TXOKOS BASQUE KITCHEN
3201 Corrine Drive | 321-972-8852 | txokoskitchen.com | $$$$
The heady air of anticipation surrounding our visit to Txokos developed into full-blown excitement by the time we’d given the menu a once-over. Even after waiting patiently for 20 minutes outside on a bench, inhaling the teasing wafts of wood-fired meats (even though the delicious aroma was intermittently mixed with high-octane exhaust from arriving luxury automobiles), we could barely contain ourselves. Chef Henry Salgado’s Basque-inspired bill of fare had us feeling like racehorses anxious to burst out of the gate. That Txokos is comfortably modern in its decor, and blithely rustic in its spirit, helps foster an environment that’s hardly evocative of the secret Basque gastronomic clubs (called txokos) the restaurant’s name signifies. It’s inclusive and open; a place for both grandma and gastronome. This is no pretentious arriviste boîte designed to suck trendsters dry; it’s a place to simply enjoy the unadulterated creations Salgado and his team send out from the bustling hothouse in the back of the restaurant and from the asador grill in the front room.
Indeed, some guests make it a point to sit in front of that gleaming crank-wheeled contraption to take in (and take home) the smoky aroma. We were content seated at a banquette, next to the communal table and in clear view of the kitchen, which didn’t seem to take anything away from the smells and flavors of the pulpo de gallego ($15). The long tentacle of sublimely tender grilled octopus tickled a square of grilled potato reddened by salsa vizcaina, a Basque sauce Salgado renders from tomatoes, guajillo and other local peppers (Spanish choricero peppers are harder to come by). The charred Florida peach ($9) encrusted in chorizo crumbles and crowned with house-pickled onions was, arguably, the most intriguing pintxo we sampled. Like a Jeff Altman classic, it was sweet and meaty. (If you’re not a fan of vintage stand-up, Google that.) Salty Spanish anchovies ($11) plated with piparra (traditional peppers of the Basque region) delighted, as did charred spring onions ($6) drizzled in a nutty romesco and embellished with marcona almonds.
As great as the roasted beet salad ($10) was, it was the topping of caña de cabra – a silky goat milk cheese – that had us swooning. If you like morcilla, fork a few cuts of the cider-braised blood sausages ($8) into your mouth, and be sure you scoop some golden lentils, napa cabbage and sherry syrup in while you’re at it.
A few more serious dishes faltered slightly. Marrow bones ($12) were dressed nicely with 9-month-aged manchego and porcini, but the marrow (aka “God’s butter,” to those of us who can’t get enough of it) was lacking. The bed of stone-ground grits with drunken goat cheese upstaged the humdrum oxtail ($21) braised in a sherry-paprika mirepoix.
But if it’s decadence you crave, look no further than the foie ($23). If the contents of this dish were any richer, they’d have their own island. Two generous rounds of foie gras flank a duck egg atop a purée of potato layered with porcini. Ridiculously simple and simply ridiculous. We coveted our neighbor’s chuleta – an enormous bone-in rib-eye ($40) – but coveted the gateau Basque ($8), a gratifying almond custard tart, even more. Airy flan ($6) suffered from a heavy balsamic drizzle and an absence of burnt caramel, but you won’t go wrong with a plate of cocoa-dusted almonds (piedras) and farmer’s cheddar ($8) enjoyed with a cup of coffee. Libations, be they craft cocktails, sangrias, Spanish wine (many available by the glass), sherries or even Spanish beer, have been thoughtfully crafted and selected.
Basque gastronomic societies are still popular today, and someone literally has to die in order to get into one of these members-only social clubs. That makes our 20-minute wait seem tolerable by comparison.