One of my favorite travel experiences is to participate in the culinary traditions of a region. If I am ever in Basque country, a cider house dinner is on top of my list . The Basque country in Northern Spain has been famous for their cider (sidra) production and the accompanying traditional Basque dinner in a cider house. There, apples are harvested in the fall and then placed in oak barrels to ferment. Following the fermentation process, producers begin to host “Cider Dinners”, where guests enjoy menus served family style, and drink all the cider they can. During these dinners, when someone yells “Txotx” (pronounced choch), diners grab their glasses and head for the barrels for a refill.
Half the fun with drinking cider is in the pour – The cider is released in a tall stream for aeration in the glass, and the trick is to get more of it in the glass than on the floor! You drink it straight away after it is poured so that the aeration is not lost. I will say, it is a bit of an acquired taste, but after a couple of glasses, you will begin it to enjoy it ;)
If you want to experience a traditional Basque dinner, head to SER Spanish restaurant in Ballston right away. SER, which has been open only a few months has already made quite a name for itself. They will be offering this unique experience weekly on Wednesdays from July 22 through the end of August.
So, how does it work? Make a reservation and then consider a light lunch the day you are going. Because there will be a highly generous traditional menu, and all you can drink cider.
Get yourself a pour of cider and grab a seat at SER’s kitchen counter – a prime viewing spot of the kitchen, where you can watch Executive Chef Co-owner Josu Zubikarai (of Taberna Del Alabardero fame) and team churn out the deliciousness you are about to eat.
First up are the most creamy croquetas de pollo, chicken croquettes, which are absolutely divine. Next up is a plate of tortilla de patatas – a traditional Spanish omelet studded with potatoes. SER’s version is not just another tortilla, it really is something special – moist and the perfect balance of potatoes to egg. One of my favorites. Round off the first course with chorizo cooked in cider – a great accompaniment to the warm bread.
Chef Josu will keep you entertained and informed with stories of traditional cider dinners he experienced while growing up. Every culture has its traditional family dinners, and the cider dinner is definitely a very important part of the Basque culture.
The meal now starts to get serious. Next up is a steaming plate of salted bacalao, piled with roasted peppers and shishito peppers. The cod is cooked very simply, with olive oil, but has a custardy consistency to it. It’s one of those dishes that much as you try, will probably be hard to recreate, although you literally just watched the Chef make it.
Chef Josu, in the midst of this, will probably come back out from the behind the counter and call “Txotx” – you know what to do by now. Line up and get your refill, and try a pour yourself! Just make sure you don’t have your best shoes on ;)
The third course of rib eye steak is brought out – traditionally cooked (barely), served much rarer than we are used to in the US. It’s served simply, with salt, and the flavors of the meat are the star of this show. I was very skeptical when I saw how rare it was, but it really was amazing. (You can always request the meat be cooked how you want it, if you are uncomfortable)
Dessert is a simple end to the festivities - Idiazabal cheese with quince paste and walnuts. I absolutely loved this sweet and salty combination. If you are not a cheese lover, go for the chocolate covered figs or other assorted San Sebastian inspired sweets. Simple and delicious.
By now, you are hopefully in a state somewhere between very happy and slightly drunk and planning your trip to San Sebastian. :)
In summary, this is a guaranteed good time and a tradition that would be a great experience and is completely worth it.
The Cider dinner runs every Wednesday at 7pm, starting July 22 through August– it costs $80pp (inclusive of tax and tip) with unlimited pourings of cider.
Get your tickets on Giftrocker: https://www.giftrocker.com/secure/Order/?h=321cea45
Things to know:
1. SER is a short walk from the Ballston metro, but parking is complimentary and located under the building.
2. Even if you cannot make it to a cider dinner, SER is a restaurant you should go to now for their authentic Spanish food. The seafood paella is a must.