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A Night With Basque Chefs at the Arid Club

We were lucky enough to attend last Saturday's sold out dinner at the Arid Club featuring three chefs and a sommelier from the Basque Country.

Chef Aitor Elizegi of Restaurante Gaminiz in Bilbao; Chef Beñat Ormaetxea, former Head Chef at the Guggenheim Bilbao and owner of Jauregibarria

in Amorebieta-Etxano; and Chef Josu Ibarra of Asador Zuria in Bilbao whipped up six unique courses. The evening also featured Txakoli and Rioja pairings from sommelier Mikel Garaizabal Pildain, author of numerous books, including Txakoli de Bizkaia: El viaje.

First up was a Fresh Lobster Salad featuring coins of lobster tail topped with a dollop of rich aioli and sprinkled with red quinoa and tarragon leaves. The dish was paired with Gorrondona Bizkaiko Txakolina, our table's favorite white of the evening.

Next on the menu was Creme of Marmitako with Fresh Tuna. Sitting in a vibrant broth of pureed marmitako—a rustic Basque stew featuring tuna, potatoes and peppers—the dark slab of tuna was flash seared on top and had a firm consistency as if it had be lightly cured. It was paired with the Itsasmendi D.O. Bizkaiko Txakolina.

The third fish course was a classic Basque staple, salt cod, with a contemporary, though slightly off-putting, presentation. The brownish puree is a caramelized sweet onion sauce, which went well with the tender bacalao confit, but wasn't the most appetizing accoutrement. This course was matched with the Luis Cañas Crianza, my favorite red of the night.

Next up on the line-up of delicious-but-odd-looking dishes was the brown trio: Slow-braised beef cheeks in a pureed mushroom cream sauce with a single tiny potato. The slow-cooked beef was awesomely decadent and held together with ribbons of creamy fat, but we found the "veggies" to be lacking. Not to mention, Alex swore that the bacon dust accompanying the tiny potato was actually ground-up Bacos. This course was paired with the Baigorri Crianza D.O. Ca. Rioja.

The first desert course of the evening was a red fruit mélange served in a soupy Modena vinegar ice cream with a crisp confection protruding from the glass like a shark's fin. The dish was interesting, but lost out to the more comforting second dessert: Eggy Spanish toast with Basque style ice cream, which I forgot to photograph because I was too busy inhaling it.

Also, by that point, everyone had consumed a fair amount of wine, which led to half of the dining room linking hands and parading around the Arid Club to the tunes of a Basque tambourine and accordion. I'm guessing that this was one of the most raucous evenings the Arid Club has ever seen. But that's not much of a surprise, considering the Basques always bring the party.

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