Makeover

2011.Oct.07 Friday · 10 comments

in Restaurants

“If I had it all to do over again, I would do most all things differently. However, how would I know that if, I had not had the opportunity to do them the first time.”

– Janice Markowitz, author

Four years ago I was taken out for my birthday by a couple of friends and discovered what was to become one of my favorite restaurants in the city. It’s a place I went back to time and again. But I had a problem with going there. The sort of problem that some people would say, “oh yeah, like that’s really a problem”, because to them it sounds like a good thing. And it sort of is, but sort of isn’t. You see, I got to know the owner and we became friends. And I’d show up at the restaurant and he would start sending me dishes to try. Long, elaborate tasting menus, only not with tasting menu portions because he doesn’t do that. I’d get four or five appetizers on the table followed by a pasta or two and then maybe a couple of main courses. And I had no say in what I got. If I wanted to order something that looked interesting, it didn’t come instead of one of the things he wanted me to try, it came in addition to.

By the time I’d leave, not only would I have spent far more than I planned (despite generous discounting on his part), but I’d have ingested more food than I’d normally eat in three meals. And I couldn’t say no to him, because he doesn’t take no, and not finishing what was on the plate would make him unhappy and I’d start to feel guilty, and force myself… you get the idea? It was also fueled by that not only had I given him a great write-up on the blog, but, I’d written a piece for the Guardian UK that recommended it – something he says has brought him an insane amount of business over the last four years. I’d actually sometimes call the restaurant just to find out if he wasn’t there so that I could slip in and eat just a single plate of something that I particularly liked.

So I kind of stopped going. And then he moved the restaurant across the street, doubled its size, added in two private rooms (including one in his new temperature controlled wine cellar), in fact, he probably spent more just on renovating this space (he says in excess of US$1 million) than most restaurateurs here have spent on property, renovation, and ingredients. So I couldn’t not go back, especially when he invited me to lunch along with another good friend. And so, we found ourselves at the new Damblée Bistro, Av. Rivadavia 3401, 4861-1629, corner of Sanchéz de Bustamante as Gustavo’s guests.

Damblee - bar
The new space is spectacular. It no longer looks like a Chock Full o’Nuts coffee shop, it looks like a New York City style bistro that would comfortably be situated somewhere in midtown or just north. Every detail has been thought out and it’s immediately noticeable. He’s even added in a little shopping counter where you can buy specialty products that he imports himself from Spain and Italy, and a bar that you can actually dine at, a rarity for BA. After a tour of the three floors plus the rooftop, we settled in at a window table and the parade started….

Damblee - tabasco bread
The restaurant bakes its own breads and has a bit of a selection on display and available. I noticed that different tables got different ones, which is kind of interesting. I couldn’t quite put my finger on this one – it was delicious and had an elusive hint of something… Gustavo came over to join us at the table and revealed that this particular bread is spiked with tabasco sauce. Not enough to be spicy, but enough to note.

Damblee - spinach soup
First up, bowls of steaming spinach soup, beautifully balanced, and just a nice touch to start the meal.

Damblee - oysters on the half shell
I’m a huge fan of oysters on the half shell and these were plump, pristine, and briny. I generally go with nothing but a squeeze of lemon and a grind of pepper, though I did try his mignonette sauce – and if you’re a fan of that, it’s a great one. Tabasco also available.

Damblee - pejerrey and salmon
This may look like a tasting menu portion, but that’s only because the waiter served us up each one small fillet of the two fish. And then left the plates with the remaining fillets in the center of the table. Olive oil poached pejerrey in herb oil and fresh salmon cured in a passionfruit and ginger marinade. Yum!

Damblee - langostinos al ajillo
A good sized ramekin of langostinos al ajillo, or prawns in a spicy garlic sauce, hit the table, and Gustavo and I dug in. My companion can’t eat some shellfish so didn’t join us on this one. Really, really, good. I’d go for these in a main course size with a plate of rice or potatoes and be perfectly happy.

Damblee - scallops in thyme broth
Except I wouldn’t want to miss out on this stunningly good bay scallop dish – beautifully browned and then bathed in a thyme broth that I ended up soaking up with another slice of the bread (okay, that one was my own fault, but damn it was good).

Damblee - grilled sardine
While the two of us were polishing off these ramekins of seafood, my friend got himself a crispy, grilled sardine, one of his favorites. The regular order comes with three of them, one was already verging on “enough already”.

Damblee - bacalao a la vasca
Especially because coming up right behind it was a full main course of bacalao a la vasca – a mixed butter and oil sauce with lots of peppers and onions and accompanied by potatoes and chickpeas. My friend was clearly faltering, I could see it, and we had no idea what else might be coming.

Damblee - spaghetti with prawns and bottarga
Knowing that bottarga (dried, salted, pressed fish roe, usually mullet or tuna) is one of my favorite things out there, Gustavo had planned on a huge bowl of spaghetti with more garlic prawns, and then an extremely (perhaps slightly over much) generous portion of tuna bottarga over the top, along with a good lashing of top quality olive oil. I have to admit that even with him taking a couple of forkfuls, I just couldn’t push through this one and only made it about halfway. Hated to waste such a good dish, but.

And then he wanted to serve up a parade of desserts, but thankfully, we were able to talk him out of it and just settled in around some espressos. Still, or perhaps, again, one of my favorite restaurants in the city, and although not as creative/modern as Oviedo, it’s more my style of food, and I’d put them in a tie for best seafood in the city – and (even without the invite or the discounts I get), far easier on the wallet.

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Allie October 7, 2011 at 12:16

This look fantastic, look at those beautiful scalllops! Can’t wait to try this place.

tom roth October 8, 2011 at 21:18

Hi Dan, This place looks fantastic. We’ll have to put it on our list for new time down. I hate to always be asking but “How much?”.

Ashley October 9, 2011 at 11:58

That looks delicious. This is definitely next on my list of places to try.

dan October 10, 2011 at 09:16

Normally I put the approximate cost, but this time because Gustavo orchestrated the meal from start to finish I actually never saw the menu, but it’s always been pretty reasonable for quality and quantity.

Mike October 10, 2011 at 19:41

Hey Dan, looks like a nice place and if the fish is good that is a rarity for BsAs.

Regards

Marc November 5, 2011 at 12:48

Had a day layover in the city about a week ago so we gave this place a shot for dinner since it was sort of a halfway point between where we were staying and the apartment of some friends who dined with us. Arrived at 9:30 and the place was full with about four parties outside waiting to be seated. Well-filled glasses of champagne were handed out to help pass the time and a table opened up for us in about 20 minutes.

Ordered a few oysters and the breaded shrimp to start. We were going to go for more but the server suggested not doing so if ordering from the main course section later, as the portions were large. Oysters were plump indeed(!) and delicious–truly like taking a sip of the ocean without all of the salt. The shrimp were tasty as well. We all ordered fish, two Basque-style (lenguado,abadejo) and one a la plancha(abadejo). Great portion sizes for the price but all were just a bit overdone and thus a little dry. If they are using the flash frozen fillets, those are hard to work in my experience, at least with lenguado and abadejo, so it’s understandable. Plus, we were on the tail end of their rush. Shared a brownie for dessert. That was a little disappointing too. The taste and texture of the brownie resembled a cake that was baked in a microwave.

Service was excellent and attentive. Loved the layout and atmosphere of the place as well.

I’ll definitely go back to try some other items (plus more oysters!), like some that are pictured here, during a less busy time whenever I get the chance.

dan November 6, 2011 at 00:12

Marc – Wish I’d have known you were in town, would have loved to meet up with you there, or elsewhere!

Miles April 22, 2012 at 22:21

Following your recommendation 3 of us went to Damblee last night. I’ve been living in BA for three years and fish is still a problem in terms of quality and availability and we were eager to find an alternative to Crizia, especially now they cant import red tuna anymore. My verdict, Damblee does the best possible job with the ingredients at hand and while some of the fish was sub par (which will always be a risk if you are offering such a substantial menu), the cooking, particularly the sauces, was spot on!

On arrival we told them that we had come because of your write up. This gained us an instant introduction to Gustavo, who we gave free hand (and budget) to rustle up a 9 course “tasting” menu. Certain things were extraordinarily good. Oysters, boquerones and a very pricey but completely orgasmic pata negro ham (5 jotas iberico de bellota – probably the greatest ham in the world), all as good as anywhere I’ve ever eaten. A dessert of Tiramisu of equal quality, I ate about half a kilo of it. The wine, expensive but actually with a tiny mark up from the restaurant’s side, a Rutini Pinot Noir 2006, genuinely competitive with a top quality Burgundy.

Other courses, Gambas al Ajillo and Chipirones en su Tinta, very good, would order again. The trout and the cod, both in excellent sauces but slightly let down by the fish which I suspect had been frozen.

Overall, a great night out, certainly somewhere I will return to, good value (the expensive stuff such as wine and ham were my choice), and somewhere that if you get to know the menu your dining experience will be easy to tailor to your tastes.

Also, there is a fun little bar a block down, full of rock and roll memorabilia (and apparently famous for its 20 different varieties of milanesa), where you can wait if there is a queue for the tables at Damblee.

Thanks for the recommendation

Miles

dan April 23, 2012 at 09:18

You’re welcome, glad you enjoyed it! Trout and salmon here in BA, because they come from aquaculture farms in Bariloche and Chile, respectively, are usually farmed, fished, frozen and shipped – so those two you can pretty much always count on having been frozen. The cod I’m surprised – was it fresh cod or was it bacalao, salt cod, that had been rehydrated, which also might account for an odd texture?

Thanks for the tip on the bar, hadn’t seen it and something to check out!

Miles April 26, 2012 at 17:16

Yes, you are probably right about it being bacalao. As we didn’t really look at a menu we presumed it was cod. in retrospect, I’ve never been keen on bacalao!

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