Address: 240 Ninth Avenue, New York
Txoko, or sociedad gastronomica, is a social gathering that involves food and is very popular in Spain, especially in San Sebastian. It is also a breeding ground for many of the experimental cooking that has been happening in Spain for centuries and what makes the cuisine so dynamic and inventive. We wanted to attend one of the txokos while we were in San Sebastian but it didn’t happen. Because unlike Anthony Bourdain, who was invited to a txoko by Juan Mari Arzak, we didn’t have any local contacts (and definitely not Juan Mari) to bring us in. Most txokos are also limited to fixed members only and language barrier made it more difficult for us to inquire about Txokos while we were there.
But thanks to Txikito, one of our favorite restaurants in NYC, we got to experience what this famous gastronomy event is all about for the first time last week and we got to share that experience with our yaokui friends here in New York! The Txoko @ Txikito is a monthly event, set on a Monday night, an off day for Txikito. Organizing a food and cultural event like this during your rest day speaks volume to how dedicated the restaurant staff is to their craft. There's limited seatings and the invitation is through a mailing list that we were just lucky enough to have got ourselves into. Hint: be extra nice to Brian at the bar or Brad the manager and they'll open your world to authentic Spanish culinary cuisine.
Txoko at Txikito was mostly a Nueva Catalan/Basque affair; with Txikito’s owners Alex Raij and Eder Montero, Spanish chef Ruben Garcia and Ramon Martinez from Jose Andres’ ThinkFoodGroup, and dessert chef Will Goldfarb cooking up some pretty incredible Spanish dishes and dessert. We really liked the caramelized pork rinds, uni on mini steamed buns, “canned” mussels (a Catalan specialty dish), chilled almond soup and chicken hearts pintxo with tximichurri sauce. I wonder if the uni on mini steamed bun was Alex Raij’s dish since I heard it’s one of the dishes she’s famous for. The chicken heart pintxo was also one of the best chicken hearts dish we have eaten and the chilled almond soup was refreshing and luxurious. The platos fuerte (main dish) or pièce de résistance for the night is definitely the grilled baby sea cucumber with praline sauce. Sea cucumber is not a foreign ingredient in Spanish cuisine and we're glad to have had it here after not having the famous Etxebarri grilled sea cucumber in Spain. Sea cucumber is also an ingredient that we're familiar with growing up as a Chinese Malaysian. The distinct differences in the preparation and use of the sea cucumber is in the texture. We were more used to the gelatinous texture of the Chinese stewed sea cucumber dishes. The grilled baby sea cucumber here on the other hand, was chewy and slightly crunchy, almost like squid or octopus but has a sweeter taste to it. The praline sauce complimented it very well and definitely brought the savoriness of the exotic ingredient on the plate. Kudos to Chef Alex for being able to source the sea cucumber in NYC. The word from the chef herself was that she picked it up courtesy of good relations with the supplier. Lucky for us!
The desserts were equally impressive. Will Goldfarb deserved a big applause for making the best coconut amuse bouche with meringue, sinfully satisfying marshmallow dessert and greek yogurt with chocolate cream dessert. Will’s desserts are very original, creative and delicate, and he’s proud of producing his own style of desserts rather than copying what El Bulli has made famous (such as the microwave sponge cake). We hope Will Goldfarb will reopen a dessert place in New York City soon! The word from Chef Will is that he's working on a project at Bali. Guess which hungry ghosts will be making a detour to the Indonesian island on the next trip back to Malaysia?
Frank Bruni had just reviewed Txikito and only gave them one star. Some says a star from Frank Bruni for a "bar"-like food is pretty good achievement. We're not one to be bound by rigid rules and old customs. If it taste good, it's worthy of praise. We (as well as our yaokui buddies) think they deserved more stars than what was given. Places like Txikito is just rare in New York City: genuine people, good tasting food, cozy atmosphere and the restaurant’s dedication to sharing solid, authentic Spanish cooking with New Yorkers through events like the Txokos, you just don’t find it at many places. And best of all, you don’t have to travel to San Sebastian to enjoy amazing Basque Pintxos. The folks at Travel and Leisure magazine probably recognizes that and that’s why they've listed Txikito as one of the Best 50 new US restaurants! Congrats Txikito!