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Friday, September 2, 2011

Ask for Basque

When you allow yourself to forget that walking through Bar Basque makes you feel like you're on an episode of Deep Space Nine, you'll probably enjoy yourself and the food.  This crazy setting comes courtesy of Jeffrey Chodorow (Asia de Cuba, China Grill, etc.) who has a flair for theatrics.  Everything is black, red, and shiny, including the cold, metal toilets.  The inside may feel space age-y and robotic, but the outdoor lounge area is subtle and airy.  It juts into the Eventi Hotel courtyard air space and faces a giant screen that has been plastered on the wall of the adjacent building.  Sometimes, this screen features old movies but on Wednesday night, we got to watch the US Open as we enjoyed the crisp end-of-August air.

The Basque Country is a specific region that crosses Spain and France, but the culinary focus here is all Spanish.  Steph and I started with cocktails that were tasty but too sweet.  (My watermelon and raspberry martini tasted like a Jolly Rancher.)  We decided to switch to the all-Spanish wine list for drink number two, a wise choice.  For our first bite, we wanted to get an order of the croquettes and the waitress recommended the wild mushroom.  The mushrooms were very...wild (not sure how else to describe that strong flavor - I like it, others don't).  I thought that while the flavor was there, the texture of the filling was a little to runny.  The next dish was more mushroom, but this was a definite success: portobello mushroom fries with a cod roe dip.  I know seeing the word "roe" on a dish frightens some people, but trust me anyone would enjoy this slightly salty mayonnaise.  The fries were not too thick, not too thin and cooked just the right amount of time to maintain a sturdy texture.  We veered away from mushrooms for our third dish and ordered calamari a la plancha in a squid ink sauce.  The plump bites of squid were nicely seared and not doused in sauce.  Why squid is not served in its own ink more often, I do not know, but it seems like a logical combination.  I can now tell you it is not only logical but tasty as well.

We were celebrating Steph's birthday, so dessert was a must.  Steph immediately spotted salted caramel ice cream on the menu and what b-day girl wants, b-day girl gets.  Turns out the ice cream comes in groups of either three or six adorable mini cones.  We rounded out our trio with cream cheese and rice pudding flavors.  The cream cheese tasted basically like French vanilla, but the rice pudding was my surprise favorite thanks to the speckles of rice pearls.  The cones were paper thin crisps instead of mini versions of a regular sugar cone, which is good because that would have been too thick for these dainty desserts.  The dessert menu as a whole was very inventive, but we had to try the fried milk, which came as four building blocks of warm custard encased in a sugar crust.  I wish there was a little more of the passion fruit sauce on the plate but overall this was a great, fun dessert.  I don't even know what would happen if you paired this with Momofuku Milk Bar's cereal milk.  I might self combust.

My only complaint would be the service.  There are hostesses when you walk in but they pretty much stand their posts and say hello with a smile as you walk in, but finding a seat is all up to you.  Once you're sitting, it's rare for a server to walk by so acquiring your food could take some time.  Steph and I were in no rush, but if you walk in ready to eat, you may need bring along some sort of flashing light to attract the eye of a waitress.

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