Txakoli, kalimotxo, & boquerones txepetxa... While few Seattle-ites speak the language of Spain's Pais Vasco, no one seemed to have a problem devouring these Basque tongue-twisters at Txori's friends & family trial run Saturday night in Belltown. Txori, meaning "bird" in Basque, is the fledgling off-spring of The Harvest Vine--think what Mario Batali's NYC Bar Jamon is to Casa Mono (only bigger & more regionally focused.) And amidst a crowd of free-loading fans packed in tight as a tin of San Sebastian sardines, the smell of success & olive oil sizzling on the grill gave off an inherently festive (albeit authentically smoky) air as soon as we swung open Txori's rod-iron gate & pushed into the fold.
After squeezing into the enchantingly urbanized old-world bar area--the culinary engine of Txori--hostess Carolin Messier de Jimenez quickly welcomed us with aplomb then dashed down the narrow dining room, keeping her new flock of birds in a row. "This dish gets a side of bread!" Jimenez called out watching a bowl of salt cod going down solo on a table. "Silverware & napkins too!" Well after all, this was a soft-opening & as their email invitation made clear--the food was free, but our role was to be hungry guinea pigs as you want friends to outnumber critics the first night in your new nest.
It took fifteen or so minutes to secure a table after arriving for our 9:30 reservation, but that worked to our favor as parking in Belltown is a b*#%h on a Saturday night & just as Ken had resigned himself to paying for parking , a benevolent hipster in an Audi passed her validation ticket to him upon leaving her spot. Thank goodness for random acts of kindness because no sooner than I said, "There he is!" Carolin whisked us to an available two-top. "You got lucky," she quipped, shouting behind her shoulder. "Very lucky."
With many familiar faces in the house including Tavolata's Ethan Stowell (pictured next to proprietor Joseba Jimenez de Jimenez--Seattle's 'other' chef in the hat), it seemed natural to glance upon our neighbor's incoming fleet of pintxo's (the local term for tapas in the Pais Vasco) & take note of not-to-miss items. Some of my best meals in Europe have been the result of such "I'll have what they're having!" ogling & heck, I've always got a roving eye in restaurants that drifts, dodges to other tables & most likely drives my husband crazy while conducting a dinner conversation. Hey, if I'm paying, I'm looking & I guess in this case that applies even if the food is on the house!
So by all means, let's get to the heart of the matter--the food. Expect traditional small bites with some surprises, and I do mean bites as there was a rarely a dish that two mouths could realistically share without first-dibs envy (how does one halve an ink-embalmed squid gracefully with your incisors?) But as the portions were free & perhaps down-sized in instances for the opening, I can't yet advise on how many of each to order--if this is your dinner destination, it might be a long night with a booze-fueled tab.
The best (& intended) purpose of the place is to graze & get on with it which is the preferred way to eat in Spain. But with how folks in Seattle tend to hunker down for hours over a double espresso, only time will tell if this idea catches on... For those of you that live in a walkable radius for a post-work pick-me-up pintxo--I hate you. As for us mortgage-paying South-enders--thank god for taco trucks.
WHAT WE ATE:
pulpo da feira $3- How on earth do these guys get a gnarly octopus to be so tender? The top-notch lagrima olive oil imported by none other than Classical Wines of Spain they use begs for to be sopped up, so order something that comes with bread before this comes to your table!
tartaleta de champinones $2.50- Our neighbors raved about the tart crust & since I'm wild about mushrooms, this is one of the first dishes I had to order. The menu description includes jamon--not sure I picked up on that... Perhaps a dish for pastry lovers.
calamares en su tinta $4.25- While you can hardly see this jet black jewel, this was my "it dish" (click on it to get a better picture--lighting was dim), & while Ken & I shared many a pintxo Saturday night, this was one I couldn't split. If I had to think about it too much, the velvety ink that ensconced this squid beak might have made this former vegetarian rather squeamish, but this was two bites of heaven that went right down the hatch with a glass of cold txakoli. Salud, indeed!
chorizo con chocolate $2.25- While these 'wings' of chorizo with chocolate shavings may not have been photogenic, the taste was heavenly indeed. We ordered two rounds because they were so good--one came hot, the other not. I hope the chefs go with the former as the combination was an unexpected delight.
bacalao en salsa verde $4- I'll be honest, along with loving bacalao & being too lazy to soak a stinky piece in our fridge over a two day period, I'm always up for ordering a dish that highlights salt cod. While I was grateful that I got a plating of bread to sop up other sauces, this was almost too salty to enjoy without a double-dose of broth. I'll be sure to try it again after the chefs aren't under the gun to open.
Pan tomaquet y pernil $3.50- Comforting & homey, but always hard for me to order in a restaurant if I have the basic ingredients on hand. Good for improving your chances with a state trooper on your way home if you've been drinking other places in Belltown. More heart friendly than a late-night Dick's pick-me-up by far.
Albondigas (price ?)- This was one of the few specials off the chalkboard available at our 9:30 seating & one of my favorites... No notes on this one, just big sloppy grins from both sides of the table.
barquitos y traineras $2.75- It's hard to resist the idea of ordering a puddle of melted cheese when you have a few drinks in ya. After carefully accumulating a sly stash of baguette rounds from other dishes, we chose this as our final order before hitting the road but would have a hard time recommending you do the same. Tetilla is the creamy cheese seen throughout markets in Galicia, & while I love it on its own or in other applications, the sweet sauce formed an overwhelming moat that reminded me of Spaghetti-o's. Sorry guys, the one dish I really didn't care for...
All in all, a quixotic evening that left me inspired & hungry for my next visit. Thank you, Txori! And do as the Spaniard's do--throw your napkins to the wind... They love you for littering. Where else on the west coast can you say that & still feel good about yourself?