For context, a Batzoki is a meeting place for members of the EAJ-PNV, the Basque National Party. Made up primarily of offices and meeting spaces, they also usually have kitchens and bars which have historically been run by the families of members who would take turns manning the kitchen and dining rooms. Food is usually quite affordable.
This Batzoki is located in the Old Town of Portugalete, a town northwest of Bilbao. It is easily accessible from the moving ramps that run the length of Casilda Iturrizar Kalea, up from the river Nervión and the Vizcaya Bridge, all the way past the Santa Clara Cultural Center.
With no real planning as to where we wanted to have lunch, a 12-euro menu of the day lured us in here.
The area between the bar and the main entrance is for drinks and pintxos, and if you’re sitting down for a proper meal like us, you’ll be ushered to the back, past the kitchen and several interesting bookcases, to a quieter, much more private area. Currently, we’re the only ones here.
There are historical pictures hung on the walls, and gold decorations on the tables, the last traces of Christmas ready to be taken down as soon as the New Year comes around.
The waiter comes around, immediately picks up on Chicago’s accent, and switches to English when addressing him. I’m impressed and grateful, but he is not too happy to be deprived of practicing Spanish out in the wild.
In addition to three courses, the price includes a bottle of wine for both of us. A bottle for each would have been better, but then again that may be asking for too much.
The first course is spaghetti in a cream-based sauce, sprinkled with red wine salt and a few elusive shrimp. Despite the red wine sprinkle, it’s missing a little salt and not a shaker in sight.
Next up is steak and fries topped with slightly sweet sauteed red bell peppers and onions. I also found the salt that was missing from the pasta; it’s clustered on the back of my steak. I do appreciate that it’s perfectly done, though. The fries are also quite good with the peppers.
The waiter – who by the way, has impeccable timing – comes around to confirm our dessert choice, which could not be anything other than cheesecake. Once it comes around, the crumb and drizzle reveal it’s not exactly a basque cheesecake, since one of its characteristics is precisely the absence of a bottom crust.
It is, however, very light and not too sweet, and the red berry drizzle is just tangy enough.
With a very full stomach and a slightly clouded brain, I feel I can just sit a little longer, perfectly content while watching Chicago obsessively swirl the last sip of wine.
The Batzoki at Alde Zaharra is located on Casilda Iturrizar Kalea, 1, Portugalete, Bizkaia, Spain.