(To be published by South Bay Accent magazine)
Pintxos — those luscious bites found in Spain’s Basque region — are to tapas what porterhouse steak is to beef. At least, that’s what any visitor to the incredible foodie capital of San Sebastián on the Atlantic near the French border would tell you. This thriving Basque city has Michelin stars like other towns have gas stations and the top activity seems to be devouring mind-blowing mouthfuls in the city’s hundred-plus pintxos bars. But South Bay residents don’t have to go nearly that far to munch on outrageously tasty pintxos in a friendly environment.
Just cruise to the quiet end of downtown Los Gatos’s restaurant row and grab a tall metal chair at Pintxos Pote — pronounced PEEN-cho PO-tay and roughly meaning “happy hour” in Basque — and prepare to feast. This handsome sliver of a restaurant used to be Donostia, the Basque name for San Sebastián, and has retained the high level of food quality as well as many of the dishes previously served at this elegant little pintxos spot. Now owned by former engineer Hector Figueroa, Pintxos Pote is a labor of love where Figueroa and his wife aim to get guests as excited about Basque food and delectable Spanish wines as they are.
Spanish tapas and Basque pintxos involve many of the same dishes — meatballs, olives, cheese and charcuterie along with lots of yummy fried items — but there’s something extra-tasty about the Basque version, as seen in the 30-plus choices on Figueroa’s menu, which focuses on high-quality ingredients. And don’t miss the outstanding paella, which requires advance notice but is worth the effort.
Divided into cold and hot dishes, meat and cheese platters, mini-omelets — which are called tortillas in Spain — and house seafood specialties, the small plates are great to share, justifying the ordering of several items per person. By all means begin with indurain, a skewer of rich bonito tuna, anchovy, mild pickled pepper and a green olive meant to be consumed in a single bite. The combination of textures and flavors is mouth poetry.
Next up should be one of the croquette plates, preferably the codfish version, which is crispy outside and creamy inside. Also try one of the meatball choices, the best being peppery lamb spheres, which are succulent and exciting. Another must-order is the thick slab of grilled goat cheese, which contrasts perfectly with its sweet/tart passionfruit sauce and sherry reduction.
Among the four flavors of baby omelet, the potato iteration is particularly like a trip to Spain, where it shows up at all three meals. Buttery, rich and never dry, this classic dish defines Spanish cuisine. Another highlight is the famous acorn-fed Iberico ham, widely considered the epitome of pork and served here in various platters, sometimes with delicious Spanish cheeses.
Figueroa’s house specialties are all seafood items, reflecting the prevailing theme in San Sebastián’s numerous pintxos. Most drool-worthy are the divine, tender octopus slices perched on a tasty puddle of pureed cauliflower and dusted with Spain’s renowned smoked paprika, as well as juicy seared scallops on romesco — a killer puree of sweet peppers, nuts, garlic and more — with a tiny salad on the side. Also offered are clams in a chorizo broth and a brochette of monkfish and prawns.
Best of the two desserts, decidedly, is a bread-pudding-like creation called torrija caramelizada that is super moist, crisp outside and perfect with a cinnamony blueberry sauce. Or just order another glass of flavorsome Spanish wine and people watch, which is easy to do in this long, narrow restaurant containing just 40 seats.
Figueroa and his team are dedicated to making guests happy, from warmly explaining the Basque dishes and guiding people toward choices they might like to pouring many tastes of wine while helping them decide on their favorites. No wonder everyone wants to come back.
Pintxo Pote, 424 N. Santa Cruz Ave., Los Gatos; (408) 797-8688. http://www.pintxopote-tapas.com
HOURS: Monday- Saturday, 5:30-p.m. Closed Sunday. Reservations strongly recommended.
PRICES: Tapas: $4-14.50. Cheese & meat platters: $18-29. Desserts: $7.