Skip to content

Posts from the ‘Basque’ Category

Borda Berri

1/2 Borda Berri, where I managed to squeak in just before the gate was pulled down for the evening, had a different vibe (dare I pull out the H-word?) than many other pintxos bars. For one, no one dining or behind the counter appeared to be over 30. They also had a penchant for American classic rock a la Sweet Home Alabama interspersed with Spanish-language metal.

Borda berri facade

On Saturday night, the crowds spilling onto the street–generally speaking, not just at Borda Berri–felt more off-puttingly Lower East Side, though. Screaming, glass-breaking (though San Sebastián was suspiciously free of zombie-texters, and smartphones, period). Is there such a concept as bridge-and-tunnel or fratty in Spain?

Borda berri taco de bacalao

No matter, I had time to enjoy the first “taco” of vacation. This particular taco was tempura’d bacalao with multiple sauces that I’ve already forgotten. Sauces and drizzles are to pintxos what flowers are to alta cocina.

Borda berri foie gras, plum & mustard

And a sorry photo of bread slices (if the pintxo isn’t served atop bread, you’re usually given bread on the side, which makes the three-to-four-bite concoctions feel like a real meal—plus, you don’t want to waste any of those aforementioned sauces) blocking the chunk of foie gras. The mustard was flavored with mysterious fruity ingredient that I didn’t recognize when reading the chalkboard.

 “Qué es una cireula?” I asked. “Inglés?” the gentleman behind the counter correctly assumed while pulling a menu from behind the bar. After a bit of scanning, I was told “plum” in an equally heavy accent as I imagine my “cireula” sounded to him. Ah, plum instead of apple with this foie gras.

How many of these pintxos bars have foreign language menus hidden away, I’m not sure, but the only two languages I ever saw advertised explicitly on doors—which I took as a signal to stay far away—were English and French. All other tourists are out of luck—and from what I could hear, seemed to speak pretty good English anyway.

Borda Berri * Fermín Calbetón, 12, San Sebastián, Spain


Goiz-Argi was a good place to start. On a Wednesday night, our first night and still getting our bearings, this compact bar had enough breathing room to survey the small selection of fairly traditional pintxos on the counter and listed on the wall.

Goiz-argi facade

A hit of fizzy txakoli in a tumbler (I later began ordering vino tinto or cañas, small beers which seemed to be synonymous with zurritos, which I originally thought were even smaller, because that seemed more standard with locals—there are also a lot of rosado drinkers—than the white Basque wine) a brocheta de gambas, one of their specialties, and a wildcard, simple morcilla accompanied only by charred green pimientos, no fruity purees or hidden foie gras, set my foundation for the week of eating and drinking.

Goiz-argi brocheta de gambas

In much of Spain, at least in Barcelona and Madrid, there is the truth that only tourists go out to eat before 9pm. You look like a rube otherwise. So yes, you may not dine until 10pm but I learned the hard way that that doesn’t mean the entire evening has been extended. Most restaurants close by midnight so the opportunity for dining is short. After that, you may find yourself eating at Vips, the Denny’s of Spain.

Goiz-argi morcilla

San Sebastián turned out to be shifted even earlier. On this first night out we didn’t leave the apartment and make the two-block-stroll to Goiz-Argi until 9:30pm. By 10:30pm, many pintxos bars were already sweeping up and stacking stools. Weekend nights are the exception. Patrons spill onto the streets until midnight (though not much later) making it impossible to even consider entering. On a Saturday night attempt to return to Goiz-Argi, we were shooed out by owner as we tried to squeeze in past the hordes and had the grate pulled down behind us. No nonsense.

Goiz-Argi * 4 Fermín Calbetón, San Sebastián, Spain


Bar Zeruko

Zeruko, where foie gras hides in every crevice and otherwise responsible adults leave sleeping infants unattended in strollers out front, turned out to be one of my favorite places to eat in San Sebastián. (In the late ‘90s a Danish mother got into serious trouble for employing this carefree parenting style in NYC—at a Dallas BBQ, no less.)

Zeruko facade

You see, pintxos bars are tiny, often narrow places, many standing room only and even though they are now safe for forming lungs (smoking was finally banned indoors in Spain at the start of 2011, much to the dismay of my loving-to-smoke-on-vacation self) parents haven’t taken this as the signal to start maneuvering strollers inside. Clue number one that I wasn’t in Brooklyn anymore.

Zeruko more pintxos

Clue number two was the pricing. I’ve thought about why pintxos bars don’t/couldn’t thrive here (Txikito being the only example I can think of). We have plenty of small storefronts and a love of creative food, but the ingredients would demand higher prices, as too the rent, and a small $12 plate of food—what I could see being charged in NYC—would make the whole thing overly precious.

Zeruko pintxos

In San Sebastián you may only have a little glass of wine (beer, cider are also acceptable) for the equivalent of $2 and one dish, maybe $4, and consume it in less than ten minutes. Time to move on to the next spot. Your 5 euro meal—something to savor, but not to fetishize—has earned you a brief spot at the bar or a ledge.

Zeruko pintxos more

Now, allow me to fetizishe the food. Zeruko differed from standard approach where cold dishes are displayed on the counter and warm ones are listed on a chalkboard menu to be ordered sight unseen on description alone. Here, everything available was piled onto the counter and there was a menu, some of the two matched up and most items if pointed at or asked for would be whisked to a back kitchen and gussied up in some manner.

Zeruko alcachofa y foie

Like the artichoke I saw being consumed by many. I mangled the word alcachofa with anchoa (anchovy) and had to point to sort things out. I wanted something light and vegetable-based. Ha, but what I was eventually served was deep-fried, stuffed with foie gras, painted in gold leaf and surrounded by a swirl of caramel sauce; a rich wallop consumable in a few bites. So, this is how it’s done at Zeruko.

Zeruko bacalao
A simpler package of something fishy, likely bacalao, swaddled in thin zucchini slices served straight from the counter.

Zeruko langostino glass

Langostino glass (I know this is the official name, even though I don’t understand the glass part, because on our second visit we ordered from the menu rather than picking by sight) turned out to also contain foie gras, possibly the most popular ingredient after mayonnaise in the region, along with a fruity compote. Foie gras was almost always paired with fruit and 95% of the time, apples. In this case, though, berries.

Zeruko cochinillo

Taco de cochinillo lechal confitado con mostaza dulce y Grany Smith. Once again, the taco that wasn’t. This time it turned out to be a square of suckling pig.

Zeruko morcilla y foie rebozado con pistacho
Morcilla y foie rebozado con pistachio
. Yep, more foie gras, blended with blood sausage, encrusted in pistachios and drizzled with raspberry sauce. Our drizzle was more of a dried-on speck because I asked for this dish just as they were about to toss out three that had been ordered and not wanted. Would I be ok with one of these? Yeah, I ate someone’s reject.

I did not try their famous “la hoguera,” featured on the cover of the one book I bought, Pintxos de Vanguardia a la Donostiarra. It’s likely you’ll see at least one person (usually whole groups) with the diy charcoal smoked cod atop a mini grill. It draws attention—just like a sleeping baby left alone in a buggy.

Bar Zeruko * Calle Pescadería 10, San Sebastián, Spain


There’s nothing I hate more than a straggler, so my final brief missive from last month’s Argentina vacation must be posted now or it never will see the light of day. And I know everyone’s dying to hear about Basque food in South America.

Despite speaking Español (or Castellano, as they say, you know, just to be different) Spanish food is scarcer than you might think in Buenos Aires. Italian culture is definitely more pervasive.

Burzako is near the San Telmo market, a big Sunday afternoon draw. I’ll admit that I only gave it a quick stroll through because I’m not wild about outdoor markets (I went to Brooklyn Flea for the first time Sunday and was kind of eh about the whole thing, though I enjoyed my slightly pricey Jamaica-flavored shaved ice sweetened with agave syrup from Chida).

I was expecting a more rustic restaurant, but the room was more elegant with white tablecloths and floral arrangements. Being lunch, we only ordered tapas, which I wouldn’t say were particularly Basque. The entrees leaned that way, though.

Burzako langostina croquetas

It’s hard to resist a croquette/croqueta/kroketa (American-approved French, Spanish or Basque, whichever you prefer). These non-oily fritters were filled with a gooey langoustine mixture and topped with an aioli type sauce.

Burzako cheese

I couldn’t tell you everything on this cheese plate, but I’m fairly certain the blue was Roquefort as that was by far the blue cheese of choice in Buenos Aires.

Burzako pulpo

I have no idea why the octopus was so expensive. At around $18 if I’m remembering correctly (there’s no Menupages to refresh my memory) the plate of pulpo a la gallega was pricey. I felt compelled to try it, though. It was definitely tender and I like anything spiked with pimenton.

Burzako jamon crudo

I ate a lot of jamon crudo on vacation. I also drank quite a bit of tinto, and was always surprised at how high they filled wine glasses when ordering by the glass. I’m more value-minded than concerned with my wine being able to breathe so this was a fortunate quirk to me.

Burzako * Mexico 345, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Sagardi & Euskal Etxea

Barcelona isn't much of a tapas town. Basque pintxos are more the thing (though San Sebastian is where they really do pintxos up big—we didn’t encounter anything nearly as esoteric as the examples on Todopintxos). It's fairly easy to figure out if you're in for tapas or pintxos. One giveaway that you’re in for the latter is if the restaurant has a seemingly superfluous X in the name (funny, that I ended up in two regions—Wales and Catalan—rife with preserving ancient, hard to pronounce languages). Another tip off is a bar covered with plates of sliced french bread topped with toothpick-speared goodies.

Euskalinside If you’re unfamiliar with the routine (I’m obsessed with doing things the right way and not looking like a retard, which kind of makes me a retard),  the procedure is asking for a plate, then helping yourself to whatever catches your fancy. It’s not a simple as it sounds, though, because these bars are often four people deep. You might get a glimpse or two of something enticing but maneuvering to reach and pick up said snack is an art form I didn’t have time to cultivate. If you’re nimble enough to grab a few pintxos and lucky to be standing in the right spot when something fresh and tasty is brought from the kitchen, you’ll be set. Just don’t toss out your toothpicks after eating since that’s how they tally up your bill. I can’t help but imagine that diners try to beat this honor system at least occasionally, or maybe that’s just the New Yorker in me scheming.

I had my trusty list of restaurants to try and weirdly enough, a good majority of them happened to be in the vicinity of our hotel. I'm not used to such convenience. On most of my few other travels, getting to all the places I wanted to eat took more effort (with the exception of the The Scarlet being practically next door to the Maxwell Food Centre) and usually involved subways not strolls.

The only stumbling block was the August closures (I'm still fascinated how entire European countries can take an entire month off at the same time and the world doesn't explode). Oh, and the overwhelming crowds filling eateries during peak hours. Agoraphobic tapas lovers like me must overcome their fears. I suppose a few glasses of sidra helps the nerves.

Sagardi2 Sagardi wasn't on my list. I put a lot of faith in my list, which is essentially just cut and pasted blurbs from various websites and blogs, but it does the trick. Our strip, Carrer Argenteria, was tourist central, kind of more East Village in vibe with the dense foreigner concentration of Times Square, so I didn't suspect Sagardi to be much of a gem (though perennially packed Taller de Tapas, diagonally across the square was on my list, so maybe my tourist trap theory holds no water). Despite my love of chains, I wasn’t sure if my love extended to European ones.

No matter, we wanted a snack around 5 pm, well before proper Spanish dinner time and Sagardi had open outdoor tables, which are a premium on any night of the week. Of course, only tourists are eating tapas at this hour but I was a tourist so I didn’t care that I was being gauche. I needed a pintxos fix before my real 10 pm dinner.

Sagardi1 I was only going to pick out four items, but really if you’re splitting each morsel in two that’s not tons of food. I didn’t know what I was grabbing, but they turned out to include a cod-potato stuffed pequillo pepper that was breaded and fried, mozzarella, tomato, anchovy and oregano, another with sardines, red pepper and frizzled leeks (I think) and a fourth that I can’t even figure out from looking at the photo, but looks like it contained grated cheese and a paste of some sort gluing it down with something vaguely chartreuse and mauvey—a pickled pepper and squid? That makes no sense. I guess it wasn’t very memorable. Maybe they all had anchovies…I’m confused. James ended up going back for a second round and found ones topped with tomato paste, parsley leaf and anchovy, a simple jamon, sweet cream cheese with blueberry sauce, shredded mint and what I swear was a carrot cookie and one using salmon, dill diced onion.

Euskalout On our last evening I wanted a more authentic experience, so we tried to get to Euskal Etxea early, around 9 pm but the bar and smattering of seats were already taken and a strong crowd was taking hold. We still did OK, and I would’ve stayed longer and had a second drink if it hadn’t been so hot inside. I don’t fare well without air conditioning and this was one of the rare places I encountered during our brief Spain visit that was au natural. Is sweating while eating an authentic Basque experience? This bar is so hardcore that they don't even offer Spanish on their website, the two choices are Basque or Catalan. English? Don’t even ask.

Euskalfood Here, it was tough to survey the food scene fully. I ended up picking a few random treats like one with a cheese (possibly manchego) wedge, walnuts and caramel (I don’t think it was honey, despite that seeming more plausible), one with little poached eggs, cheese and anchovies, and another with sardines and red peppers. I also got a mini croissant with smoked salmon a little later. James got a few non-bread pintxos (they’re not all bread based) like a gazpacho shot and little glass dish containing mushrooms and shrimp in a wine based sauce. We also sampled a fresh from the fryer, cheese croquette, or I guess croqueta. You have to get a jump on the hot stuff.

Sidra, hard cider, is a respectable drink with pintxos. Txakoli, a lightly fizzy, Basque white wine is also an option, but I never had a single glass in Barcelona. I did drink a lot of cava, but not with my pintxos. I had wanted to try El Xampanyet, (X pronounced CH so the word sounds vaguely like champagne when said aloud and makes sense since it’s a cava bar) right across the street from Euska Etxea (yes, it was on my list) but unfortunately, they were victims of the shuttered-up August syndrome.

I was surprised when our toothpicks were added up and we’d only spent €17 euros. I’m pretty sure we spent closer to €30 at Sagardi earlier in the week. I recall their pintxos being pricier, €1.92 each to be exact. Euskal Etxea’s were probably more in the €1.25-1.50 range, which seems more typical.

Pintxos, tapas, whatever you want to call them, make me happy. I used to have fantasies of eating hors d'oeuvres and appetizers for every meal. But it’s a lot of effort and you need a lot of ingredients. It’s not terribly feasible for one person. I guess that’s what the whole small plates hoo ha is about. I just can’t help but feel that that’s a thinly veiled move to get people to spend more and get less. I don’t go for it. Can’t a girl love tiny food and still be thrifty?

Sagardi * Carrer Argenteria 62, Barcelona, Spain
Euskal Etxea * Placeta Montcada 1-3, Barcelona, Spain


Sometimes you just feel like you're eating a meal with another person, and
sometimes you feel like you're on a date. With its teetering on hip,
bistro-but-not, relaxed vibe, Euzkadi certainly ventures into date

Things started off well with the complimentary olive (and anchovy?)
tapenade with crusty bread (that's replenished without asking. Why are
restaurants so sparing with the starches these days? If I were counting
carbs, I wouldn't be dining out in the first place). A mussel appetizer,
stuffed, bacon-wrapped trout and rabbit with roasted potatoes, prunes, the
odd lardon and a red wine sauce soon followed. Everything was much to my
liking: rich flavors, sweet and savory, autumnal to a tee. With a shared
quince tart and bottle of wine, the meal was rounded out satisfyingly.

The evening was a happy accident. I was originally looking for the
Indonesian a few doors down when I got waylaid by this place. Sometimes
ignoring my usual single-mindedness pays off.

Euzkadi* 108 E. Fourth St., New York, NY