It makes no sense that Alexandra Raij would open a Basque restaurant in New York, and yet it makes perfect sense.
She grew up in Minnesota, the daughter of Argentinian Jewish immigrants, “around a table with lively Spanish conversation” and endless food. After culinary school, she moved to New York for work. One of the first people she encountered was Eder Montero, an “amazingly charismatic” chef from the Basque region of Spain.
They fell in love. They opened their restaurant Txikito in 2007. And their “The Basque Book” is a celebration of a romance, with recipes. It’s the story, too, of how they interpret Basque cuisine and keep it current.
Just a few weeks ago, I found myself in a Bilbao restaurant inhaling a perfect, almost translucent piece of salt cod in pil pil sauce. Upon my return, my editor dangled this book before me, and I’ve been drooling ever since.
Happily, there’s a recipe for bakalao al pil pil; a section devoted entirely to eggs, which the Basques eat morning, noon, and night; reflections on the drinks of the region (“Txakoli is happy wine!”); and a vivid display of pintxos (little Basque snacks similar to tapas) of all varieties: hot and cold, dainty and rustic.
I’m keeping this book next to Mark Kurlansky’s “Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World” and “The Basque History of the World,” a pair of classics that shaped my understanding of the Basques. I plan to revisit it from often, with a glass of cider and a little dish of Gilda, the iconic pintxo that threads Manzanilla olives, pickled peppers and anchovies on a toothpick to suggest the curvy figure of Rita Hayworth in the 1946 movie of that name.