Barcito introduces pintxos to Chicago

March 3, 2012 8:27:55 PM PST
The corner of LaSalle and Erie in River North is about as far away as you can get - culturally - from the Basque region of Northern Spain.

And yet here, tucked within the sprawling new Spanish-themed Tavernita, is a smaller, sealed-off bar called Barcito, home to Chicago's first pintxos bar.

"What pintxos are in San Sebastian is they're sometimes little things served on bread. Usually one or two bites and there's kind of an energy that happens in San Sebastian of these bustling, crowded pintxos bars. People are standing and eating and drinking. And It's just the life of Spain. So, it's kind of what we're trying to capture here at Barcito," said Ryan Poli, the Chef of Barcito and Tavernita.

Yeah, they're sort of like tapas, in that you have them at the bar and they pair really well with local ciders, sangrias and sherries, but Poli is trying to recreate taste memories he had while traveling in the Basque region. Every one of the half dozen or so pintxos begins with thickly-sliced and toasted bread. Spanish sobrassada is one version.

"(It's) different from the Italian soprassata. This one's a little bit softer, has more of paprika, pork flavor," Poli said.

The rich sausage is then topped with a fried quail egg. While tender shrimp is grilled, hazelnuts, olive oil, parsley and saffron are spread onto some bread, then get topped with a creamy garlic aioli - or mayo - and those barely-cooked shrimp.

An escalivada of roasted peppers and eggplant is another way to top bread, plus some creamy goat cheese and an almond romesco sauce inspired by Catalonia. There is also poached and fried artichokes, embedded with chickpeas, peppery arugula and mahon cheese, plus a simple version with just the unctuous, white fat from the Iberico ham.

"It just kind of melts over the top. It's like a beautiful, fatty, salty goodness," he said.

Tomatoes are rubbed onto yet another pintxo, topped with the prized pata negra, or acorn-fed-and-cured ham, plus salty manchego cheese. Even eggs show up, in the form of a potato-jammed Spanish omelette, flavored with that garlicky aioli. Poli says in Spain, pintxos bars constantly change their menus.

"So, you can go to one bar in the morning and have certain pintxos there and then come back in the afternoon and it can be totally different; it's kind of 'of the moment," Poli said.

And just like the Spaniards, you can get food here at Barcito awfully late. You can satisfy your pintxos fix until two in the morning every day.

Most of the pintxos cost about two or three bucks. There are also some other Spanish snacks on the menu at Barcito, some of which you can share.

Barcito (located within Tavernita)
151 W Erie St
(312) 274-1111