Serenity K. Orr. Zach Arbillaga, who is Basque-American himself, learned his craft first from his grandmother, Ana Maria Arbillaga, and then from Ramon Zugazaga.
Arbillaga loves sharing his heritage with his customers. Dishes like paella, Basque chicken, and lomo are staples in his menu. Sometimes his daughter’s favorite dish is requested: beef tongue.
“She’s only two. That’s her favorite thing to eat,” he said.
“I call it Basque-American food because it’s more like the boarding house type food, like the Star and those places. They are Basque immigrants coming over, but they cooked different kinds of food. That’s where you see all the steaks with garlic, and that kinda stuff. That’s not in Basque country that’s just what they did here. … Basque-American stuff is really like protein-heavy.”
Because of that protein heaviness, Arbillaga has enjoyed taking the traditional recipes and turning them into vegetarian and vegan-friendly fare.
“I make a vegetable paella and stuff now that’s obviously not super traditional, but it’s been fun to like figure out ways to do that … to figure out what works, like how to make broccoli fit into a Basque dish.”
His grandmother, who cooked for over 40 years at the Nevada Dinner House, which was located where Luciano’s currently stands, came to America from the Basque country in the 1960s.
Arbillaga remembers sitting in the kitchen of the Nevada Dinner House while his grandmother prepared the day’s dishes.
“Basque salad dressing will separate if you make it thin enough … so she used to put it in containers and make us kids just sit there and shake it,” he said.
Perhaps one day Arbillaga will have his daughter helping with the salad dressing, too.