The spirit of art

  • 2009-04-02
  • By Monika Hanley

TOP DOWN: The unique location boasts an art gallery on the ground floor and a restaurant on the top. The lack of a stable restaurant menu gives the chef a chance to be creative.

Galerija Istaba is an eclectic and unique restaurant, a fascinating blend of hip loft restaurant and ultra cool gallery. Though small, the ground floor is used as a venue for occasional concerts, while the loft balcony doubles as a bar and restaurant.

The combination gallery and restaurant serves some of the best food in Riga 's though you never know what you're going to get. With the exception of a drink card, there are no menus. This allows for more creativity on the chef's part, but it can also influence prices so it's always best to ask beforehand.

Waitresses typically come to your cozy nook of a booth and tell you the meals of the day. This usually includes some sort of combination of pork, beef, lamb and seafood. They also have delicious vegetarian options. You just pick your meat and let the chef do whatever he wants.

When I last visited the restaurant, the meat selection came with copious amounts of sundried tomato bruschetta, steamed vegetables, green salad, mashed potatoes, yams and what I think was rutabaga. 
Even though we all got something different, the side dishes were more than big enough to share. And the portions themselves were gigantic. I ordered the shrimp and ended up with a very large soup bowl filled with some of the most delicious steamed and marinated-to-perfection shrimp I've ever tasted.

All that for 10 lats. Though it is a bit more than I would normally spend on a casual night out, for healthy, fresh food and gastronomically pleasing cuisine, it was worth it. Most meat selections are cheaper than the seafood choices, with the vegetarian couscous and sun dried tomatoes the cheapest at 6 lats.

Every month the small gallery rotates the art on the walls to feature a new artist, or it opens a new exhibition 's complete with an opening party of course.
The downstairs gallery has recently opened a new exhibition, which will run until April 18, showing artistically decorated mailboxes from over 100 artists. The mailboxes portray times gone by, conceptual designs or just plain wacky patterns from some of Latvia's hottest new artists, along with some of the most famous established ones.

The gallery itself is full of all kinds of items that are perfect for unusual souvenirs, such as Latvian chocolate advertisements from the 1930's or matchboxes with Soviet tram stubs on them. It is also a great place for post cards, notebooks, and short books on historical oddities.

The gallery, while retaining its kooky nature, has come a long way from the combination cafe/bar/restaurant/tavern/pizzeria/art gallery that it strived to be when it opened in 2005.

It seems that Galerija Istaba has settled into itself on Barona Street and has become a sort of worn-in couch that's both kitschy and comfy. Once you leave, you won't be able to wait to snuggle into it again.