Basque country

The food is bountiful and tasty at family-friendly Basque Norte

BASQUING IN IT <br>Waiter Phil Allen serves up a taste of the old country to (from left) Bob and Pat Morrision and Chris Rohrs at Basque Norte.

Waiter Phil Allen serves up a taste of the old country to (from left) Bob and Pat Morrision and Chris Rohrs at Basque Norte.

Photo By Tom Angel

Go north, hungry ones: Basque Norte is located at 3355 The Esplanade. Opens for dinner Wed.-Sat. 5:30 p.m., Sun. 5 p.m. Reservations recommended, especially on Fri. and Sat. Phone: 891-5204.

If you have a large family and want to take everybody out for a family member’s birthday dinner, you might want to consider Basque Norte on the north end of The Esplanade. The Basque-themed restaurant offers a cozy, family atmosphere with green- and white-checked tablecloths, family-style serving and a generous array of menu choices. Both the full bar and the adjoining dining room are decorated with Basque memorabilia and photos from the Basque countryside in Northern Spain, including folk dancers and sheep herders.

While I probably wouldn’t choose Basque Norte as a restaurant for celebrating an anniversary (think Christian Michaels or Sicilian Cafà) or for a Friday “date night” with my partner (think Red Tavern or Black Crow), it offers a pleasant and charming venue for a large family gathering.

My family and I recently assembled there to honor one of our own: Bill, who had just turned 77. Among other presents, Bill received a SpongeBob tie (we had to explain to him who SpongeBob was) and a $100 bill (which various family members proceeded to “steal” from his shirt pocket). One of Bill’s funniest cards depicted several white-haired geezers with baseball bats taking whacks at a “piñata” that was actually an effigy of a punked-out teenager.

We showed up starving, as if we hadn’t eaten all week, and happily found on the tables relish trays full of olives, carrot sticks, jalapeño peppers, pickles and other pre-dinner goodies. It’s nice to have a little something to take the edge off as you’re waiting for your first course to arrive, which turned out to be tomato soup and warm, homemade bread. My partner liked the soup, but I found it a bit bland; however, the European-style bread was superb, better than some of the breads I’ve sampled in Europe.

After the soup tureen had been cleared away, we received large bowls of salad. As I served myself, placing salad into my individual bowl, I noticed the lettuce was very crisp; the other ingredients—tomatoes and onions—were fresh as well. A simple but tasty oil-and-vinegar dressing arrived already on the salad, which might have annoyed me if it had been overdone (I always like to order my dressing on the side), but it was “just right.”

My partner and I had decided to share the “half-chicken,” and it proved to be perfect for the two of us—we didn’t have anything to box up and take home. Along with an appreciable orange-slice-and-parsley presentation, this main course dazzled us with a memorable moistness. I’m not quite sure how they got it that moist, although my guess is that it was poached, and while it was fairly savory, I wouldn’t have minded it if the chef had been just a little heavier-handed with the spices and seasonings. However, the succulence of the meat is what will stay in my mind. The family members across from us had steaks of one sort or another, and they all purred with contentment.

The side dishes that came with the main course were no less pleasing. We enjoyed hearty and wholesome Basque beans, a fine (not quite angel hair) pasta all shiny with olive oil and flavored with fresh garlic and parsley flakes, buttered, dill-seasoned green beans and quartered, steamed, and buttered potatoes. The numerous courses that make up a Basque Norte dinner necessitate that one show up with a robust appetite.

For dessert, one of our family members had “imported” a homemade (from scratch, no less) birthday cake, but Basque Norte provided black walnut ice cream topped with whipped cream, and the fresh-faced, white-shirted waiters and waitresses sang “Happy Birthday” to Bill as he blushed.

One quality I especially like about Basque Norte is the European look of its interior, along with its ambient lighting (including candles on the tables). At Basque Norte, my eyes were happy—and so were my taste buds.