Dassa Bassa came highly recommended as a restaurant to visit while in Madrid, which made us regret waiting to book it until the day we landed since we learned that they were fully booked for that, our only free evening of the trip. As a next option we asked our concierge to book us a late table for our last night, assuming a nice meal would be welcome after the drive from San Sebastian to Madrid. Then away we drove, planning to hit Dassa Bassa at 11 PM the night before we flew home.
Darrio Barrio, the chef/owner of Dassa Bassa, is a good-looking, poised, fit young man. I know, because when we arrived an hour early for our reservation to find that we were not in the book he came bounding up the twelve or so stairs that lead to the restaurant. Two things brought Darrio from his subterranean kitchen and dining room: he was terribly concerned someone may have been being caused grief by his restaurant, and his is the best English in the place.
After a discussion in which he explained that the restaurant only does one seating a night per table and that he was sorry for any inconvenience, he went on to assure us that they would get us in but would need some time because there was no change-over to slide us into. We explained we weren't expecting to sit until eleven, understood that things happen, and really couldn't swear to having a firm reservation since we had trusted someone else to make it, so we would be happy to wait, take a walk, or come back next time we were in Madrid. All in all, we sat at the four-seat stainless steel and glass bar that comprises the ground level entrance to the restaurant for about forty minutes, and descended the same stairs Darrio had scaled to make sure we were ok twenty minutes ahead of our lost reservation.
Once at the bottom of the stairs we entered a many chambered, vaulted ceilinged, white-washed brick cellar that obviously predated both steel girders and the modern cuisine. Once we were seated deep in this strangely bright and airy catacomb, the chef made one more visit to make sure we were happy and we informed him that we would be having his tasting menu paired with the Moet and Chandon pink champagne (one of the two tasting options offered).
Menu Moet & Chandon Rose at Dassa Bassa
A long, thin strip of phylo with a hard, aged cheese crisped on one side of it and a red powder down the center of the other. The whole thing tasted of those little black bits near the crust on a slice pie.
Capuchino de sopa de cebolla con espuma de queso idazábal
A beef-based onion soup complete with crouton, topped with a foam of the basque cheese idazábal. A rich soup loaded with caramelized onions, leavened by the lightness of foam rather than a tired old gratin.
Esférico dry martini
A sphere of gin floating in tonic water. So really it was a gin and tonic, but a very cool way to consume one nonetheless.
Espárrago verde y blanco en ensalada con yogur al cominoy aceite curry
Thinly shaved white and green asparagus woven to form a nest around greens that had toasted, chopped cashew nuts tossed through. Set on top of this was a bread crisp studded with Iberian ham, and accompanying were cubes of mint gelatin, yogurt and curry oil. The curry oil was a nice trick. Although the new cuisine knows no boundaries as far as ingredients go, seldom does a dish commit to tasting outside the norms accepted by Haute Cuisine. With its play between the strongly Indian curry flavors of the oil and the tempering effect of the yogurt and nuts, it was great for its confidence, boldness and harmony.
Langostino con agridulce de naranja y ensalada de grotes
Steamed shrimp in an orange sweet-and-sour soup, topped with a crisp speckled with powdered nori, and accompanied by a sprout and herb salad that included a chiffonade of basil. All together it tasted somewhere between Thai sweet-and-sour shrimp and Chinese egg noodles in duck sauce, with the benefit of the contrast of the slightly bitter sprouts. It had all the good flavors of well made American Chinese food without any of the oil/cornstarch heaviness.
Chipirones en su tinta con arroz suflado
My rudimentary food Spanish translates this into something like inky rice with baby squid. What was served was seared hake with powdered nori, a ball of bok choi, and scallions, with a bonito broth poured over it tableside. I am not sure if the surprise of our visit caused the substitution or not but either way we were happy for it. The broth was very aroma-driven, the nori contributed its vegetal bitterness, and the fish was rather straightforward. Wound into the bok choi ball, though, were the flavors of ginger, soy, mirin, and miso so the more you opened it the more the broth assumed these flavors and the more complex the dish became.
Cochinillo confitado con salsa de mile y romero
A boned suckling pig saddle, warm cabbage slaw studded with Iberian ham, and a fried nest of potato strands. All this was in a honey sauce with a snowy pile of maldon sea salt on the pork. The sauce was nowhere near as sweet as the name sounds and, if it threatened, the crunchy pyramids of salt and a green chili, tomato and herb salsa tamed it well. The potatoes were thin and crisp and the cabbage had a substantial bite. Both served as counterpoints to show just how tender the pig was.
Granizado de té lima-japonesa son espuma de gin fizz
I have to love a chef who works gin into two out of nine courses. Similar flavors that amused us lead us into dessert. A concoction of Japanese green tea, lime ice and a gin fizz foam, it reminded me that I don't drink gin fizzes because of their sweetness. I totally understand the choice as a bridge to dessert, especially in light of the gin-and-tonic amuse. Sadly, in its execution it was a little saccharinely sweet for my palate.
Remolacha efervescente, cremoso de mango y helado de leche merengada
A soup of beet root poached in red wine with orange, cinnamon and lemon zest accompanied by cinnamon, lemon zest, and mango cream and topped with a beet root/caramel crisp. The beet soup was lightened by a gingery effervescance, as if hit with a last minute touch of Jamaican ginger beer.
Dassa Bassa's drinks list is amazing; they have five kinds of natural water and five kinds of sparkling water, they have dessert wines, imported wines, all of Spain broken down by its sections and D.O.s, aparetivos and more. Not overwhelmingly large, it has depth in every section. But since the menu was paired to a wine, and very well so I might add, that's the way we happily went.
I went to Dassa Bassa because I was told Darrio was one of the new guys at the forefront of La Cucina Nuevo and indeed I think he is. Take into account the lengths he went to accommodate an American couple he had never met, seen, heard of, or even had an inkling to believe was telling the truth about a supposed reservation.
While sitting in the bar I picked up a current issue of Food & Wine Magazine someone had left and found Dassa Bassa listed as one of the "must go" Madrid places, on their list of 365 international restaurants. When I congratulated the chef he had no idea what I was talking about, and when I showed him he proudly displayed it to the couple of tables with folks that were obviously friends, after bringing it into the kitchen.
Like most practitioners of the modern cuisine, Darrio has a great touch and vision of how to play with the tools current cooking technology affords him. In his execution, Darrio seems to prefer reinterpreting to decomposing. Rather than remake a dish in an entirely new way by putting different versions of base parts through a technology blender and wowing, he seems to be looking abroad for inspiration and creating Spanish versions of the dishes. The pork saddle was definitely born of German preparations, the asparagus Indian, and the shrimp Chinese, but rather than trying to make German, Indian, Chinese, or even British (if you count the gin) dishes with ingredients from those cultures that aren't available at their best in Spain, he is working Spanish ingredients and techniques into them.
It is worth mentioning that our dinner was about 60% cheaper than all the other places we went in Spain while being of comparable quality, so it comes in as a super value. On one experience, I can decidedly claim that Dassa Bassa has a young, energetic, creative, humble chef offering inspired international cuisine at a very fair cost, who takes making people happy as his primary aim. So I guess you can say I strongly recommend it.