Thursday, November 18, 2010

Gastronauts Txikito Dinner

Last week I had my first opportunity to join the Gastronauts at Txikito for one of their monthly dinners.  The Gastronauts is a club for adventurous eaters which I learned about from this Times article, which upon reading I naturally immediately went to the website to try to sign up.  The organizers seek out places that serve interesting dishes, often ethnic restaurants in the outer boroughs, and work with them to find a night and put together special menus for the club's diners.  This usually involves bizarre items which are not on the regular menu or difficult to source, eg Cuy (Guinea Pig), insects, live octopus, or various offal.  All the nasty bits are fair game.   The trouble is that the little group has become so popular that the events fill up so fast it is hard for a newcomer to get into them; I've tried for the last many months and only this time did I click fast enough.   Here is the menu we enjoyed last week:
A Basque Dinner at

TXIKITO

morcilla
flakey pastry filled with blood sausage and sweet leek
pintxo gulas
Basque canapé of mock elvers with garlic and guindilla
terrina de jeta
head cheese with hardboiled egg, olives and balsamic mustard
piperak
blistered peppers with sea salt
Caracolillos barrio Chino
periwinkles, Chinatown style with ginger refrito
lengua llumacenas
braised tongue with capers
kokotxas al pil pil
cod jowls in olive oil
Txipirones en su tinta
squid in ink sauce
callos
tripe in vizcaina sauce
Morros de ternera
veal jowl and cheek with sweet onion vinaigrette
Here are the mock elvers.  What are elvers you ask?  And why would one make mock, ie fake, ones?  Elvers are rare baby eels, and very expensive ones at that.  Thus the "mock."  Alas, I've never tried the real ones, but the fakes are tasty.  They are made from pressed fish, the spines and eyes painted on with squid ink.  (Think "krab sticks" at your local sushi joint.)  More info about the real ones here and here.  I'm dying to someday try Ripert's version at Le Bernardin some Spring.  Especially since these mock one were one of my favorite dishes of the night.
Of course one of the fun things about this meal was supping on fun dishes with like minded people, but another selling point is that it was organized family style so we got to try 10 different things.  This would be a difficult feat to order 10 plates if you were eating with only a couple friends.  Here is the decadently rich morcilla.  As blood sausage goes, it was delicious and not at all on the scary metallic end of the spectrum.
Next was the headcheese, with some nice strips of ear adding to the texture.  It was good, you definitely knew you were eating pig head, although I liked it more than most at my table.
Here are the cod jowls pil pil, meaty bites of fish in a deliciously creamy olive oil emulsion.
It's hard to make out this picture of the squid in ink sauce, but it was one of the highlights.  The squid was among the most tender preparations I've had of this protein, and the flavor of the sauce was somehow subtle and deep at the same time.
These little buggers were the periwinkles, which while fun, were perhaps more trouble than they were worth.  It took me quite a while to get the hang of prying them out with a toothpick, and a couple of my first attempts ending in flinging the meat into my chest or across the room ala Pretty Woman.  The sauce was good, but the flavor of the tiny morsels of meat was kinda boring to me.
Now onto the tripe.  The tomato, pepper, and garlic sauce on the tripe was delicious, and every last bit got sopped up.  The tripe was well prepared and tender, but I still have not found a tripe dish that turns me on.  I do not dislike it, but I don't love the texture and find little flavor; it's just not my thing.  Curtis, the organizer, said he knows of some places in Rome that would change my mind; I'll have to follow up on that next time I'm there.
The braised tongue was perhaps the overall favorite of the night for people at my table.  Cooked to melting tenderness, it was indeed very good.  It however, as much as I liked it, did not rise as my favorite.  My favorites were the mock elvers, the squid, and the next, and last dish.
I was in the minority, but the veal jowl and cheek terrine was in my top three.  It had a broader variety of textures than the previous two dishes which I found interesting and enjoyed.  Like the headcheese, you knew what you were eating here, which I quite liked.
In closing, it was a fun night with a good crew of people.  I hope to sneak into future events, and I also hope that the food gets even more out there and I get to try crazy things which are new to me.

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