipasto” really needs more to go on. It turns out that item, as cheerfully described by our server, features scallops, shrimp and fish layered over a salad of sauteed vegetables. That’s what you were thinking a hot antipasto was, weren’t you?

It was actually quite good, as was the shrimp and grits, although the grits were in the form of a polenta and parmesan cake -- a fine line, but a distinction nonetheless. They were topped with fresh corn, sauteed onions and peppers, and surrounded by a buttery sauce tinged with a bit of heat.

Galopin antipastoGalopin's hot antipasto tapas.The hot antipasto tapas was probably called that because it was served on a smaller plate than the entree, although to my eye it appeared to be the same amount of food. ($11 for a lunchtime tapas is getting up there, but considering the portion it was not overpriced.) The scallops were firm, and plentiful, too.

 Little bits of salmon added a nice texture. The seafood was served atop grilled vegetables and circled by a stream of balsamic syrup.

When we had finished, Zayas came by the table to ask if he could give us a sample of a dessert he was working on, just so he could get our comments. I figured I’d been spotted as the critic in the room, but I saw him gift other tables with the same dessert.

My comment: more, please. The small dish had a demitasse of cold blueberry “soup” and an egg-sized oval of avocado sorbet with toasted crushed pistachios. Yes, avocado. And the sorbet was the best part.

If you’ve been to the restaurant under any of its other incarnations, you probably won’t recognize it. The downstairs dining spaces are still separate and have different atmospheres, though both are decidedly upscale and modern. Stark might be another word you'd use. Lots of black and white with occasional splashes of color. In the rear dining room, curtains of black fishnet over solid white cover the windows. Tabletops are black, and stark pinspots light the orchids that decorate them. The chairs are comfortable, but offer the only sound buffer in the room other than the people sitting in them, who, of course, are the reason for all the noise, so it’s a draw.

The restaurant is named, by the way, for the son of the owner, whose nickname is Galopin. It’s been my observation over the years that naming a restaurant for your kids is worse than a curse. Remember Ettore’s where Terrace 390 is now? How about Nicole St. Pierre, or Anaelle & Hugo? No? Precisely my point.

But with good food and friendly service (though the staff uniforms show stains too easily), Galopin might even be able to overcome its name.

Galopin is at 358 Park Ave. N., Winter Park. It is open for lunch and dinner Tuesday through Saturday, brunch only on Sunday. Here is a link to galopinwinterpark.com. The phone number is 407-951-5790. 

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Wednesday, 23rd July 2014

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