Txikito – NYC
Of the three Spanish/Portugese restaurants that have gained so much buzz recently, I was most excited about Txikito. If only for a chance to relive memories of hopping around tapas bars in San Sebastian, Spain. I wondered if I would see a burnished oak counter displaying open-faced sandwiches topped with bits of food held together by mayonnaise or if they would be marking up my bill by counting the toothpicks on my plate or if used napkins would be strewn all over the floor.
No. None of that. Instead, I see a rectangular space slightly bigger than a one-car garage with rough-hewn unvarnished wooden planks covering the walls and ceilings. There is a bar, but it’s sleek and modern, laden with (wine) glasses rather than goodies.
To kick off our meal, we each have a glass of txakolin (Ametzoi Getariako Txakolina 2008 and Uriondo Bizkaiako Txakolina 2008), a dry sparkling wine produced in the Basque region. Shortly after, the progression of plates come quickly.
PIPERRAK: thin-skinned green peppers blistered just until they wrinkle then sprinkled with sea salt. This reminds me of the Pimiento de Padron I had sampled in a seafood restaurant in Barcelona. Each pepper is not spicy per se, so you keep eating, but the heat builds up as you consume more of them. I’m gasping for water by the end.
TXITXIKI: toased baguettes filled with homemade chorizo hash.
Ravioli Bacon, an off the menu special. 4 slices of bacon wrapped around sweet corn puree like a tamale, drizzled with olive oil and lemon thyme.
TXIPIRON “ENCEBOLLADO”. Squid ribbons on top of a sweet onion and pine-nut puree. Squid or cuttlefish sliced like fettucine is a staple of Basque cuisine. The first time I encountered it was at Restaurant Urola, in the Ciudad Vella (“Old City”) of San Sebastian. It was 11pm. We had just arrived after a six-hour drive from Barcelona and, immediately prior to that, an eight-hour flight from New York with a stopover at Charles des Gaulle airport where, of course, our luggage had decided to take a few days off on their own. Tired, hungry and cranky would be putting it mildly. Well, so much for the myth that everyone eats late in Spain. Urola was one of the few restaurants still open and serving dinner. For that, we will be forever grateful. Anyway, back to the cuttlefish. It was barely cooked in its own ink, still somewhat glassy and very delicate in flavor. It’s become my gold standard for this dish, and to this day I don’t recall a better version.
LENGUA: I was a little disappointed with this. Four pieces of thinly sliced and breaded tongue with some cornichons just seemed a tad overpriced at $15.
TXANGURRO: crabmeat gratin. Too much cream, too little crab. And shouldn’t it be baked in a crab shell for better presentation?
For dessert, we had Cuajada, a rather funky loose custard made from goat’s milk curds and drizzled with extra-viscous and overpowering honey. The silky texture reminded me of taho, a popular street food in the Philippines that’s made from soy milk and flavored with a dark sweet syrup.
All in all, decent food, but considering all the rave reviews, not to mention the restaurant’s pedigree (it’s owned by the same folks who gave us Tia Pol), I was expecting a little more from Txikito.