Tapas and small plates have been extremely popular in D.C. for over a decade, But the Basque cousin of tapas haven't had the same notoriety. But pintxos (or pinchos) could be the next big thing in D.C.with ANXO Cidery and Pintxos Bar aiming to open in mid-June, along with other coming developments.
What is a pintxo? They're small bites of "skewered" items, usually, but not always, eaten with a toothpick and influenced by the focus on presentation in French nouvelle cuisine. They come from San Sebastián, in the cool, crisp Basque Country along the northwest coast of Spain. Tapas, comparatively, are slightly larger and were originally served on bread intended to protect one's drink from flies. They originate from the south of Spain.
Usually displayed on a counter, pintxos are typically served at room temperature as a quick snack before lunch or dinner or after attending church. Diners might also take part in a txikiteo, a crawl where they may snack on one or two pintxos, with the bill tabulated by the number of used toothpicks.
Josu Zubikarai, executive chef and co-owner of SER, is from San Sebastián. He says pintxos have become a part of the city's happy hour culture over the last three to five years. In San Sebastián, there are now organized events like Pintxo Pote where diners crawl from bar to bar sampling the best pintxo at each bar while enjoying Txakoli wine, red wine, Basque cider, or beer.
Pintxos typically use the core ingredients of Spanish cuisine like anchovies, boquerones (white anchovies), chorizo, morcilla (blood sausage), olives, and guindilla peppers. According to Zubikarai, some common pintxos are pintxos de merluza with small pieces of fish, sautéed with a little flour and egg in olive oil, and served on bread along with a piece of sautéed red pepper. Chistorra is a very thin chorizo served with a piece of bread. There's also tortilla (potato and egg omelette), anchovies with escabeche or marinated in olive oil served with pitted olives or pickled guindilla pepper, and chorizo grilled or boiled in cider.
Though Zubikarai is from San Sebastián, pintxos aren't currently on the menu at SER due to logistical obstacles. "Preparing pintxos can be very labor intensive and we needed to be able to find our footing first as a new restaurant before offering them up to our guests," the chef explains. "Traditionally pintxos are prepared fresh daily in-house and put on display for guests to literally point at, select, and enjoy—and are often served at room temperature."
But Zubikarai is planning on launching a Pintxo Pote happy hour in late fall. "We will even be inviting some of our high-profile culinary friends from Spain to join us at SER to make and offer up some of their favorite traditional pintxos," he says. "While we plan on focusing on offering up traditional pintos, we'll also be offering an assortment of more modern options as well."
Can't wait for Anxo to open or SER to launch Pintxo Pote happy hour? Then head to Estadio, which features five traditional and less traditional pintxos on the menu.