I haven't traveled to the Basque country in years. When I was there I was rather oblivious to the geography, culture, horribly difficult and rare language (Euskara) and the fame of this region's gastronomy. Naively, we ordered sangría to drink and I couldn't understand how my Spanish speaking best friend had allowed a strange fish full of bones to arrive to the table when I had ordered "steak." Now that I have matured and researched a bit more, I can make a more educated statement of what Basque food stands for, although I still owe myself a trip back there. That being said, all over Spain, Basque restaurants have popped up to celebrate their culinary delights, in particular the pintxo, or pincho in Castilian. This art form of eating is a centuries long Basque tradition - snacking while drinking and socializing- and generally a toothpick stands between your slice of fresh bread and the meat/cod fish/peppers/or be what may adorning your bite-size treasure. This phenomenon is getting a face-lift as tapas of all varieties are growing up.
On my most recent trip to Madrid, I had the pleasure of discovering Txirimiri in the district of Salamanca. Run by chef and Basque native Txema Larrañaga (who held a stint at such establishments as Arzak in San Sebastián), it offers a breath of fresh air and fine food in an otherwise overrun tapas capital. A simple no-nonsense site with little room to dine, if you're lucky you'll snag a seat at the bar or along the wall- but be prepared to stand. However, the ratio between the price and the quality of ingredients, in my opinion is one of the best I've encountered. The menu hits the standard tapas we all know and love, however it far extends your standard cervecería with gastro-pub eloquency. One can not miss the highly affordable and delicious tortilla de patatas, much like the one at Juana La Loca, served cold on top of a crusty baguette and filled with delicate tasting onion confit. On the superb list from my tasting included, the sirloin with rosemary potatoes and fried peppers (lomo bajo con patatas y pimientos de Guernica), as well as the foie pintxo, which was masterfully seared and bursting with exquisite softness and flavor in the mouth. Yet to be tried but eye catching none the less were; prawn croquettes with curry and basil (croquetas de langostinos con curry y albahaca), baby broad beans with Spanish ham and an egg (habitas baby con jamón y huevo), as well as ox fillet with caramelized onions and roasted peppers (solomillo de buey con pimientos asados y cebolla caramelizada). Aside from pintxos, raciones (portions), wine, vermut and beer, they also have desserts...which alone would tempt me in returning.
Txirimiri - tapas vascas en Madrid
Lomo bajo con patatas y pimientos de Guernica
Beef sirloin with potatoes and fried green peppers
Foie fresco a la plancha con mermelada de higos
Grilled foie gras with fig compote