Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Where to Eat: Pintxos (Not Tapas) @ Bar Pintxo

Bilbao is a quirky little town in Northern Spain, with even quirkier inhabitants. During my three-month stay there, I learned many important life lessons. I learned that the town isn’t really a part of Spain; it’s part of the Basque Country. I discovered that there’s no such thing as Santa Clause; there’s only Olentzero. And most importantly, I found out that the small plates typically served with wine aren’t called tapas; they’re called pintxos.

So when I stumbled upon a cheery Santa Monica bar named Bar Pintxo, my heart hesitantly leaped for joy. I was wary. If this joint had the audacity to give itself a Basque name, then I certainly needed it to transport me 5,000 miles away back to my beloved Bilbao.

Upon entering, I was instantly greeted by a tiny bar section, where customers tightly crammed together, teetering on stools and delicately balancing cups in their hands. To the back, I noticed a handful of tables, all patronized by groups engrossed in intent conversations. From floor to ceiling, bottles of wine and imported goods covered the wooden shelves, adding to the lively, inviting atmosphere. Like the Bilbao bars I had frequented, Bar Pintxo was excruciatingly tiny and undeniably filled with an infectious gaiety. It was a winner!

Ok, I was convinced that it felt authentic, but what about the cuisine – was that authentic, too? I ordered several pintxos (the fresh tomato, Serrano ham and grilled bread was amazing) and a few of what were called “tapas” (gambas al ajillo rocked my world). Overall, I was content, yet what impressed me the most was that the majority of these great dishes were available for reasonable prices during the daily Happy Hour.

So if you’re up for a bona fide Basque cultural immersion minus the 15-hour flight, travel expenses and language barrier, I say make a trip to Bar Pintxo!

Pictured below: The warm earthy colors, soaring ceilings and exposed wooden beams are truly reminiscent of Bilbao’s rustic bars.
Pictured below: The tortilla Espanola. What more could I ever ask for, save for an invigorating glass of wine and this traditional Spanish dish!
Pictured below: Jamina and I, who both spent a semester abroad, give Bar Pintxo two thumbs up for its authenticity and for its daily Happy Hour, from 44 p.m. - 6 p.m.

Bar Pintxo
109 Santa Monica Blvd.
Santa Monica, CA 90401