Monday, July 13, 2009

San Sebastian, Seattle-Style

One rather unfortunate fact about urban restaurants is that they can often be "trendy". This is not to say that the trends themselves are bad - after all the recent emergence of Capitol Hill as a homemade ice cream hot spot (can you reasonably call anything related to ice cream a "hot spot"?) is nothing to complain about. The unfortunate thing is that trends come and go, they can be exclusive and uppity, and they can put a false focus on food as a hip lifestyle accessory, as opposed to, well, simply good food.

Take small plates: it's only logical that this trend should lend itself well to tapas bars, and even, in the case of Txori, a real San Sebastian style pintxos bar in Seattle's Belltown. Along with fellow foodie John, we visited Txori for the first time tonight, and had a wonderful meal of pintxos, those little bites I have been craving since I left Spain in May. Owned by a Basque, the food at Txori (meaning "bird" in Euskera, the Basque language) really captured the spirit of Donostia (aka San Sebastian). The atmosphere, on the other hand, was typical Seattle: spare walls, people casually sitting at postage stamp-sized tables with cocktails and ordering off a chicly minimalist menu.

Of course, I knew this would be the case. It's impossible to transport an entire culture of evening pub crawls, with hundreds wandering the narrow pedestrian avenues, filling the streets with chatter and stopping in at their favorite haunts to reach through the crowds and pluck their pintxos of choice from the platters laid out in all their glory across a hundred year old bar. That this is not what Txori is is hardly Txori's fault, and no reason to avoid the place. I'm just saying that if you ever have the chance, go to San Sebastian, because nowhere else in the world can recreate that scene.

But, as noted above, Txori does an excellent job recreating the food, and our smiling waitress, although not herself Basque, made me fondly recall the gracious Maria and Anna, desk clerks at the Hotel Parma in San Sebastian, who always greeted me with a smile and pleasant conversation. The mushrooms were outstanding, the squid in its own ink was unbelievably tender (How do they do that?! Is the ink the secret?), and they even had txakoli, a barely bubbly Basque wine, although it wasn't quite as tasty as what I remembered from my travels.

Definitely, I want to go back. But I couldn't help but feel a little wistful for the pintxo bars of San Sebastian, where some bars are high end and some bars are divey, and while they are always competing for what's new and novel, the concept of pintxos themselves will never go out of style and are enjoyed by all. How many people are going to enjoy Txori, and how many would look at the fact that it serves blood sausage and octopus and $10 cocktails and never set foot inside? If Txori is still here ten years from now, will it be out of fashion, the hipsters and foodies having moved on to the latest craze, or will it grow comfortably into someplace that everyone knows, where everyone goes to get an evening bite with friends both young and old, foodie or not?

I hope it stays. I hope it continues to delight people with unexpected tastes, while keeping old favorites, and proves that so-called small plates are more than just a trend here. Because ultimately, it should be about good food and good company, and taking a little time out of the day to slow down and savor the good things in life.

So Txori, stick around. And hey, homemade ice cream, you can stay, too. Good food is good food, no matter what.

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