Why this will always be the most unforgettable meal I’ve had in Madrid

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One of the best things about visiting Spain is that even the smallest and most nondescript joints usually have great food. We have eaten at hundreds of these neighborhood restaurants, where my husband, Floren, and his family, originally from Madrid, can get typical Spanish food at fair prices, as well as the community culture that the Spaniards are famous for.

But sometimes we want a little something different. After being kept away from friends and family by the pandemic, when we finally got to return last fall, Floren was ready to splurge on something unique. He focused on DSTAgE, in the trendy neighborhood of Chueca, and invited four friends to join us. Floren says: “I chose the restaurant because I wanted to create a special experience for my friends, after 2 years of not being able to see each other in person. I had heard good things about the chef and liked the idea of ​​a creative multi-course menu with lots of different food options.

DSTAgE fits the bill perfectly. It was founded by Basque chef Diego Guerrero, who got his first job as a chef at El Refor in Álava at the age of 23. He quickly became the heir to Spain’s avant-garde culinary movement, which began in the mid-1980s. Early in his career, Guerrero racked up numerous awards, including his first two Michelin stars at the helm of chic El Club Allard in Madrid.

But Guerrero felt that Spanish haute cuisine was becoming too fussy, formal and Frenchified. In 2013, he resigned, spent a year traveling and came back full of ideas. He opened DSTAgE in 2015, with the intention of making good food less of a bourgeois experience and more about the food itself. Naming it after the acronym for the goofy phrase “Days to Smell Taste Amaze Grow & Enjoy”, Guerrero emphasized fresh, flavorful ingredients and a simple yet visually striking presentation. It’s no wonder that in 2017 it received two more Michelin stars.

Within the Guerrero restaurant empire, you’ll also find DSpeak, an a la carte restaurant for lunch and dinner, and DSpot, a cozy, family-friendly bistro that serves more affordable and accessible selections like ravioli, tortilla ( Spanish omelette) with truffles, and nachos with homemade guacamole. More recently, the chef founded DPickle Room, a bar that offers fermented foods and creative cocktails.

The DSTAgE bar (Photo credit: Robin Catalano)

The atmosphere at DSTAgE

The restaurant, housed in a brick building that once housed a brewery, has an urban, industrial vibe, with lots of steel, rustic woods, and minimalist lighting. On the top floor there is a small bar, dining room and open plan kitchen, where you can watch the chefs at work. On the ground floor, amid display cases housing more than 200 Spanish and international wines, is a private dining room with a large communal table. Guerrero sometimes hosts demonstrations and classes here as well. A rear entrance leads to a patio garden where herbs are grown for DSTAgE’s many unusual dishes.

Pro tip: DSTAgE does not provide accommodations, such as high chairs or stroller storage, for young children. They say guests 10 and older are welcome, but if you’re traveling with grandkids, I’d recommend hiring a babysitter. The type of food served at DSTAgE will be entirely lost on young people. Menus can be adapted to dietary restrictions or intolerances, but you must provide this information during the booking process.

Cooks at work at DSTAgE
Cooks at work (Photo credit: Robin Catalano)

The menu at DSTAgE

DSTAgE does not offer an à la carte menu. Instead, you can choose from two tasting menus with 15 or 18 dishes, with or without wine pairings. Menus change seasonally and bring together flavors from disparate cultures, including Mexico, Japan and Spain. “It’s not just about cooking. It is a form of expression. It’s a language,” Guerrero said in this 2017 documentary series. “The fewer rules I have, the more creative I can be.” Guerrero insisted that the food is made with a lack of prettiness and ornamentation. It’s debatable – especially if you’re dining with a bunch of spirits, like we were – even though the food is excellent.

We took the luxury route, with 18 leisurely courses over a 2.5 hour period and a few bottles of wine. Two members of our party were on a keto kick and were hesitant to touch or finish items like bread and desserts. I highly recommend eating with such friends. In the win-win of the evening, I magnanimously volunteered to chase the temptation out of sight and straight into my own stomach.

I couldn’t have done it with normal sized dishes, but DSTAgE’s portions, as with all multi-course tasting menus, are small, sometimes even small enough to eat in one bite. This might lead you to believe that you’re not getting value for money, but keep in mind that you’re paying for premium ingredients that are innovatively prepared and presented with a more relaxed approach to theatrical service (like sprinkling parmesan pasta at the table). We felt pleasantly full, but not overloaded, after our meal, and sharing “extras” among non-keto friends at the table didn’t change that.

In addition, our meal at DSTAgE turned out to be a unique experience that we could not have replicated elsewhere. It even became something we talked about months later on a Zoom call over the holidays.

Horchata ice cream topped with an anchovy (Photo credit: Robin Catalano)

Our multi-course meal

Our meal started with a nest of web-shaped horchata ice cream topped with a fresh anchovy. Yes, an anchovy. On ice.

Spaniards love a good anchovy, so I wasn’t surprised to see it on the menu. I was a little giddy, however, at the thought of eating it over a frozen treat. The contrast between sweet and savory turned out to be interesting, but not enough for me to want to finish this particular class. As I handed the rest of my plate to Floren, who has the voracious appetite of a grizzly bear and the metabolism of a hummingbird, I wondered if that boded badly for the rest of dinner.

The second course, tender grilled calamari in a light broth, redeemed the first. The third, a vegan chorizo ​​made with lentils, carrots and peppers and served in a spicy paprika wine sauce, was even better. A perfectly crisp and toasted country bread makes its first appearance. Thanks to the carb-conscious among us, I scored two pieces.

Other courses followed at regular intervals. Roasted cauliflower topped with a caviar-black olive tapenade. Homemade pasta ribbons in a miso, tomato and basil broth. A smoky rosette of red pepper. A stew with a fish-based broth and vibrant northern Spanish green beans. A slice of roasted salmon topped with crispy fried salmon skin. Shiitake confit in a bread-based syrup. Haddock cheeks on an emulsion of sesame seeds and Padrón pepper. The latter, a vegetable native to northwest Spain, is a favorite of my mother-in-law, who grows them in her garden and plays around passing a plate of roasted peppers, then screams in surprise when it gets a particularly hot taste.

Peanut Chili Pepper Infused Oil Roasted Corn
Roasted corn with chili and peanut infused oil (Photo credit: Robin Catalano)

Although I enjoyed most of the dishes, my favorite savory dish was the miniature bowl of roasted corn swirled in a chili and peanut infused oil. The sweetness of the corn was offset by the spicy oil. Soft, mild goat cheese was a delicious accompaniment.

Kumquat sorbet arranged around a succulent
Kumquat sorbet arranged around a succulent (Photo credit: Robin Catalano)

As someone who eats dessert first, I loved all three finishing dishes. The kumquat sorbet, served in a hollowed-out citrus shell and arranged, like a small shrub, among the leaves of a succulent, was my favorite. Not only was it a refreshing palate cleanser after so many salty treats, but it also gave me a nostalgic memory of my childhood, when my Italian grandfather grew a dwarf kumquat in the big bay window of his kitchen.

Maiz, cotton candy topped with mango ice cream and popcorn
“Maiz, a wispy nimbus of cotton candy topped with mango ice cream rolled in popcorn”
(Photo credit: Robin Catalano)

The second dessert was creamy chocolate in an acorn sauce. It was good, but quickly slipped away when our server brought out the capper: the famous Maiz de Guerrero, a wispy nimbus of cotton candy topped with mango ice cream rolled in popcorn. After receiving detailed instructions from our server, we dutifully scooped up the candy from the sides and nibbled on it like a taco, then used the leftover cotton candy to soak up any ice cream that had settled on top of it. plate.

The meal was not without some giddy moments, especially when the servers gave overly convoluted explanations of what we were about to eat. But that didn’t take away from the enjoyment of the food and the camaraderie, which is what we came to DSTAgE for in the first place. If I decide to replicate the experience and try out some Guerrero favorites at home, I might just pick up a copy of Irreducibleher 2016 cookbook, featuring the handsomely disheveled chef on the cover.

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