Weekend Adventure: Galaxy Conquest
Written by Bwog Staff
Bwog food editor Jon Hill heads to Galaxy Global Eatery to overcome culinary phobias and beyond…
Unless you’re a regular sushi eater or a fan of “Eastenders,” eel is most likely not a familiar foodstuff.
The reasons for eel’s scarcity here in the States are not hard to ferret out if you’ve ever seen a live one: they’re ugly and look like snakes. Overseas, of course, eels are considered quite innocuous as far as seafood goes. The British are famous for jellied eels, the Baltic states have several varieties of smoked eel, and the Japanese put eel in everything from sushi to soda.
While I admit I was not quite ready to consume eel in beverage form, I was prepared to conquer both a lifetime of cultural anti-eel bias and apprehension. That’s why I decided Friday to head downtown to Galaxy Global Eatery to try eel in a form most Americans would find very familiar – as a burger.
Tucked away into a small corner space in Gramercy, Galaxy Global Eatery is far from galactic in scale. Its dining area is about the size of Café 212 and no meal is complete without receiving a few hip checks to the back of your chair from passing waitstaff.
But claustrophobia aside, the menu actually does approach a global scope. Dishes combine elements from culinary traditions on every continent with a particular emphasis on vegetarian and vegan cuisine. There’s also a distinctive counterculture current in the cooking, suggested most obviously by the frequent inclusion of hemp products in the ingredients.
Galaxy Global Eatery’s main attraction for me, though, was its smoked eel burger. Whoever created this dish was rather clever – because eels live in cold waters, their tissue has a high fat content, and that makes eel the perfect meat candidate for a burger patty. Those oils keep the patty juicy under the high heat of a grill while also bringing out rich, meaty flavors.
And, indeed, the smoked eel burger was juicy, but best of all, it was not fishy. Similarly oily seafood like bluefish and mackerel can make you smell like you’re fresh from the beach, but the strong fishy flavors I expected from the eel were actually subtle and non-dominating.
The smoky sweetness left by the eel curing process probably also covered up some of these more overwhelming ocean aromas. Nonetheless I would have enjoyed a slightly stronger flavor given that this eel’s taste had a faintness reminiscent of button mushrooms. Meanwhile, the texture of the ground eel meat was soft and fine, not rubbery or slippery as I feared, and I was happy to learn breadcrumbs had not been added.
I ought to note, however, that the true conversation piece of the entrée was not the burger but the sides, cucumber-seaweed salad and beet fries. Both were unusual enough to earn the most attention from my dining companions, despite the kitchen’s uneven execution – the noodle-like seaweed was an excellent partner for the crispy cucumbers, but the beet fries were greasy enough to lubricate an engine.
The fusion of American, Japanese, and Eastern European cuisines that went into my smoked eel burger proved to be a quite palatable expedition into adventurous dining. Among the rapids of unusual foods, Galaxy Global Eatery rates about a class 2, “nothing too weird.” Those just beginning to expand their gastronomic frontiers might find a good start here.
WHAT IT IS: Smoked eel burger
WHERE IT IS: Galaxy Global Eatery, 15 Irving Place (Gramercy)
HOW MUCH IT IS: $12.00, with cucumber salad and beet fries on the side
HOW TO GET THERE: Take the 1 train to Times Square and transfer to the N. Get off at Union Square, walking a block east on 15th Street.