At Baso, Fire Is the Central Ingredient At the Basque Restaurant

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Welcome to Inside the Dishes, where Eater takes an in-depth look at the dishes that are defining hot new restaurants around town.

Fire is the central ingredient at Baso, where chefs Jacques Varon and Max Lappe experiment daily with the possibilities of cooking directly over flame. The dreamy, ivory walls provide a contemporary setting for plates where cuisines and flavors from Spain’s Basque Country and Japan converge. Inspired by Varon’s time living abroad in Japan and working around the world in restaurants such as Alinea in Chicago, Angler in Los Angeles, and restaurants in Tokyo, the Houston native returned home and opened the live-fire restaurant in December 2023, fulfilling a distinct void in the city’s landscape of Spanish and Basque restaurants, and charming Houstonians with inventive takes of local seafood and produce, and regional desserts.

“I love the Basque region, everything about it, and their philosophy of cooking — this idea that food comes straight from the earth and goes straight to the fire and then straight to your plate,” Varon said. “I decided to open a restaurant that would bring a lot of techniques and labor profiles that aren’t really used here.”

A trip to Baso certainly feels like a journey to one of Basque Country’s effortlessly opulent restaurants. Minimalism is a theme in the dishes and the decor: Eggshell white stone walls center a room framed by white circular stables and booths, smart cocktail glasses, and, at the center, a robust hearth usually being tended to by Varon or Lappe themselves. Plates take inspiration from the aromatic ingredients found in Japan and the coastal fare that shapes the Basque Country region, resulting in dishes that are lively, refined, and provide something truly new in Houston’s expansive dining scene.


Baso Buns

Visitors are enjoying what is likely version 12 of the Baso buns, according to Varon. After trial and error, the restaurant’s final interpretation of the menu mainstay is topped with Calabrian chile and Manchego cheese from the city’s own Houston Dairymades. The fresh, warm dinner rolls are a solid precursor to the rest of the meal’s plates, each progressive dish emboldened by Varon’s use of live-fire.

An image of brown bread rolls and a dollop of butter on the side.

Visitors are enjoying what is likely version 12 of the Baso buns.
Andi Valentine

Grilled Oysters with Toasted Milk

Grilled Gulf Coast oysters get a touch of creaminess thanks to warmed, toasted milk powder. “The grilled oysters are a fun, great mistake,” Varon says. A teammate in the kitchen was making brown butter and Varon accidentally added milk powder to the pot. “It started to make these solids at the bottom,” he says. “We thought it was a lot cooler and better tasting.” Finished with green garlic butter, the happy mistake resulted in a sharp, decadent bite of seafood.

An image of grilled oysters and the baso buns, ad well as a candle, bottle of wine, and wine and cocktail glasses.

The grilled oysters with toasted milk emerged from a kitchen mistake.
Andi Valentine

Bluefin

Among shrimp on the half shell and an impressive selection of steaks, the bluefin dish is one of Baso’s standout mains. The circular creation is a textural delight with layers of crispy Carolina Gold Rice, and an elegant tuna mixture, to ensure every bite of the dish is a dance between the softness of the tuna, the velvety richness of egg yolk, and the crunch of crisped rice. “We get a big piece of tuna and we scrape it with an abalone shell like you’re scraping at ice or something — just chiseling away at it,” Varon says.

The tuna is mixed with a Calabrian puree, giving the fish its smoky flavor. A housemade white soy shiro dashi sauce — inclusive of marinated shallot, lemon zest, and chives — is drizzled atop the rice. Finished with chives and a zest of lime, the dish is embellished with yuzu Kosho egg yolk. “It touches the bottom of your tongue before everything else and gives you a nice sensation,” Varon adds.

An image of a woman’s hand with a fork over the bluefin dish.

The bluefin is a beautiful ode to the European region and ingredients found in the American South, which chefs Jacques Varon and Max Lappe highlight across the menu.
Andi Valentine

A5 Miyazaki Prefecture Wagyu

While living right below a Yakiniku (Japanese grilled meat) restaurant in Japan, Varon saw and smelled beef everywhere. It’s the inspiration behind his A5 wagyu steak, a rich, decadent slice of meat served with a herby bowl of greens. “This dish needs nothing but salt,” said Varon. “We know how buttery and rich an A5 is, so it should come with a bright salad that compliments it.”

The lettuce is complemented with a white soy dressing that’s been compressed with lemongrass, garlic, ginger, shallot, and jalapeno. A meticulous combination of lettuce, white soy dressing, and olive oil sourced from Texas is a light, zesty bed for the steak, which is finished with a microplane of lime, jalapeno, and lemon to brighten it.

An image of slices of Wagyu and half a lime.

The Wagyu is a rich, decadent bite.
Kayla Stewart/Eater Houston

A bowl of fresh greens.

The bowl of greens complements the steak.
Kayla Stewart/Eater Houston

Cabbage with apple molasses and lamb bacon

“This dish is a little bit more Basque than people think,” says Varon. “Cabbage, apples, lamb — it’s about as Basque as it gets.”

Quartered cabbages are seared until they are black on both sides before being placed in a bag with other ingredients like white soy and butter. The chef steams the cabbage for an hour before cooling them down ahead of service. Apples are liquified with a pectic enzyme, transforming the fruit into molasses, and lamb bacon is cured for a day and smoked over the hearth for six hours before both are added to the cabbage and finished with Black pepper. “We render the bacon over the hearth before service so it’s nice, smoky, toasty, and ready to go.”

An image of cabbage with slices of lamb bacon on top.

Cabbage with apple molasses and lamb bacon is illustrative of the Basque Country’s storied cuisine.
Kayla Stewart/Eater Houston

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