Most Americans are unaccustomed to the glory of Basque cuisine. But in Western cities such as Reno and Boise – places with large Basque populations – it’s a popular dining choice for those looking for fare that lingers on the border of Spain and France.
Thanks to venerable places such as Bar Gernika, Leku Ona and Epi’s in Meridian, most denizens of the Treasure Valley are well versed in the ways of crispy croquetas, solomo sandwiches and beef tongue slowly cooked with peppers and garlic. In other words, Basque fare is integrally woven into the cultural fabric of Southern Idaho.
To add to that list, a new Basque-inspired eatery and wine bar recently debuted in Boise’s burgeoning Linen District, and it even has a tongue-twisting Basque name. Txikiteo (pronounced chee-kee-tay-o) is owned by the same folks who own and operate the stylish Modern Hotel and Bar about a block away.
Housed on the ground floor of the newly constructed Watercooler apartment building, at 14th and Idaho streets, Txikiteo strives to offer to a Basque-tinged dining experience that focuses on pintxos (tapas items), charcuterie, sandwiches and a few entrées. It also serves coffee and light breakfast during the morning hours.
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The diminutive space boasts a stylish design and plenty of windows, allowing natural light to illuminate the powder-blue and copper-orange hues that dominate the interior color scheme. A long wine bar is the intentional centerpiece of the room, making for a communal spot to nosh on small bites while sipping Rioja, chosen from an always-changing wine list that spotlights Basque country wines and other European labels.
Outside there’s a sidewalk patio – an amalgam of concrete and grass – with circular fire features that are sure to be a hit with the al fresco crowd.
Txikiteo employs two chefs, both of whom have many years of experience and name recognition. David King, a Portland transplant who formerly cooked at The Modern, handles the daytime kitchen responsibilities. At night, Dan Ansotegui has made his return to the local dining scene after spending several years teaching in the Catholic school system around the Treasure Valley.
Ansotegui, as some of you might remember, was the original owner of Bar Gernika and The Basque Market on Boise’s Basque Block. His sisters run the super-popular Epi’s in downtown Meridian. It’s safe to say the family knows what they are talking about when it comes to Basque food and wine.
The menu, especially at night, gets slightly tweaked about every two weeks in accordance to the season. Keep in mind, the restaurant doesn’t offer traditional table service. Instead, it opts for an order-at-the-counter system like you would find at tapas bars in, let’s say, San Sebastian or Bilbao.
One evening, I found a stemless glass of Bodegas Alzpurua Txakoli ($9.50) to be perfect accompaniment to the array of pintxos for our table. The Basque country white wine, with intense floral notes and a mineral-like finish, played well with a poached and chilled shrimp ($3 each) skewered with blanched asparagus spears, served in a small dish next to a dollop of finely chopped hard-boiled egg.
You will typically find a variation of a stuffed piquillo pepper on the breakout tapas menu on any given week. On this night, a little roasted red pepper ($3 each) came oozing velvety béchamel perfumed with minced jamon serrano (Spanish-style ham).
Another noteworthy pick is the garlicky chickpea spread ($2 each) smeared on a cut of crusty Gaston’s Bakery baguette, with a piece of pickled celery on top.
For some added zing, tag on a small dish of marinated green and black olives ($2), coated with olive oil, fresh herbs and spices.
If the selection of pintxos doesn’t quite sate your appetite, try a large charcuterie board ($20) packed with ribbons of salty jamon, shaved bright-red chorizo, marbled wild boar salami, pate-like liverwurst and gamey-good Italian bresaola made from free range beef. The cured meats are served with pungent stone-ground mustard, pickled veggies, sweet mostarda di frutta (dried figs, apricots and cranberries cooked with wine and spices) and sliced baguette.
During the day, sandwiches and salads take care of lunchtime diners.
The chorizo sandwich ($7.50) screams Basque country, with its toothsome, scratch-made link – piquant and tender under a thin intestine casing – nestled in a golden-brown boat of toasted Acme Bakeshop Pullman bread, the whole thing smothered with garlicky aioli and grilled red bell pepper and onion.
Do you like the interplay of salty and sweet? Then you should try the jamon sandwich ($7). Chewy ciabatta encases a stratum of shaved serrano ham, nutty-tasting manchego cheese, arugula greens, aioli, and candied figs and apricots.
The bean salad ($6.50) is simple yet redolent of bright flavors. A bowl comes arranged with a hillock of creamy fresh goat cheese, little white beans and lightly blanched green beans – accented with verdant basil oil and fresh lemon. A sprinkle of pulverized espelette (red chili pepper flakes) adds spicy notes to the zesty profile of the dish.
In a city that has a love affair with Basque food, Txikiteo is a welcome addition to Boise’s resurgent dining scene.
Statesman reviewers pay for their meals and attempt to dine anonymously. Email James Patrick Kelly: scene@ idahostatesman.com.
Address: 1401 W. Idaho St., Boise (Linen District)
Hours: 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; tapas and dinner service starts at 4 p.m.
Menu price range: pintxos (tapas), sides, soups and salads $2-$6.50; entrées, sandwiches, cheeseboards and charcuterie $7-$20.
Libation situation: A small yet select list of European wines (with a few American labels thrown in now and then), hard ciders and craft beers offered on tap and in bottles and cans.
Kid friendly? No
Wheelchair accessible? Yes
Opened: March 2018