“Because I am Basque, and the Basques cook Basque”

2008.May.15 Thursday · 0 comments

in Restaurants

 The singular remarkable fact about the Basques is that they still exist.”

– Mark Kurlansky, The Basque History of the World

Buenos Aires – Leandro “Koko” Egozcue is not a name that’s familiar to everyone who dines in Buenos Aires, but it’s a name that ought to start being so. He’s the young and quite talented chef behind the restaurant Burzako, México 345 in Monserrat (right near the edge of San Telmo), 4334-0721. The restaurant, with cuisine based in his family’s ancestral Basque traditions, is not named after anything “over there”, but for the town of Burzaco, just about 16 miles south of Buenos Aires, where he lives. While in his early 20s, he headed over to Basque country, in Spain, and spent a couple of years working with famed chef Martín Berasategui, who he considers his mentor. The style of the cooking at Burzako is much more traditional, even rustic, than that, but it’s easy to see that he learned his lessons well – Berastegui is known for spending countless days working on each dish to get it just the way he imagines it before putting it on the menu. Egozcue’s food, while more down home, still shows that level of care and balance – one dish after another was simply delicious. [This place has closed.]

Burzako - oxtail braised in red wine

A trio of us dug into plates of small baby squid, perfectly tender and accompanied by caramelized onions, and mildly fiery piquillo peppers stuffed with ham and cheese – oozing melty goodness all over the plate. Then we moved on to the main courses, which are huge portions that will leave you incapable of movement (and unfortunately unable to even think about sampling desserts), but so good that you cannot not finish them. A squid ink risotto chockful of lightly charred chunks of octopus and squid was laced with drizzles of fresh, green olive oil that added a wonderful nuance to the dish; braised lamb bondiola (neck/shoulder cut) with wild mushrooms was so soft you could eat it with a spoon; and the chef’s specialty, an amazingly rich and flavorful oxtail braised in red wine and served over the smoothest potato puree I think I’ve ever encountered was so good I really didn’t want to share it with my dining companions, though, in order to try their dishes, which they were happily digging into, I had to give up some.

The space is as barebones as can be – brick walls, some of them casually painted in white, few decorations. The waitresses are friendly and helpful, and happy to make recommendations for dishes (after, of course, the obligatory “everything’s good” cry). It gets a trifle noisy, with not a single soft surface in the room other than the diners and the food, but we didn’t find it annoyingly loud, since most of the noise was the happy buzz of customers digging into their food. Their website is a bit over-designed, and would benefit from the addition of offering up the hours that they’re open – which are Monday and Tuesday lunch only, Wednesday through Saturday lunch and dinner.

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