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Cooks & Soldiers Celebrates Basque Culture and Cuisine

By S. Mathur

A restaurant celebrating Basque culture and cuisine in the Atlanta area might seem an unlikely idea, but its popularity has exceeded all expectations. General Manager Nicolas Quinones says that "We are thrilled with the embrace Atlanta has offered of our Basque inspired restaurant. Guests are interested and inquisitive."

Cooks and Soldiers offers a menu of Pintxos (the Basque version of tapas) and Asador, wood-fire grilled meats and vegetables. All dishes are meant to be shared, making it a good place to visit with a group of friends.

Journeys to Spain and the Basque country provided the inspiration for the restaurant. Quinones says that cuisine of the Basque country is unrivaled: "When visiting cities like San Sebasitan, Bilbao and Bayonne we found very rich food ways and very elevated standards for eating out. There is great food everywhere as cooking and eating are paramount to daily life. Those who cook do so with a deep understanding, those who eat do so with reverence."

But what about the soldiers? The name of the restaurant is taken from an annual festival in San Sebastian. The Tamborrada recalls the nineteenth century Carlist wars, when the regions fought in support of the traditionalists who respected their autonomy and traditions. Every year in January, citizens of San Sebastian participate in parades dressed as Cooks or Soldiers, for a twenty-four hour celebration.

Pintxos are served on bread and the small portions allow diners to curate a meal, says Quinones: "They can select as many or as few dishes as their appetite demands. It also offers a higher degree of variety in that a group 4 may be able to take in 12 or 16 different compositions in a stimulating progression."

Pintxos Tradicionales are served on triangular pieces of toast and toppings can include combinations of goat cheese, roasted peppers, tomatoes, figs, braised beef, and ham. The most popular choice is the Bikini, which is a grilled cheese sandwich with Jamon Iberico and black truffle mayonnaise. Pintxos are best enjoyed with a table of friends and a glass of Txakoli, a crisp, slightly bubbly Basque wine or the tart Basque cider. All food is intended to be shared by everyone at the table.

Among the Pintxos Especiales, the small plates, popular favorites are the braised veal cheek served over mashed potatoes, with carrots and peas, and the Chistorra in a Blanket, made with Chistorra sausage wrapped in croissant dough. The Asador menu brings meats and vegetables to the table, grilled on a wood-fire and flavored simply with olive oil, salt, pepper, and smoke.

The atmosphere and decor of the restaurant are also inspired by the colors and images of the Basque Country. Quinones explains that the bright red wall recalls the city of Bayonne in the French Basque country, while another evokes cider house barrels with wooden slats and steel straps. The kitchen wall makes a tongue in cheek reference to the Guggenheim in Barcelona.

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