Sunday, May 17, 2009

Pintxo Paradise

This morning, the streets of San Sebastian are almost empty. Being Sunday, few places are open, and the alleys that were bustling with life last night are now a wall of closed doors. Still, one good breakfast option attracts a small crowd, and I head there with my tour guide, Robert, for a breakfast of brioche and cafe con leche. The brioche tears into tender, buttery layers beneath its dark, carmelized exterior. It is a perfect breakfast treat.

And the food last night didn't disappoint, either. This, in fact, was my first true pintxo crawl, as we stopped by various bars, elbowing in to choose from among the artistically arranged platters of pintxos: fresh, white fleshed anchovies that tasted only of lemon and the sea, a sliver of Spanish ham topped with juicy mushroom and shrimp, whole mushrooms cooked to complete tenderness and infused with garlic, their juice bathing the bread on the toothpick as if it had been dipped in au jus, and a Spanish tortilla unlike any I have had so far, one that tasted purely of well seasoned potato morsels, the egg that bound it barely detectable. Where but in San Sebastian could we have such a meal? Robert, who should know, claimed the pinxtos here really are the best in Spain, and even though I lack the necessary experience to make a judgement, I believe it.

Since it was Saturday night, the bars were especially popular, the narrow streets filled with people out for an evening with friends, their chatter providing the soundtrack for the night. And despite its reputation within the food world, San Sebastian is still a place where locals - not tourists - dominate the scene. Perhaps that's one reason why the food is so good?

Tonight our tour group will meet for the first time, and gather for dinner at one of the traditional Basque gastronomical societies, a very special event as one can only dine at such an exclusive club, where the male members cook all the food, through an invitation. I can hardly wait.

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