The word “txikito” makes me think of two things. The first is “chiquito,” the same word but written in Castilian Spanish instead of Euskara, the Basque language. It means “tiny.” And Txikito is a small restaurant, with two small dining rooms, each serving small plates of food.
The second is “txikiteo,” and that is one of my favorite words. Txikiteo is central to the Basque region‘s cuisine and culture. It refers to the pintxos crawl, the activity of bar hopping, enjoying at each spot a carefully selected pintxo and a drink.
A pintxo is traditionally a taste of food on toast, like the pintxo of chorizo, sofrito, and quail egg I enjoyed the other day at Txikito, right here in New York. It was a visually stunning dish that reminded me of the platters they serve you at street-side restaurants throughout Spain, with slices of smoky chorizo, runny fried eggs, and fries to mop it all up. It had the elegance of the modern pintxos on display in San Sebastian.
Indeed, the food at Txikito resembles the offerings at the everyday Basque pintxo bar. It wouldn’t stand out in San Sebastian (except for the New York prices), but it would be totally acceptable, and as a Basque food fanatic I mean that as high praise. Best of all, you can have it without a flight to Pais Vasco.
The decor is trendy but cozy, with wood-paneled walls and candle-lit wooden tables. Striped dish towels play the role of napkins, giving the table a casual feel. It’s the right setting for a drawn-out meal catching up with friends while enjoying a parade of dishes for sharing.
On a recent visit, I was pleased that the staff let us order a few dishes at a time, keeping a menu at the table for an open-ended meal of good food, wine, and company.
I was also pleased to find many of our favorites on the menu, like blistered Gernika peppers with sea salt and just a bit of heat up toward the stem–perfect bar food. Butterflied anchovies were paired with sweet piquillo peppers and laid out on eggplant spread over toasts. Lamb meatballs, a favorite at our table, were bathed in a minted broth.
Our waiter arrived to pour txakoli, the sparkling wine we enjoyed during txikiteos all over the Basque country. He did it right, pouring the wine from a height so that it splashed against the glasses below, incorporating some nice air bubbles and generating the right amount of fizz. The restaurant offers an impressive wine list, filled with wines from Basque country and the neighboring regions of Navarra and Rioja.
More plates arrived a few at a time. There was roasted cauliflower served with a soft poached egg in the middle that, when punctured, turned into a creamy sauce. Paper-thin slices of mushrooms were laid out carpaccio-style and topped with tomatoes, olive oil, and slivered almonds. Grilled endive, a surprising crowd favorite, was stuffed with creamy blue cheese and walnuts.
I was let down by a plate of seasoned fries with cod roe mayo, but may be that’s because I was craving patatas bravas, the classic dish of fried potatoes with spicy tomato sauce and garlic aioli. I find so many “spins” on patatas bravas in New York’s emerging Spanish food scene, but none of them are as good as the real thing. They should just make the real thing and stop spinning.
For dessert we were treated to a slice of gateaux Basque, the traditional almond flour cake from the French side of the Basque Country, topped with fruit preserves. A great ending to a meal that delivered the authentic food of this fascinating and food-obsessed region.
240 9th Avenue
New York, NY 10001
Tel.: (212) 242-4730
Recommended dishes: chorizo & quail egg pintxo ($8), blistered peppers ($9), lamb meatballs ($12), cauliflower with poached egg, endive with blue cheese and walnuts.