THE FIRST TIME I WENT LOOKING FOR TXORI , the tiny new Spanish bar in Belltown, I walked past it three times before I realized I had arrived. What caught my eye was the little round gnome—goatee on the bottom of his face, black beret on the top—leaning against the doorjamb. This tableau could not have been more European if a Spanish cigarette had been dangling from his mouth and old toothless men had been lined up at sidewalk tables nursing San Miguels. I was no longer lost—but I was no longer in Belltown.
With proprietary gallantry, the little round man—co-owner Joseba Jiménez de Jiménez—stepped aside to allow his guest entry. I found myself in a clean white-walled room with a bar and little efficiency kitchen to my left, café tables to my right, a larger room opening off the back. Hunks of Manchego cheese and ropes of chorizo sausage and vats of olives and pimentos dotted the counter, while above the bar orderly shelves held tidy rows of Limonada and Coca-Cola, and bottles of Cardenal Mendoza brandy and La Gitana Manzanilla sherry. A smiling young server in a Txori T-shirt and ponytails motioned me to sit anywhere. Through speakers the Jackson Five trilled “Rockin’ Robin,” and at intermittent intervals nearly everybody in the place—a gay couple with great shoes, a trio of female execs unwinding after work, a pair of giddy young romancers, even a buttoned-and-bespectacled accountant type reading The New Yorker—swayed in their seats or mouthed a corny chorus.
Ms. Ponytails approached with a menu and an explanation. “Welcome to Txori!” she said, pronouncing it CHO-ree. “First time?” I lied so as to hear her instructions (noting how many Seattle restaurants to have opened in the last few years that have required instructions) and with unrehearsed relish she delivered a primer on the mini tapas the Basque call pintxos. “Pintxos”—she said PEEN-chos—“are small bites—one, three ounces—that the Basque eat when they’re drinking.” Txori also offers plates called raciones, sized for light or shareable eating; and bocadillos, fist-sized sandwiches overstuffed with savories like Serrano ham or cured chorizo.
But small plates by any name give me menu vertigo, so Ms. Ponytails—in the invisibly persuasive manner of inspired servers everywhere—had mercy. “Everyone loves the braised pork,” she offered. “And you’ve got to have some tortilla Española, right? And—oh, look over there,” she inclined her head toward the next table, where the uptight accountant, who had by now loosened his tie, was biting into something voluptuous: “That’s the duck foie gras. With apricot drizzle.” He looked to be experiencing a bit of a transformation—were his pupils dilating?—so, yes, I told her, I would have one of those.
She returned after a few moments with the pork: a thick wedge of the braised meat on toasted bread, with a nugget of roasted green pepper. (Did the pork shoulder appear to be pork belly because it was so thick, offering the same irresistible unctuousness, or has Seattle’s latest foodie fixation just trained me to see pork belly everywhere I go?) The preparation was simple, the flavors Castilian, and the tiny plate even more compelling for its brevity. One bite, two bites…aftertaste. That’s pintxos.
The place was crowding up now, threatening to spill out the paned-glass doors and onto the secret brick-lined alleyway alongside. (At press time the alley patio remains a work in progress, but it’s scheduled for opening by the time you’re reading this, and will doubtless be just the spot to spend July.) Another server—she of the dazzling white smile and easy affability—laid down my duck foie gras and tortilla with a winsome, “Enjoy, chica.”