Wookiee Hut Cuisine presents:
Pintxos
Greenwich St., West Village, NYC
212-343-9923
Review by SuSu, Runt, Diana, MaceVindaloo, Number2

Much has been of the tapas served in Spain. Perhaps the Barcelona Olympics of 1992, paired with an increasing foodyism, Spanish food has been getting more investigation? It's good that food is appreciated for what it is, rather than in comparison to stuff we already know. Though to be fair, that's how we humans learn and assimilate and accept things. So what is tapas? Some say it's bar food, or omelets, or seafood, or appetizers. We think it's more like Chinese dim sum, where various "snack-sized" portions are brought out and you nod or not, and you get a small plate of food for yourself or to share.

Of course, that's just conceptual — tapas is traditionally an early evening snack to be imbibed with a drink at a bar on the way home from work. It's like an appetizer or a restorative, somethign to take the edge off the day, and maybe to make you a nicer person at home? But we also know that at least in some parts of Spain, "barhopping" means you can go from place to place to try their tapas specialities. It can be a very social thing, and in this manner is perhaps uniquely Spanish; the act of doing this, in the Basque language, is txiquiteo.

There is also regionality to Spanish cooking and politics, to the point that when I hear the term "Basque," I think "Idaho." Apparently, sheep herders from the Basque region of Spain found Idaho's terrain to their liking! Don't know where I picked up this bit of info ... but I do know that many French dishes with a Spanish twist result from the Basque region, which is bordered by France. Omelet Basquaise, for instance, is the flat, unfolded 'spanish omelet' of Spain. The Basque are the separatist-minded group typified as anti-government terrorists; the town of Guernica after which Picasso's famous mega-mural is named, is located in the Basque area.

The Basque term for what we think of as 'tapas' is 'pinxtos,' and thus the name of this eatery. It's a small place way out on Manhattan's west end, and in the winter (when we visited) the cold, cold wind off the Hudson River made breathing a challenge. Forget about trying to be dainty about opening the door to this narrow space — you have to heft it with both hands and run in before it slams shut, or the wind blows it open and sucks out all the heat from the restaurant!

Parking here is a big challenge because this is an industrial district, in fact this could be considered New York's old wharf area. It's renovating, but still zoned for commercial traffic, so there are a lot of "no parking anytime" signs. You'd be wise to heed these because a towing charge plus parking violation in New York City can run up to $300, plus you have to get to the impounding area which is so large that a shuttle bus has to take you to your car. Okay, the impounding area isn't far from here — that's out how far out of the city's core Pinxtos is located — but it's a really expensive parking charge. And you have to pay in cash! There are no parking garages here, either. So allow plenty of time to find parking, or park a bit out of the neighborhood, and take a cab over. (A good thing about this neighborhood — it's not over-trendy!)

Once inside, it's warm and cozy — it can seat about 25 people if you expect to have room to not elbow one another — and more blond-colored wood than terracotta or dark bar-style decor. The air is steamy due to all the breathing in the warm room, and also because the kitchen is at the back of the space, basically a griddle and grill station, and it's fully open to view. Like dim sum, the dishes are small and inexpensive: about $1.25 to $3 for the small pinxtos, appetizers are up to $7, and if you want a main dish, that's $7 to about $16. Depending on your pocket and your adventurousness, you can try quite a lot of dishes for not much money at all.

There were several of us on this cold winter's night, so we basically tried everything. As other reviewers have stated, the best stuff is Basquaise in origin, like squid braised in its own ink, grilled prawns (head and shell on, of course!), grilled lamb chops, grilled fish, grilled octopus, peppers (stuffed or grilled or stewed) ... the only real disappointment in the pintxos was the mushrooms which were basically rehydrated and heated dried mushrooms. Nothing wrong with dried mushrooms normally, but these were mushy and relatively tasteless.

Other good things we recall: bacalao, or dried cod and potato croquettes; also, hot escargots served in olive oil ... basically anything char-grilled and doused with olive oil is good. Also excellent are the other single-item dishes like olives or warm manchego cheese, or chorizo or stuffed mussels. The main dishes are said to be good but "less pure," which we take to mean "not Basque" and maybe outside their comfort zone. So we avoided the paellas and filets with bleu cheese.

Dessert offerings are basically pre-packed flans and ice creams. There was also a creme brulee, but that's probably no better than pre-packed custard with torched sugar over it. Get your desserts elsewhere, is our advice.

There is a wine list, and bottles are about $30, a decent price for the all-Spanish wines. There is also hard cider called sidra, a bubbly wine called txacoli which is poured from arm's length to aerate it. A herbed brandy, izzara, reminds me a bit of the bright-green French brandy called chartreuse. They also have a tasty sangria which is not chock-a-block with fruit, and is all the nicer for that.

The food and wine here are simple and hearty, and they don't collapse into the clichés one falls into with Spanish cuisine — you know, the rice-a-roni type dishes and bullfighter-named things. None of us has been to Iberia, or even to Idaho, so cannot vouch for authenticity. But it's inexpensive and good and the format is such that one can have a dud dish and still come out ahead. Just order something else. And no matter what, going out into the cold, dark, damp, icy, windy street in the middle of winter is so much easier after imbibing in pintxos!


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