Panoply of Basque Pintxos at Lizarran Tapas • Paella • Wine in Gilroy
Cruising through downtown Gilroy in March 2010, I noticed a banner on a vintage building on the main drag. A web search turned up Lizarran, a branch of the Barcelona group, landed here in the Bay Area.
Some chowhounds have started to pay attention to this piece of Spain in our midst, let me add my 2¢ as well. I’ve been there four times. It’s rare that I’ll revisit often or soon, even to spots that I enjoy a lot, which is a tip off to how much I like Lizarran and the little works of art, pintxos, the skewered Basque form of tapas.
Lizarran in Gilroy is housed in the historic City Hall, built in 1905, at the corner of W. 6th and Monterey Rd. The courtyard is used for patio seating and off-street parking is available.
My first view of the restaurant as I walked in looked like this. Tables are under the archways and there are larger function rooms upstairs, I'm told. I sat at this tapas counter, the L-shape continues around the corner with another case of ready-made cold pintxos.
At that time some nice Spanish red wines were featured and the bottled beers include Estrella Galicia, Estrella Damm and Alhambra. The selection of sherries, however, was downright sucky. When I asked why, my server said that since opening in six months earlier, no one has ordered any sherry. Corkage is $10, so I'll bring my fino next time. Here’s the view of the bar from my seat at the counter.
My server dropped off the traditional cup for holding the used skewers, shown in the background. The picks are counted at meal's end to determine the bill ($1.75 each).
Oddly, the pintxos are not listed on the menu. Let me catalogue the numerous pintxos I’ve sampled here. My first plate of four from the tapas counter, priced at $1.75 each. All quite freshly prepared.
Pintxo Pamplona, a new one apparently, invented by the Gilroy chef, and a wondrous combination of chorizo de pamplona, coarsely mashed garbanzo beans with spices, sliver of Manchego, and a slice of potato. My server said the garbanzo mash was “like spicy hummus”. Better, I say.
Loved the boqueron pintxo, a criss-crossing of the marinated boqueron (pickled white anchovy) with filet de anchoa (tinned salted anchovy) on top of piquillo pepper and lettuce, garnished with curly parsley.
Pintxo of smoked salmon (ahumado salmón) rolled around baby eels (anguilas), one of my top picks.
A classic pintxo called Gilda. Gilda means "lollipop" but this is also said to be named after Rita Hayworth in her role in the movie, "Gilda". Guindilla basque pepper, filet of salted anchovy, green pepper, hardcooked egg slice, piquillo pepper. The Guindilla pepper is a little spicy, and I was told the Gilda is the most popular pintxo selection.
Pintxo of crab and piquillo pepper vinaigrette salad with capers topped with a slice of paprika-stained hard-boiled egg
Piquillo pepper relleno pintxo filled with mahonesa-y tuna salad
I also snapped photos of five others in the case that I didn’t have a chance to try:
Bacalao and capers pintxo – sorry I didn’t order this one as salt cod is no longer available every day
Pintxo de Queso Fresco - filet of anchovy, slab of fresh cheese, slice of tomato and lettuce.
Hardcooked egg pintxo stuffed with tuna salad and adorned with an olive and sliver of piquillo pepper.
Pintxo of Manchego cheese, membrillo (quince paste) and fresh mint.
Pintxo of honey ham on a potato slab.
My next visit was two months later. Open throughout the day, Lizarran made a good stopping place for a fast, late lunch outside on the patio.
This time I only had time for a plate of four pintxos.
One of my favorites from before, the boqueron, anchoa and piquillo pintxo. This time garnished with fresh dill for a very special taste.
Piquillo papas pintxo - Piquillo pepper filled with ensaladilla rusa (with no beets in the Spanish version of Russian salad).
Jamon serrano, brie and dab of olive tapenade pintxo.
Tortilla española and jamon serrano pintxo.
My third visit was for lunch once more. I noted that the hours had changed with the restaurant closed on Mondays and not opening until noon. Special pricing had been introduced for the lunch crowd.
One of the special lunch deals is six pintxos for $9 (usually $1.75 to $2.25 each). I had these four cold ones from the bar, plus two hot ones served from the kitchen.
Pintxo of thin slice of manchego cheese, Pamplona chorizo and olive.
Pintxo of buttery smoked salmon wrapped around cream cheese on lettuce.
Delicious tuna salad pintxo flecked with olives and capers, mounded on bread, and dusted with paprika.
Pintxo of jamon Serrano, brie cheese and tapenade, a repeat.
Hot pintxo selections: Three chubby grilled choricitos (small chorizo). Bacon-wrapped dates (the only pintxo not served on bread). These were fine, but I did not like them as much as my cold selections and probably would not order them again.
The one thing I've not liked, cocido, very thick tomato sauce with chickpeas, bell pepper and thin slices of chorizo. Overwhelming sweet tomato sauce and the slices of chorizo had dried out and lost their flavor to the sauce.
Even though this is a quick off-and-back-on the freeway stop for me, I couldn’t resist ordering the Picon punch when it appeared as the cocktail of the day on the board. It had another name that I can’t recall, but the recipe is the classic Basque drink much beloved by Jonathan Gold. I’ll have to try it at his favorite spot in Bakersfield some day to see how it compares.
Then the most recent visit last month was during Happy Hour, and the signs of a restaurant in economic trouble were all around me. Literally.
The sign on the sidewalk for $3 Bud Light.
Or the Sunday buffet with $1 Bloody Marys
Most telling, the pintxo case only had three different types at 6:20pm on Thursday evening. And one was a weird strawberry and chocolate sauce skewered on bread. Luckily, the other two on offer were just fine. Quality has not gone down even if variety has. Perhaps there’s more selection earlier in the afternoon or on the weekends.
Slab of tuna with tomato and red pepper sauce pintxo, made with very good quality albacore and a bold mouthful.
Green olive, anchovy filet, hardcooked egg, piquillo pepper pintxo, $1.75
The bartender said he’d check to see if the kitchen was preparing more pintxos. No, it turned out though I could order a hot tapa from the bar menu. I noted that there were some Americanized bar snacks included now.
The hours changed as of this month with weekday lunch going away. Seeing this slide in business made me feel extra guilty for not posting about Lizarran a year ago. Chowhounds, please do make this your stop in Gilroy. The food can be very good, unique in the Bay Area, and a bargain for the quality.
Full slideshow (click on “slideshow”, then “show info” for captions)
"Lizarran Cuisine of Spain in Gilroy?
“Happy National Crabmeat Day!”
7400 Monterey St, Gilroy, CA 95020
Wow, I wish that had stuck in my mind the last time we were passing through there. What a location.
The lack of Sherry isn't all that weird. In the pintxos bars in San Sebastian, the locals always seemed to be drinking either draft beer, txacoli, or the local txacoli-like cider. Jerez is literally at the other end of the country.
re: Robert Lauriston
Besides the pintxos, the rest of the food menu does extend all over Spain. I asked about cider, but none available. Probably just as well, as I've tried the cider served at Contigo and didn't like that producer much.
Does the food look like it could in San Sebastian? Haven't been to that area of Spain. I asked how this outpost of Lizarran came to be in Gilroy. The owner had visited one in Spain, loved the food, learned that franchises were available, and thought it was what Gilroy needed. Hope it can weather the storm.
1320 Castro St, San Francisco, CA 94114
re: Melanie Wong
re: Melanie Wong
Maybe it's a Basque thing. They had some small skewers (e.g. a shrimp wrapped in ham), but a lot of the pintxos were so big and substantial that sharing seven or eight made a big meal for the two of us. E.g. a tortilla tapa or bocadillo was typcially a sixth of a tortilla, an oxtail tapa was three big, meaty bones.
If you Google pinxtos San Sebastian there are lots of photos.