Tuesday, November 13, 2007
More ruminations on pintxos
I confess, I am one of those Americans who like to complain about their country while traveling. The bread is better here, the family is more important here, oh life is more beautiful here in _________. I know that I tend to exaggerate, and I get mad if other people bash America, but one thing is definitely true about life here in Spain—drinks are so much cheaper here! And more importantly, the culture of pintxos bars in San Sebsatian is lovelier than anything I have experienced before.
I had feared before I arrived that pintxos might not really be my thing. I thought they might be too precious, too expensive, and more arty than tasty. San Sebastian, after all, boasts more Michelin-starred restaurants than anywhere else in the world, other than the center of Paris, but none of them were on my to-do list. The rest of the Basque country likes to say that San Sebastian cuisine is very French, and they don’t mean it as a compliment.
But even if they are right, pintxos in San Sebastian are the most democratic form of haute cuisine I’ve ever seen. There’s nothing precious about them. More likely, you’ll end up with sauce on your face and olive oil on your fingers trying to eat one in the requisite two bites. In Bar Goizargi this past Saturday, everyone, young and old, was eating the brocheta de gambas, or grilled shrimp skewered with bits of bacon and served with a vinagrette sauce of red and green peppers, onions, and carrots. They’re award-winning and even included in the sixth edition of “Los Mejores Pintxos de Donostia,” but at 2 Euros, they cost the same as the Sunday issue of El Pais, a major national newspaper.
Sure, there are places that are more haute than others. Sure, a couple of pintxos don’t make a meal and can add up quickly. But I had two pintxos at the award-winning Goizargi, the shrimp and a tiny bowl of succulent squid in ink sauce, plus a glass of rosé for 5 Euros. Even at the obscene U.S. dollar-Euro exchange rate, that’s only $7.50 at most. I can’t get a freakin’ glass of wine in Manhattan for less than $8. And I couldn’t tell you if the crowd is young and hip or old and rich, since it was crammed with a group of students, older couples, and families with young kids. Okay, it definitely wasn’t an angry young pro-ETA bar, but the food hadn’t drawn a certain self-selecting crowd, the way it often feels in NY. There was no statement being made by the people eating there, that they support organic local food or that they are hip enough to eat meat by the pound on a picnic table in Williamsburg. They only wanted to stand with their friends with a drink in one hand and an empty toothpick in the other on a beautiful Saturday afternoon.
I can’t even wish that someone would open a true pintxos or tapas bar in New York. It wouldn’t be enough for there to be one such bar, as there would always be a line out the door and the easy joy of it that I love would just disappear. So I have three days left here. Ready, set, go!