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Txikiteo Redux--More Pintxos in San Sebastian

We haven’t been to San Sebastián in a while, and are back to indulge in more pintxos. In the last few years there are several new and forward-thinking pintxos bars, practicing what is known as cocina nueva en miniatura—bite-sized new cuisine. This results effectively in starred-level foods incredibly complexly prepared, in bite-sized portions and at reasonable prices.

Borda Berri

Borda Berri was opened several years ago by Iñaki Gulín and his chef partner Marc Clua who started and then left La Cuchara de San Telmo. The pintxos at Borda Berri continue that innovative, cocina nueva style with smashing food. A crowded, homely bar, its yellow walls hung with old photos, it’s controlled chaos that works.  There's a chalk menu of a dozen or so things daily. The place is packed, always - we elbow our way to one seat and one stand at the bar where we have to almost shout our order, which was then monosyllabically yelled back to the miniscule kitchen: UN FOIE!!  UN PULPO!! And as the individual tiny plate emerge, the four waiters behind the bar seem to know how to get them to the right people - lined 3 deep behind the bar. Killer things we try on our first visit:

"Kebabs" de costillas Iberico - a meaty, falling off the bone Iberico pork rib with crunchy caramelized top—incredibly flavorful acorn-fed meat, on a sauce of emulsified herbs.

Queso de Kabra tostado con ciruela-two crispy discs enrobing a warm goat cheese round served on a compote of reduce local plums.

Ravioli de Mollejas, puerros y lemongrass—a sheet of al dente pasta wrapped around a filling of chopped sweetbreads and leeks cooked with lemongrass, sitting on a reduction sauce.

Carrilerra de Ternera al Vino Tinto--an almost black, slow cooked in wine fork-tender veal cheek nestled in pan juice reduction - simply sumptuous.

Those substantial tapas, two glasses of wine, one cider, one cana—$16.90

 

Bar Zeruko

After a visit to the Basilica de Santa Maria del Coro, and the Museo San Telmo, which sort of chronicles the history of the region, the bells sing 12:30 and it is time to think pintxos. First up, one of the top places for cocina nueva, as recommended by our concierge, Anna, is Bar Zeruko in Calle Pescaderia.

Award-winning Zeruko is one of the old town's most inventive pintxo joints. Bright lights and mint-green walls set off a bar, unpillaged as yet near opening, laden with incredibly colorful and complicated temptations. Meticulously arrayed, fish to meat to vegetable tower to aspic creation—and many with tiny fried eggs atop. Some are eaten cold out of hand, some go back to the kitchen for a bit of prep—like the sea urchin and mayonnaise in an urchin shell that was just warmed and drizzled with an herb infused oil. Or the sheep's cheese wrapped in a gossamer web of brik dough that gets flash-fried and served with a pepper compote. Direct to plate is a piquillo pepper stuffed with tuna atop some chopped onion, pepper and celery vinaigrette. As with many of the newer style pintxos places, what's on the chalkboard may trump what's on the counter. As in one perfect tempura langoustine, and especially the kokotzas de bacalao.  Kokotxa is a tiny piece of chin of fish—merluza, or hake, is popular, and in this case, cod. There is just one kokotxa per fish—very dense and meaty. Sautéed in oil and served covered in a sheet of gelled rich sherry aspic, the flavors and textures are magic. An unexpected garnish is a coin sized piece of foie, placed atop a tangle of caramelized onions....all spectacular.

Calle Pescaderia 10, + 34 943 423451, barzeruko.com

 

A Fuego Negro

Dark walls, low light and classic rock tunes give Fuego Negro a sort of hip, cave-like atmosphere. The chalkboard menu is all in Basque, not even Spanish, so interpretations are dicey—but there is a small printed English translation. Pintxos are referred to as pikoteoak— there are "kits" of several, as well as raciones. Two glasses of a white wine from Navarra start us down the path to:

Pajarito frito—a tiny half quail, marinated in vermouth and maybe a touch of soy is crispy and juicy-tender served with a dollop of carrot purée and scattering of scallions—very tasty.

Arroz idiazabal is their risotto of the famous Spanish blue cheese—rich in and of itself, it's then topped with scoop of black squid ink helado that melts into the cheesy rice creating a really amazing contrast.

 

Under a section called "revival" is revista de gamba, huevo y mayonnesa--a tiny raw shrimp coated in paprika, a cold poached quail egg and miniscule cubes of fried potato nestled into a tiny bowl of homemade mayonnaise. A spectacular combination.

A great play on words is Makcobe con txips. A tiny rare burger of Kobe beef on a tomato bun, with lettuce and a house-made secret sauce.....get it?  Big Mac?...Kobe?                

Calle 31 de Agosto 31, + 34 650 135373, afuegonegro.com


Bar Narru

A stroll out of the Parte Vieja and down toward the sea front leads us to the Ship's Bar of the Londres hotel, with an incredible view of the curve of Playa Concha, the sweep of the city's arms encircling the bay, and the vivid blue of the ocean in the post-rain sunshine. Ten minutes further along the esplanade brings us to Bar Narru, another highly recommended pintxos bar. Set in a sort of esplanade-side annex of the Hotel Nizza, Narru has a clean, vaguely Scandanavian vibe. A curved concrete bar seats about eight, and two levels of small tables overlook the sea.

As with many of the practioners of the nueva cocina en miniatura, Chef Iñigo Peña did his time at the Basque starred restaurants Mugaritz, Arzak and Arbelaitz before going his own way to put cocina de producto into practice. There's a simplistic approach to the freshest of ingredients that shines.

We start with a cava and manzanilla, and a thin, crusty whole grain bollilo about the size of a short Cuban cigar stuffed with jamon Iberico bellota and nutty sheep cheese from the small pread of pintxos on the counter. There are few of these, but most pintxos and raciones are "to order" from the wall chalkboard of changing dishes. Possibilities include a tangle of hongos with an egg yolk, fresh bacalao confitado with pipperada, or risotto of mixed mushrooms with foie. Not knowing about one word on the board, we ask for secreto Iberico in its jus, with local apples. A newly fashionable thing, secreto is a small, marbled triangular cut from between the shoulder blade and loin of the prized Iberico pork - the meat is crusty caramelized outside, meltingly tender and succulent, and, perfectly set off by tiny cubes of apple. This is a young chef whose commitment to quality and showing off the freshest ingredients shines brightly.

Zubieta Kalea, 56    +34 943 423 349  narru.es

We also include some traditional old favorite pintxos bars in our txikiteos—or tapas crawls—this visit.  

Gandarias  

This is an old-line Pintxos bar, restaurant in back, packed with Spanish and some tourists.  We elbow our way to a space at the bar, which is lined with plates of pintxos, most mounted, or montadito on a bread crouton: anchovies, mayonnaise, shrimp and a half egg; Iberico ham; shrimps in pil-pil; tuna salad with anchovy. We taste a lovely stuffed piquillo pepper on vinaigrette, and from the kitchen we call for piping hot croquetas of hongos—jamon y queso are also available. Whisked also from the back is a small cazuela  of hot salty pimientos del padron. These are all washed down with rioja crianza and manzanilla.

 

 

31 de Agosto Kalea +34 943 42 63 62 restaurantgandarias.com

 

Ganbara

Famous for mushrooms, with enormous bar-top mound of several types: cepes, black trumpets, chanterelle, cinnamon cap and what look like hedgehogs. They are served individually, mixed, grilled, sautéed, in large and small orders, with or without Iberico ham or a warm egg yolk. Plate after plate of gorgeous hongos surtidos with an orange egg yolk in the middle cross the bar past us. Fairly full, we elect to save the mushrooms and have mini croissants filled with Iberico ham, and jamon cocido and queso, and more manzanilla and red wine.

 San Jeronimo Kalea, 19 +34 943 42 25 75 ganbarajatetxea.com

 

Bar Haizea

Haizea is a traditional bar that most tourists seem to miss, which ventures in a few areas toward the cocina nueva. Haizea has a revered foie gras pintxo served with caramelized apple bits. Fresh foie gras is best crisply seared on the outside and creamy, almost raw inside, with a dusting of sea salt on top. It’s richness cries for sweet fruit jams and marmalades, ideally something like plum or kumquat that has a tad of acidity to balance out the richness. The buñuelos de bacalao y gamba—crispy cod and prawn fritters are delicious, as are the succulent langoustines—langostino con crema de marisco.

Aldamar Kalea, 8

 

We’ll be back again in, say, another 5 years or so to see how the evolution of cocina nueva en miniatura is progressing—there are sure to be even more new temples of tiny gastronomy.