Even during the late spring and early summer months when the season in Spain is at its height, percebes can be hard to find in New York City. Also known as gooseneck barnacles, these sea creatures gathered from dangerous rocks at low tide by percebeiros are also one of the scariest-looking things in the natural world. Distinctive for its elephant’s trunk of a neck, a head rises up like a gray rock crazed with crevices, a miniature malevolent monster beckoning you to your death in the season’s fierce ocean tides. Yet every year I eagerly anticipate their appearance at a small handful of Spanish restaurants here.
I had my yearly portion late last week at Txikito (240 Ninth Avenue, near 25th Street), the Basque restaurant founded in 2008 by husband-wife team Eder Montero and Alex Raij, behind Brooklyn’s La Vara and Saint Julivert Fisherie; the restaurant reopened last September after a nearly 30-month pandemic hiatus. On my first revisit, I sat at the bar as the late afternoon sunlight streamed in, the black-and-white marble behind the bar set aglow. I waited excitedly for my percebes ($36), advertised as a special on the giant chalkboard by the doorway.
The percebes, 20 or so in number, arrived in a linen napkin shaped like a boat, their heads sticking up inquisitively. I grasped the largest and wrung its neck, causing paprika-laced juices to shoot across the bar, falling just short of a pair of fellow patrons, who turned and scowled at me for my amateurish technique. (That’s what the napkin is for, to shield everyone from squirting fluids.) Once the neck has been twisted and snapped, the shoelace of pink flesh can slide out; its flavor is sweet, juicy, and briny beyond compare.
Next, I decided to order a collection of small but fascinating Spanish dishes, including octopus carpaccio ($21), lying exceedingly flat on the white plate, dressed with lemon-scented olive oil, a sprinkle of a chile called piment d’esplette providing slight heat. Ask for bread to mop up the surfeit of oil.
I amped up the carbs with rusa ($15), the usual Russian potato salad studded with mixed vegetables, shaped like a fez, sans tassel, and served cold. This version was improved with bonito flakes, sending it in a fishy direction, but also prettily decorated with carved green olives and squiggled with what was certainly too much mayo. (You’ll either love this or not, depending on your relationship with mayo.) In spite of myself, I ate the whole thing, though it would surely have been sufficient for two or three diners.
Though concentrating on seafood makes sense in a Spanish Basque restaurant, I still craved meat, and morros filled the bill. The appearance was surprising: a bouncy mixture of beef cheek and jowl compressed into a railroad tie and dribbled with a concentrated sauce of mustard and red wine. It was utterly delicious, though for a moment I suffered a pang of regret that I didn’t have anyone to share it with me.
I enjoyed my meal with a bottle of carbonated water and an especially crisp glass of albariño from Galicia’s Rias Baixas by Zarate ($18), one of four white-wine choices, and especially nice for cutting the richness of all the dishes I ate.
As befits a Basque tapas bar, there is not a hell of a lot in the way of desserts — back in Spain you head for a pastry shop. But the chocolate flan dotted with preserved kumquats and topped with Chantilly cream made for a conclusion equally rich to the rest of the meal, and perfect with that last sip of wine.