Last week, I was cursed with the flu, trapped in my apartment with a nonstop runny nose, ingesting nothing but ramen and navel oranges and Nyquil. When I finally recovered, I had some intense cabin fever. I needed to go outside. I craved real food. I wanted to stop feeling like a soggy wreck. As soon as I sat down at Harvest Vine's copper bar, which faces a spotless open kitchen, and felt the reassuring heat from the grill on my face, I suspected I was in good hands.

A tiny smudge of a place in Madison Valley, Harvest Vine offers Basque and Spanish tapas and wines from the region. Owners Joseph (exec chef) and Carolin (pastry chef) Jimenez de Jimenez have earned a devoted following among civilians as well as local chefs with a confident menu that changes but always remains faithful to traditional favorites. Smoked fish, dry-cured meats, and grilled rustic breads are featured alongside tapas gems such as aged cheeses ($3 per ounce), roasted vegetables, sea scallops ($12.75 and flawlessly seared, with buttery caramelized onions and ham), garlic prawns ($10.25), wild mushrooms galore, and richer meats such as duck confit ($11.75, with sweet peppers) and venison ($14, with choricero pepper sauce). Casual luxuries—tuna belly, truffle oil, black trumpet mushrooms, and foie gras—appear alongside simpler components such as potatoes and anchovies and roasted apples.

There's something intensely intimate and party-of-two about this place, and you'll be more inclined to lean in close, heads almost bumping, and talk in low tones—maybe it's the size (only a handful of tables), or the sexy lighting, or the copper pots dangling over the small bar, where seats are affectionately smooshed next to each other, mere centimeters apart so elbows touch and your neighbor's tapas spread beckons to you from right under your nose. Even a cup of tea can be sexy: Check out the black tea infused with saffron ($1.75). Rrrowwrr.

I persist in imagining Basque country to be an exotic and fancy place, with seaside villages and a West Pyrenees backdrop, and romantic-sounding locales (Bilbao, San Sebastian, Cantalbria). I picture its blurry borders containing a sophisticated, refined population of ambiguous Europeans. But in reality, authentic Basque cuisine is steadfastly working-class, with peasant-food staples (bread, sheep's milk cheese, preserved fish, lentils, potatoes) and basic preparations.

So despite its cozy glamour and urban sheen, Harvest Vine stays true to Basque food's humble ethos, featuring menu items that showcase unfussy true flavors. The excellent bacalao (smoked salt cod), for example, came with baby lettuces and cold boiled potatoes, lightly drizzled with squid ink ($7.75). Slices of salt-cured tuna ($8.75) were fanned out in smooth, thin slabs, and served with mujjol caviar and grilled bread—a wonderfully briny dish with complex ocean flavors. Warm, tender white asparagus ($10) was arranged in a shallow puddle of olive oil and sherry, with a conservative smattering of minced red onion and sweet red peppers; the delicately flavored asparagus is nice and simple, aided only by the sherry's tartness. Nutty hedgehog mushrooms ($9) were sautéed with leeks and scrambled eggs and left alone in a fluffy heap—a hearty (if oversalted) complement to my other dishes.

I could've easily continued—slowly grazing, never getting too full. But after a solid week of ending my evenings with TheraFlu, I needed a proper dessert, and I got one. It was a crème brêlée-ish creamy custard, perked up with lemon zest, sprinkled with coconut shavings, and served with a thick chocolate cookie-cake-thing (I don't know what it was, but it was brilliant). At closing time, I was the last one there—the cooks were scrubbing the stove with soapy water, and the room was quiet—but I couldn't leave until I scraped every last bit of that custard from the sides of my dish and licked my spoon clean.

Harvest Vine


2701 E Madison, 320-9771. Tues-Sat 4-10 pm, closed Sun-Mon.