Every day thousands of commuters wind their way into Retiro via a combination of subway, bus or train and wind their way back out again. I do the commute myself, but at obscure hours and only three times a week and often, once wine school is out at 6pm, I stop by Grand Café, which opened in February, for a sneaky croissant and tolerance boost before suffering the journey home.
Basements are clearly all the rage right now – all the action at bar/restaurant/wine store/florist Florería Atlántico happens underground, for example, and Grand Café is no exception. Sink into some comfy chairs at street level, or wander down to where the cake and pastry action is. Winter garden meets industrial warehouse in the basement, with citrus orange outdoor chairs brightening up the cement.
And so, on one of my weekly dips into GC for the aforementioned cheeky pastry – and paradoxically light and buttery they are too – that I stumbled easily upon BASA Basement Bar. Cunningly named after the two-block street it’s located on, this bar and restaurant – the sibling to Grand Café next door – is an evil temptress luring in all and sundry. Look down into basement to see row upon row of twinkling booze bottles winking and blinking and twirling at you, a rainbow of spirits waiting for your beck and call.
With one of the longest bars I’ve seen in a while, its physical presence is dominating to say the least, and could easily drive a drinker to distraction. But shield your eyes from the twinkling flirting and look around – cosy leather sofas, cute upholstered benches and plenty of dining tables await.
This is the new hot spot, certainly for lunch, and serves to give another boost to the busy Retiro neighbourhood. That’s right, the competition is getting stiffer downtown – and BASA’s owners Patricia Scheuer and Luis Morandi are old hands at this game: they’re the people who brought you the modern and upmarket steakhouse Sucre that was recently sold to the UK’s Gaucho Group, glamorous cocktail spot Gran Bar Danzón and the sadly now-defunct San Benito in Belgrano. They are also responsible for the delicious croissants and everything else next door… a clever economic move that means a shared kitchen across the café and the restaurant.
The menu, designed by executive chef Julieta Oriolo, is tastefully gourmet: at lunch, starters are based on shareable dishes as creamy chicken liver paté sharpened up with pickles you’ll want to finish up with some finger-to-mouth action. Meanwhile, mains run the gamut of a green salad with six upgrade options such as salt-roasted salmon with quail eggs and avocado, three pastas, two burgers and six meat dishes.
I’ve had favourable reports about the fish of the day, while porks ribs are a welcome addition to a daytime menu. Other dishes are clearly designed to appease the masses such as chicken or sirloin milanesas, and although I didn’t try them I will work on the assumption they taste infinitely more exciting than escalopes at a local bodegón.
Let me tell you about the lamb burger, which I did have. Perfectly pink with some divine hand-cut crunchy yet soggy fries, topped with Feta cheese that had obligingly melted onto the meat and delicious red onion slices, all piled into a warm, bun freshly baked in house. These elements combined made for a simple lunch given the gourmet thumbs up. Note to reader: the menu included a curry sauce with this dish and although it was visible on the bun, I couldn’t taste it. Nonetheless, with or without, it was a medium rare treat to tuck into a distinctive patty, and it was extremely satisfying.
Note to reader: as mentioned, bread is baked in-house and is totally moreish. Try very hard not to devour the whole lot with olive oil like Jed and I did, a total schoolboy error that left less room than the main attraction deserves.
BASA’s evening menu is essentially the same, give or take some grilled prawns, and additional pasta. My grandma always said the bar opened at 5 o’clock, and so dinner might be a better option in order to justify a drinky winky from the glinting bar. The wine list is also robust although not overwhelming, and features cepages oft ignored in favour of Malbec, so welcome Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc and Pinot Grigio among others.
Service is also friendly and efficient although no member of staff offered to pull me and my lamb burger-laden tummy from the divine sofa, nor did they hoist me upstairs to get me to leave the joint. That’s not a criticism, by the way…
BASA Basement Bar
Basavilbaso 1328, Retiro
Published in the Buenos Aires Herald on June 9, 2013.