Rusa 790 xxx

2.28.10 Spanish Steps

Have you been to Txikito yet? As its name indicates (a Basque version of  the Spanish "chiquito," which means tiny), this Chelsea restaurant has only a few tables, and you'd be lucky to grab one on any night (or at lunch). Chefs and owners Eder Montero and Alexandra Raij turn out some wonderful regional Spanish food that takes me back to the years I spent in that beautiful country. My father was a professor of Spanish literature and, every seven years, would take his sabbatical there. I attended the 4th and 10th grades in Madrid, and went back for two semesters off when I was in college. I fell in love with the place, the people, the food, the language. Some of the dishes at Txikito work upon my memory in the way that Proust's madeleine did his: the fat, silky white asparagus of Navarra; the crisp croquetas with their centers oozing creamed cod or chicken; the boquerones, subtly saline white anchovies; but, most of all, the ensaladilla rusa. (Little Russian salad, supposedly invented by a Russian in the late 19th century.)

I used to eat this delightful version of potato salad, a classic Spanish tapa, almost every Sunday morning when I lived in Madrid in my twenties. They served it at a little café right on the edge of el rastro, the big flea market. The most outrageous punks would go there, flaunting their sky-high mohawks, tight leathers and scary piercings. I remember feeling super cool, kicking the sawdust on the floor, smoking my Marlboro reds and taking leisurely bites of this rich, creamy salad. Txiquito's version—potatoes, peas, carrots and bits of green olive bound together with homemade mayonnaise and mounded atop a salty layer of oil-cured tuna—takes me right back there.
Tagged — ensaladilla rusa