I’m so pleased to welcome Julia Golden to the blog today! Julia was so gracious to cover the Txikifest event in New York City that happened a couple of weekends ago and indulge in a little bit of Basque culture (and wine!) for me. She writes over at Nowhere to Go But Everywhere about her travels and I love her passion for all things Spain.
The heat in New York is oppressive and unforgiving. Men wipe their foreheads with handkerchiefs as ladies fan themselves with painted abanicos, unable to speak of anything but the sweat dripping down their backs. The line wraps around the block and is beginning to move slowly. The conversation shifts from complaints about the summer’s first heat wave to excited chattering all around, a musical mix of English, Spanish and Euskara. As the crowd finally shifts, we turn the corner and are greeted by smiling faces and the smell of sizzling food.
“Welcome to Txikifest 2013,” drawls a volunteer in an accent I can’t quite pinpoint, handing us each a glass and shuffling us towards the seemingly endless sea of green bottles. This is my kind of place.
Each year, Alex Raij and Eder Montero, owners of Chelsea’s Txikito and El Quinto Pino and Greenpoint’s La Vara, partner with Basque wineries as well as local chefs to put on Txikifest. A celebration of the culture and pride of Euskadi, the festival highlights the Basque wine,txakolí, from fifteen different wineries by offering generous samples paired with dishes from all over the world. An avid fan of wine in any form, I decided to grab a friend and head down to Chelsea last Sunday to join the fun and sample txakolí for the first time.
Txikifest 2013: A Review
The festival is set up like a street fair of sorts with three tented stations, offering an escape from the sun that seems millions of miles closer in the heat of the afternoon. Each station plays host to txakolí from five distinct wineries, all chosen to pair with the dishes being cooked up on the other side of the tent.
Poured from high above like cider to allow it to aerate, generous samples of txakolí fill our glasses and everyone in the thirsty crowd sips it eagerly. I am pleasantly surprised by the taste: light, crisp, refreshing and perfect for a summer day. It goes down so easily, in fact, that I have to hand my glass over for the next wine before I even get a chance to check out the food selection. Luckily txakolí has a lower alcohol content than most wines, or I may not have made it past the first tent!
The Food: Drool-worthy
Properly hydrated with a few glasses of the sparkling drink, our bellies give a little rumble and we follow our noses to the first table of food. The guys from The Hurricane Club are serving up their version of chili lobster rolls: a fresh take on lobster salad infused with sweet chili peppers, and sandwiched between two slices of buttery bread. I think this is what heaven is like.
We savor the tiny sandwiches until they disappear into crumbs, washing them down with the latter part of the five-glass flight. The dryness of the txakolí perfectly compliments the fresh lobster, and for a moment I can picture myself on the beach in San Sebastián enjoying this sigh-inducing combination.
I realize my glass is empty and snap back to reality. On to the next tent! We are treated to a rosé txakolí, a slightly fuller-bodied version of the wine we’ve been enjoying. Taking a cue from our slightly fuzzy vision, we decide to help ourselves to a plate of food before polishing off another glass and turn to find txistorra and fresh bread sizzling away on the grill. The chefs from Txikito tend to the grill, making sure the Basque cured sausage is cooked perfectly.
The sausage is savory, spicy and slightly sweet all at the same time. Paired with the rosé, it is succulent enough to reassure this reformed vegan that meat is, in fact, the way. We mop up the juices with the warm bread as our glasses are filled yet again.
The afternoon continues on a loop like this; a cycle of wine, finger-licking-good food, and more wine. Our favorite dish is unanimous, selecting a rice noodle crepe with pork Bolognese, so creamy and delicious that we ignore our protesting bellies and split another. Honorable mentions include the pineapple-rubbed pork tacos from La Palapa, and the veal meatball sandwich created by the kind people at Sullivan Street Bakery. Each dish has its own distinct flavors, playing with spices from every corner of the world, but somehow all work extremely well with the light flavor of the txakolí.
The Txakolí Winner
As far as the wineries go, our favorites hail from the Bizkaia province, though choosing favorites is nearly impossible. Nothing we try is anything but fantastic, with the Berroia coming out on top. It is the smoothest, most refreshing, and pairs amazingly with savory treats.
The afternoon is closed with cucumber-lime popsicles from La Newyorkina and a txalaparta performance. Traditionally played in celebration of wine or cider making, the Basque instrument is made of wood, is played with wooden sticks and accompanied by an ox horn. The pride was palpable in the players’ wide smiles and cheerful shouts, “Que siempre viva Euskadi! Viva, viva!”
We wander down Ninth Avenue in a txakolí-induced dream state, forgetting the heat for the first time in days. Out of the hundreds of food and wine festivals in New York, this is certainly the most unique. By pairing a little-known light sparkling wine from a little-known land with local eats, Txikifest celebrates the distinctiveness that the Basque region thrives on in a country famous for flamenco and bullfighting. Raij and Montero have found the perfect stage in Chelsea, a neighborhood that celebrates uniqueness above all else, and succeed in proving that Basque culture and cuisine is well on its way to taking over hearts and palates around the world.
For more information on Txikifest and the txakolís that were featured, check out www.txikifest.com. If you’re in New York and looking for excellent pintxos and txakolí, stop by Txikito or El Quinto Pino!