In Basque Spain, a Pintxos Bar With Touches of Latin America


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Basque-style al pastor tacos at Topa Sukaldería in San Sebastián.

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Nicholas Gill

Late on a Saturday night in San Sebastián, in Spanish Basque Country, crowds spilled out of the crammed, loud pintxos bars that hold such a prominent place in the city’s culinary scene, like Borda Berri and Atari Gastroteka, and into the cobblestone alleyways of the Parte Vieja, or Old Quarter. Just across the Urumea River, on a quiet street in the more residential Gros district, Topa Sukaldería, which opened in February, was about to sit its last customers for the evening.

Owned by Andoni Luis Aduriz — whose restaurant Mugaritz in Errenteria, in the hills outside of the city on the Bay of Biscay, is considered among the world’s best (it holds the No. 9 spot on the San Pellegrino list) — Topa appears to have little in common with the city’s boisterous tabernas serving these Basque-style tapas. For one, it serves tacos. Indeed, each pintxo featured a shared connection between the foods of Latin America and Basque Country — and the merger proved rewarding dish after dish.

We ordered nearly half the dishes, which numbered around 20 options plus a few daily specials, and they came out one by one when ready. A rich 1,000-day mole, created with a starter sent over by Enrique Olvera (who made famous his version of that dish at his acclaimed Mexico City restaurant Pujol), and fed with Basque espelette peppers, packed plenty of heat, even when slathered on freshly ground tortillas. That mole showed up again on a taco filled with chipirones en su tinta, a regional dish of baby squid cooked in their own ink.

The crossover of cultures and techniques continued. A tiradito in the Nikkei tradition (which combines Peruvian and Japanese influences), rather than being made with a firm white-fleshed fish like sole, used plump anchovies; a Peruvian causa was layered with a regional preparation of txangurro, or spider crab. Even a mojito, called a euskojito here, was made with the slightly effervescent white wine txakoli instead of rum.

“Topa speaks of the centuries that unite us to Basques and Latin Americans, of everything that we share, of the footprint that we left and left us,” Mr. Aduriz said. “In South America there are more than 15,000 Basque surnames. In the Basque Country we boast of our own products that have a Latin American origin. Why not then tell that story of exchange through a kitchen that puts us in touch?”

As at Mugaritz, there’s an order and sophistication to the restaurant that the rambling taverns of the Old Quarter lack. Polished concrete floors and wood plank walls give a minimalist feel that is broken only by stenciled paintings of luchadores and llamas on the plywood near the basement stairs. There’s table service too, so there’s no need to fight your way to the bar for food.

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