(Not) From Anik’s Kitchen: Out For Pintxos

[pintxos at Saburdi – click all photos to enlarge]

This past weekend, I was out for pintxos. You could translate “pintxo” by saying that it is the Basque term for tapas, but it is so much more than that. It is a culinary art, and a piece of cultural identity that structures the rhythm of ambling from bar to bar for a glass and a few bites when noon rolls around (because afterwards, you go go home to your 3 p.m. lunch – theoretically. Practically, you’re stuffed and perhaps come out for a chamomile tea after six… at least when you’re not accustomed to the rhythm).

The pinnacle of the pintxo tradition as well as the Michelin-stellar center of Basque cuisine is clearly Donosti (San Sebastián) – should you ever have a chance to visit the Northeast of Spain, make time for a visit. And bring an empty stomach.

But of course there are also pintxos beyond that, for example in the other two provinces of the Basque country. This time, I was out in Vitoria-Gasteiz, capital of Araba (Álava) and while the city is often dismissed as the ugly industrial little sister to the more glamorous and famous capitals (San Sebastián and Bibao, respectively), there are some darn fine pintxos to be had.

Álava on the whole tends to be hailed as ‘less Basque’ (it’s a complicted story that has a lot to do with garnisons and with sidings in the 1930s Civil War), partially because it’s already situated a bit further South, touching the Castilian plateu climate, which influences the diet: there’s more agriculture than in the rocky North (in fact, one of the most popular derogatory terms for the Southern Basques is “patatero” – derived from “patata” (potato)), and more emphasis on game and mushrooms. This is reflected in the pintxos, as well, although the Northern seafood classics are present, as well.

I had a local guide, and our first stop was “El Tulipán de Oro”, a rustic bar in the historic city center that is widely recognized for the best morcilla (blood sausage) in town. It was indeed so good that I didn’t manage to take a picture before eating it all. Sorry about that.

If you’re thinking “blood sausage, eww”, you’re much like me before I tried it as a pintxo a few years ago, especially the classic rice-stuffed variety. It’s delicious! At “El Tulipán de Oro”, you get it roasted off the grill, with a slice of smoked grilled red bell pepper (the famed pimientos de piquillo) on top – creamy and crispy, silghtly smokey and hearty without being heavy. If you ever pass through Vitoria, make a stop here.

From there, we walked over to the “Park Avenue of Vitoria”, Calle Dato. Think pricey boutiques, seeing and being seen in fancy cafés and parading around your children in uncomfortable Sunday outfits. Also on Calle Dato are two of the most modern and fancy pintxo bars in town (if not the fanciest altogether) – the Usokari and the Saburdi, which are conveniently located right across from each other.

If El Tulipán de Oro is a rustic place with no frills, these bars are high-brow cuisine while still being edible – reimagining some classics and simply celebrating others, and also coming up with new combinations altogether. I tried to piece together what was on my plate, but most of the time, I could simply write “Yum!” and may have forgotten an ingredient or two. I blame it on the Crianza we drank with the meal.

Ibérico ham, sundried tomato and goat cheese (Saburdi)

Tuna salad with anchovis and sliced hot guindilla (Saburdi)

pimiento de piquillo stuffed with a creamy mixture of mushrooms and cod (Saburdi)

vol-au-vent filled with porcini mushroom and crème Mornay, and doused in a port reduction (Saburdi – this one is apparently, their No. 1 hit and I agree, if I were Scrounge MacDuck, I’d possibly fill my money bunker with these. And with some morcilla.)

Chicken breast with foie gras and apple (Saburdi)

A creamy refashined “bacalao” (cod) “al pil-pil”, one of the abslute classics of the region (Saburdi)

A mouthwatering plate at Usokari – the bar lights didn’t allow for photos that would do the food justice.

Crêpe filled with YUM – I think it involved mushrooms (Usokari)

Fried artichoke stuffed with mushroom bechamel, with foie, almonds and ibérico ham – another one for the bunker list! (Usokari)

Creamy cod bechamel (Usokari)

tortilla de patata (potato omelette) with zucchini and cooked ham (Usokari)

…and these – just because it kind of fits with the theme and I just took the photo – you get at my mother-in-law’s: txipirones rellenos en su tinta (stuffed squid in their own ink), another all-time Basque classic favorite.Which reminds me that I still have that most sacred of pintxo recipes to post: croquetas! I will get to it eventually.

In case you’re planning a pintxo spree at some point in the future, here are the directions for reference:

El Tulipán de Oro,  Correría, 157 (Vitoria)

Usokari, Eduardo Dato 25  (Vitoria)

Saburdi, Eduardo Dato 32 (Vitoria)

5 thoughts on “(Not) From Anik’s Kitchen: Out For Pintxos”

  1. Wow! Anik, you don’t really want me to believe that you ate ALL of them on your own? Surely you shared and if not, I will raise both of my eyebrows in respect 😉
    They look as delicious as they taste and I am so envious right now (in a good way, happy for you) – this makes me want to book a flight and land directly en la parte vieja de Donosti…
    Patiently waiting for the recipe of croquetas – I won’t even try to make them but I know whom I will ask 😀

    Like

    1. croquetas are definitely on the list for 2013! I need freezer space first.

      And I only ate half of everything (except with the morcilla, I got my own pintxo there!), so you can relax your eyebrows. 😉

      Like

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