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Behind the Menu

Txikito, 240 Ninth Ave., nr. 25th St.; 212-242-4730.

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Alex Raij envisions a glorious Spanish-food future for New York, when restaurants and tapas bars retire the generalist approach and start specializing in the traditional cuisines of specific regions, from Asturias to Andalucía. As a start, she and her Bilbao-born husband, Eder Montero, target his native Basque country in all its consonant-jumbling, seafood-centric glory at Txikito, their snug new spot in Chelsea. They found inspiration not only on trips to visit Montero’s family, but also in such unexpected places as Chinatown, where they encountered the spare ribs with black bean sauce that would work its way onto their menu in a Basque rendition called txilindron. Capitalizing on the kinship she sees between Japanese and Basque cooking, Raij spikes her French-fry mayo with the spicy cod roe mentaiko and a secret squirt of Sriracha. Even dishes that aren’t strictly Basque are, as she says, “a metaphor for something in Basque Country”—her updated version of txipiron “encebollado,” for instance, makes a pasta out of squid ribbons and enriches its sweet onion sauce with pine nuts. Montero and Raij cure their own salt cod, which they poach in garlic-infused olive oil for the iconic Basque dish, pil pil (pictured). Their home cure is a bit of a bacalao shortcut, and takes only a day—long enough to achieve the desired salinity and tighten the flesh of the fish.


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