The world needs more pintxos. These bite-sized snacks aren't common in Australia, but they're found all over bars in northern Spain, usually available at a self-serve counter for patrons and eaten at leisure over a beer.
Pintxos means spike in Basque (pinchos in Spanish), referring to the toothpick that holds the ingredients together, often on top of a piece of bread. You take your time to eat pinxtos, having a few here and there, before taking your collection of toothpicks to the register to work out your total bill.
We were down in Melbourne for a flying visit last weekend, invited as guest speakers for a national blogging conference. But a trip to Mexico (south of the border) is always exciting, and we tacked on extra days either side to maximise our eating opportunities.
Naked for Satan is our first port-of-call, a spot I'd been dying to try ever since I heard about their pintxos on offer. High lofty ceilings, polished timber floors and touches of raw industrial chic welcome us when we step through the door, but our eyes are immediately drawn to the bar area where the pintxos platters are set up on the counter.
The pinxtos are usually priced at $2 per toothpick but we've cleverly scheduled our visit to take advantage of the 80c special - available during lunch Monday to Friday and on Sundays after 6pm.
The range of pintxos available is bewildering at first, and we stand slack-jawed at the counter trying to decide which ones to choose. Each dish is clearly labelled, including vegetarian and vegan options, and tongs are provided for hygiene.
At 80 cents each, it's tempting to just take one of everything.
Clockwise from top left: Artichoke and goat's gouda with tapenade (vegetarian);
Grilled vegetable salad and balsamic glaze (vegan)
We pile our plates and take a seat upstairs. Several boutique beers are available on tap - I have the Naked for Satan Ale ($5.50/$8), Suze has the Fat Yak ($8) and Minh gets into the Dirty Granny apple cider ($5.50/$8). Three craft beers from Victoria are on offer: Boatrocker Pilsener, 3 Ravens White and Kooinda Pale Ale ($8.50 each).
Staff occasionally float past our table, offering hot dishes like meatballs on bread or warm grilled chorizo, transferred to your plate with tongs and a smile. It's a brilliant way of eating - savouring our self-designed lunch degustation, dipping in and out of each pintxos as we please.
Clockwise from top left: Ham terrine and dijonnaise; scallop and pea with cherry tomato;
The bread is crusty with a fluffy middle often protected by generous mounds of cream cheese, blue cheese or chickpea puree. I identify my favourites early - the prawn on spiced cauliflower puree is addictively delicious and the eggplant chip with blue cheese is a magical combination of sweet eggplant and golden breadcrumbs hugged by a piquant hillock of blue cheese, cream cheese and honey. I return for seconds of both.
Riceball, cream cheese and quince paste (vegetarian)
We mosey our way through deep-fried arancini rice balls with cream cheese and quince paste; pissaladiere with caramelised onions, anchovies and black olive; and shavings of salty jamon serrano.
The gilda is an appetite-inducing snack of white anchovy wrapped around a spicy jalapeno pickle and surrounded by two green olives. It's salty, sour and spicy and buoys me back to the counter for more.
Gilda: Olives, pickled chillies and anchovy
Seafood with prawn and capsicum
Eggplant chip with blue cheese, cream cheese and honey (vegetarian)
Blueberry cassis cannoli (the only sweet pintxos available when we dined)
Cheekiness is to be expected from a bar called Naked for Satan, and we find plenty of it on the back wall in the upstairs dining area. It's a collage of both men and women in various states of undress, but it's more titillating than seedy.
Titillating poster wall - for boys and girls
We carry our bundle of toothpicks to the counter in the mini cups provided. Lunch costs $6.40. Devilishly good.
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8/03/2011 02:41:00 a.m.