Of all the world’s social customs that center on food, none is more intriguing than the txoko (CHOH-koh). Txokos are gastronomical societies found in the Basque region of Spain whose members gather to talk food, try out new recipes, and — the chief raison d’être for these get-togethers — feast on the dishes they have prepared. It is believed that more than a thousand of these groups exist.
If you’re thinking about dropping in on a txoko the next time you’re in Bilbao, be advised that you can’t. These events are open to outsiders by invitation only. That’s the bad news. The good news is that you have a standing invitation to the regularly scheduled txokos at Haizea, a Basque restaurant right here in SoHo.
The restaurant, which is closed Monday and Tuesday and closes early on Sunday, hosts txokos on each of the remaining weeknights. Patrons can also reserve space for their own private txoko in order to come even closer to capturing the Basque custom. Guests can either choose their own dishes or ask the chef, Mikel de Luis, to program the meal. Basque meets omakase.
The edible offerings at Haizea vary with the season and what’s available in the marketplace. Currently you can begin your meal with a heady combination of slow-cooked smoked pork belly, blood sausage, and quail egg, over crunchy tomato bread. Baby clams and eels are served in a green sauce made with Txakoli, a light and sparkling Basque white wine.
Main courses gravitate toward seafood. On some nights squid ink-tinctured rice with wild red shrimp and grilled scallops heads up the offerings. The occasionally available “fisherman style brothy rice,” studded with half a blue tail lobster, clams, and mussels, is a regional variation on paella.
Haizea makes its home in a tiny slip of a place, where seating of necessity spills out onto the sidewalk. Space heaters overhead reduce the chill when the weather turns cold.
Appetizers run from $18 to $24, mains from $20 to $42.
Haizea, 142 Sullivan Street (bet. Houston and Prince Sts.), 646-476-2261.