Ariel Cheung Ariel Cheung | June 28, 2019 | Food & Drink
A New Orleans transplant hopes to become a Lincoln Park mainstay with flawless hummus and robust coal-fired plates at Galit.
Clockwise from top left: Tehina hummus with sumac and Nana mint ($9); the inviting interior of Galit; coal-roasted steak with potatoes and schmaltzy hollandaise ($27).
There are a number of questions about Galit that left me befuddled. Why did a chef attaining heaps of recognition in New Orleans decide to uproot for this big little city? Why set up shop in Lincoln Park, when his 2017 James Beard Rising Star Chef award could easily merit the fanfare of a glitzy downtown or West Loop locale?
But it becomes increasingly clear as I get to know chef-owner Zach Engel that his choices are simply true to the kind of chef he is. “Galit is intended to be a neighborhood restaurant that, in 10 years, will be an icon in Lincoln Park,” he says. “It’s a passion project because I feel my passion for this food will help make this place last a long time.” He’s the kind of chef who isn’t going to mess with what people want in a Middle Eastern restaurant—hummus, falafel and shakshuka are all featured prominently—but will make sure each dish is the best version you’ve ever tried.
Beets ($12) atop black-garlic tahini
His attentiveness in this regard is exhibited quite clearly in his hummus, golden-hued and creamy, which pairs with coal oven-baked pita touting a crispy, charred exterior that puts all others to shame. Engel starts with the finest heirloom chickpeas, sourced from California’s Rancho Gordo, and mixes them with Israel-made tahini. From there, the hummus can be topped with trumpet mushrooms ($13) and collard greens—a tribute to Engel’s Southern upbringing—or tehina and mint ($9), or, my personal favorite, cinnamon-cured wagyu brisket ($16). While you snack, get the salatim ($22), a banchan-esque assortment of goodies that range from tangy labneh yogurt to sweet wood-roasted turnips to the tomato-derived ezme.
It’s good fun and a hugely appetizing start to dinner—and so are the cocktails. A credit to Bar Director Olivia Duncan (Nico Osteria), each drink is a fun dive into how Middle Eastern ingredients can add complexity to a standard cocktail list. Tart sumac rounds out the mezcal, hibiscus and honey found in The Flowering Fox ($13), while the cleverly named Saz Arak ($12) spikes the New Orleans classic with medjool dates and the anise-based arak spirit.
Spirit-free cocktails are just as tasty and always a welcome addition, but it’s equally vital not to overlook the wine list, which Engel himself primarily put together. A frequent patron of Sonoma Valley vineyards, Engel focused his attention there and on Middle Eastern wines he felt best represented what the region has to offer. I greatly enjoyed the lush cherry and tobacco notes in the 2011 Asaaf Silver cabernet sauvignon from Israel ($52 per bottle), and there are some choice selections at the pricier end of the list I look forward to sampling—in particular, another Israeli gem found in the 2011 Margalit cabernet franc ($155), which Engel playfully notes on the list is, “So good, Chef named his daughter after it.”
The basbousa ($10) is topped with rhubarb and slivers of almond.
The rest of the menu is dedicated to an assortment of coal-fired vegetables dishes and large plates, many of which are utterly delightful. If the whole table is up for it, a $65 five-course tasting menu is a dependable sampling of what Galit has to offer. Otherwise, the falafel ($12) is a must-order, its accenting Persian pickled turnips and labneh providing the perfect counter to the tangy, crispy mango-infused fritters. The beets ($12), too, are delicious, with Engel culling from the Jewish side of Israeli cuisine with a shower of dill and caraway-flecked pumpernickel crumble, and black-garlic tahini to balance the bright beet wedges. “That’s a dish I’ve been holding onto for a long time, for when I opened a restaurant,” he notes.
But Engel, who came up in celebrated Israeli restaurants like Shaya in New Orleans and Philadelphia’s Zahav, doesn’t shy away from dishes that might be less familiar to guests; the Iraqi kubbeh halab ($14 for two) is an oblong fritter of lamb wrapped in a crisp saffron crust that feels street food-level indulgent. Balkan-style lamb-stuffed cabbage ($23) is another one that might catch diners off guard with its spicy, pungent flavors. But familiarity returns with the charcoal-grilled steak ($27), served with deep-fried potatoes and generous globs of schmaltz hollandaise. The sirloin cut is marinated for four hours before it is skewered and set over the coals. Ours was delivered a tad over the medium-cooked doneness we requested, but a couple of bites of the charred yet supple steak erased all complaints from our minds.
The desserts, I must say, were a bit of a letdown, with neither the puff pastry-based khachapuri ($10) nor the chocolate-encrusted, marshmallow-filled krembo ($3 each) satisfying my sweet tooth during an early summer dinner. At that point, Galit was still in the process of procuring a pastry chef—with Engel helming both the kitchen and the wine program, he’s got enough on his hands. But I expect Galit is the kind of restaurant that, like a fine wine, only improves with time—no question about it.
2429 N. Lincoln Ave.
Small plates, $9-$16; large plates, $18-$27; cocktails, $11-$14
Photography by: Anthony Tahlier