Three times a week, the Basque Market sets up a gigantic paellera--a shallow paella pan with thin handles on each side--and ladles out mounds of saffron-hued rice studded with seafood, chicken and chorizo. The scent wafts down the Basque Block, luring downtowners. The market also offers a variety of pintxos, or Basque tapas, throughout the week--everything from skewered chorizo and manchego banderillas to wedges of Spanish tortilla with caramelized onions. But the space hasn't treaded into full-fledged dinner territory. Until now.
The Basque Market recently launched a Friday night prix-fixe dinner. Each week, Chef Jake Arredondo crafts a unique seasonal menu with three starters, three entrees and three desserts for $25 per person. The menu also features suggested wine pairings for each course with super reasonable by-the-bottle prices ($10-$14).
When I called to make a reservation on a Wednesday, I was told they were already booked up, except for a 5:30 p.m. seating. I arrived a few minutes before our reservation, expecting the place to be packed, but the long wooden communal tables were mostly empty. Though the lack of people made the small, quiet space a bit awkward to dine in, ample food and wine helped us shrug off the ambiance.
We kicked things off with an order of salmon cakes with pink pickled onions and a dill caper remoulade, and a green bean salad topped with figs and toasted walnut vinaigrette. While the salmon cakes were modestly sized with an excellent crunch, the green beans were on the soggy side. Thankfully, the figs and walnuts contributed a bit of texture to the salad and the walnut dressing added a pleasant zip.
Our entrees—braised pork with white bean ragout, roasted apples and onions; and basil-crusted cod with garlic mashed potatoes and tomato caper sauce—were both well executed. The tender, shredded pork, crowned with a mound of white onions and a few tart apples, rested on a sea of well-seasoned white beans with a few floating carrot coins. It was classic comfort food, classed up a bit. But the cod ended up being our favorite. The fish was perfectly prepared—not dry or rubbery as cod often can be—and topped with a rich tomato caper sauce and a whole basil leaf. The skin-on mashed potatoes were creamy with a subtle hint of garlic and just the right amount of salt. The desserts followed suit: the chocolate caramel pudding was thick and decadent, with a sprinkle of crushed walnuts, and the ice cream bocadillo (a chocolate chip cookie and vanilla ice cream sandwich) was appropriately comforting.
When we received our relatively modest bill, I made a mental note to book our next Friday night dinner further in advance. I'm hoping the later seating has a more boisterous vibe to match the vibrant menu.