Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Bazaar by José Andrés - Fantasy Fine Dining at SLS Hotel at Beverly Hills

In a town where creativity is a commodity of often fluctuating value, The Bazaar by José Andrés is that rare breakout blockbuster that manages to marry artistic vision with commercial success. The brainchild of James Beard Award winning chef and owner José Andrés, The Bazaar at the chic SLS Hotel at Beverly Hills is truly unique in all aspects: from the innovative concept, to the beautifully designed food and drinks - many showcasing molecular gastronomy - to the breathtaking decor by Phillippe Starck, which pits modern with traditional.

The concept is about a fluid 'fantasy'-like dining experience, allowing guests to move through uniquely designed spaces that are true visual treats, while tasting traditional and ultra-modern, innovative tapas (small plates allow for a wider range of samplings!) coupled with cocktails that can be theatrical productions in themselves, with dramatic use of liquid nitrogen and other molecular gastronomy wizardry from a cart wheeled tableside - and desserts again both traditional and those with interpretations all their own.  And for those so inclined, add the ability to peruse the eclectic retail displays curated by Moss, integrated into the mix.

The Bazaar recently extended their dineLA Restaurant Week to this past Friday (October 29th), and when my friend tipped us off to this - we made reservations immediately for a party of four and left work on time (for once) to meet up there on a weeknight.  The $44 dineLA offer featured your choice of one starter and three entrees from the extensive menu of over 40 different tapas, modern and traditional) plus one dessert.
Starting out in the "Blanca" or modern side of the dining room, on cream colored sofa style seats around a wooden table - we instantly dove into the task at hand - to narrow down our selections from the extensive (even for dineLA) menu of tapas on offer.  Luckily, with a table of four, we were able to get a much broader sampling by taking bites of each other's selections.

For our four starters, we chose: #1: "Philly Cheesesteak" - airbread, cheddar, Wagyu beef ($8 on regular menu).  I had liked the taste of this one from a previous visit - it's every bit as amazing as it sounds, with slices of buttery beef carpaccio layered on top of steaming, fluffy cheese-filled bread.

Starter #2: "Japanese Taco" - grilled eel, shiso, wasabi, and chicharron stuffed in thinly sliced cucumber wrappers ($10 on regular menu).  A creative dish that I would not so rashly label 'fusion', but rather, a Japanese inspired reimagining of a Mexican staple - that I truly enjoyed for its perfectly balanced mix of textures(flaky/crunchy/creamy/crispy) and flavors (savory/sweet eel with clean, subtle refreshing cucumber woken up with a small jolt of heat from the wasabi).
Starter #3: Papas Canarias - salty wrinkled potatoes with mojo verde ($8 on regular menu).  This one got mixed reviews - the potatoes themselves looked adorable - like chocolate nuggets rolled in powdered sugar - and tasted AMAZING, served at just the right temperature to bring out its natural flavor, with a perfectly crisped outer layer embellished with a kick of salt.  The unfortunate part was the mojo verde dip, which was much too salty for all four of us.  We would have loved to report layers of flavor unfolding with the heat of the potato, but we couldn't taste much beyond the salt.

Starter #4: (One that we actually ended up using an entree selection as well, as we all wanted a lot of this one) was West Coast Oysters with lemon and black pepper served in a tin can - in celebration of Spain's great canning tradition ($12 on regular menu).  A lovely dish with smooth oysters whose briny-ness was brought out all the more with lemon and black pepper.  I am usually a purist with oysters - love the taste of deep ocean in a freshly shucked oyster with nothing on it (especially if they are giant ones from any of the restaurants on the Bay in Monterey!) - but if I were to go for oysters served up with other accompaniments, this was a great choice and gets two cocktail forks up from me.

As one of our entrees was taken up by a second helping of West Coast Oysters - the  Brussel Sprouts with lemon puree, apricots, grapes, lemon air ($8 on regular menu) would be our second entree.  This probably ranks among the top of my favorite dishes for the night - with its original combination of slightly bitter and crisp brussel sprout leaves with the sweet / citrus fruit elements, topped by a dramatic burst of 'lemon air' (foam).  I've never really liked brussel sprouts - no, not a relic of childhood trauma, as my parents never served this veggie to us - but I have as an adult found it too bitter, and typical preparations (steamed whole) too dull.  But this dish made me a convert - proving that brussel sprouts can be delicious, and exciting to serve!

Other entrees which were good, but did not make as dramatic an impression, were: Wild Mushroom Rice with Idiazahal cheese ($10 on regular menu), Croquetas de Pollo - chicken and bechamel fritters ($9 on regular menu), and "Butifarra Senator Moynihan" -Catalan pork sausage, white beans and mushrooms ($12 on regular menu).  The chicken filling in the croquetas for some reason tasted like tuna, in consistency and flavor, which was not a bad thing - just, interesting.

As the only one at the table who had been to The Bazaar previously, I had to have all the ladies try the piece de resistance - Cotton Candy Foie Gras - even if it was off the dineLA menu and had to be added to the tab (not too bad at $5 per person).  You simply can't visit The Bazaar without trying this, just for the experience.  In taste, you can definitely have much better foie in their Foie Gras quince and toasted brioche sandwiches (plate of 3 sliders) - but it's the concept and presentation that is an experiment not to miss.  Essentially a block of foie gras is served on a stick, with a cloud of cotton candy wound around it.  It's supposed to be consumed like an amuse bouche - all in one bite.  A little difficult at first to see how the whole cloud would fit, but the candy of course shrinks down on contact.  Definitely a conversation piece - and again the taste is not really for foie connoisseurs, but it is fun and interesting to experience the blend of the creamy, dense, savory block of foie with airy, sugary strands of cotton candy.

Back to the mains - we also tried the Jamón Serrano Fermin (not pictured, $16 on regular menu), which was served on two plates with the slices of ham on one, and toasts with a tomato spread on the other.  This one was good, but again overshadowed by its more groundbreaking, drama-filled counterparts.

We also tried the Sea Scallops with Romesco Sauce ($14 on regular menu) - the scallops were huge, with a great crispy crust bookending juicy and tender meat inside. 

Our last main was the Beef Hanger Steak with piquillo pepper confit and natural jus  ($12 on regular menu) - though we had a tendency to be more impressed by the creative twists in the modern tapas dishes, it's worth noting that the traditional tapas also exhibited a high level of skill and definitely provided a haute cuisine experience as well.  The hanger steak in particular was super tender and juicy, and I loved its simple but lovely plating as well.

As we finished with the last of our entrees, our fabulous waitress arranged for a table in The Patisserie space, where we were to move to enjoy our desserts (for those who want to stay in the same space, you are offered the option too, but then you would miss out on the whole concept of the place, and the opportunity to experience the awesome, whimsical space).

The Patisserie area features an 'open kitchen' done completely in pink, with an almost Alice in Wonderland / Charlie and the Chocolate Factory tone and feel - the double-decker counter is stacked with ornate glass 'bell jars' of candies and cookies, interspersed with lollipops made of wispy chocolate emblems and tiny, exquisite fine china tea cups and beads.  There are hidden gems like a small loveseat whose design looks like a modern take on Marie Antoinette style, built into a glass pillar between The Patisserie and Bar Centro areas, that is a truly romantic and unique space - perfect for a date if you can book this seat.

It was too dark for any photos, so you'll just have to experience this space for yourselves! 

So onto dessert - yes, of course I chose the Greek Yogurt Panna Cotta with apricots and muscat gelatin ($12 on regular menu)!  Each layer was a revelation, with apricot puree (sprinkled with crushed pistachios) sitting atop the creamy panna cotta, which sat on top of jello cubes made with moscato wine.  Amazing.

The other three in our party all ordered the Traditional Spanish Flan with vanilla ice cream and fruit ($12 on regular menu) - which was also incredible.

After our meal, it was fun to walk through the designated retail area to the side of The Patisserie, which showcased an eclectic array of goods from the food and travel related, to jewelry and other accessories. 

The only thing to note for other budget foodies, is that valet parking at the hotel will run you $12 minimum before tip.  If you are very lucky, you might be able to find street parking - but it's simply easier, given the location, to just valet park it.

Although this season's dineLA is over, the good news is that all of the dishes above are still available (though at higher prices from the regular menu), with many, many other exciting options on offer.

If you are looking for a place that will provide a sensory experience like no other in LA - head to The Bazaar.  It's perfect for almost every occasion - from a date to girls' night out or happy hour with coworkers (Bar Centro is actually pretty lively, though in a sophisticated way) - to foodies who simply want to celebrate and support culinary creativity, which José Andrés has done an amazing job in demonstrating, is very much alive and well in LA. 

I for one can't wait to go back, for any occasion at all (and due to budget constraints, I normally don't repeat visits unless the place is amazing)!  It is expensive - but SO worth it.

Updates from subsequent visits:

 Tuna ceviche and avocado roll ($15) - amazing interpretation of classic sushi roll.  No rice or nori, just the freshest tuna tartare wrapped in incredible, paper-thin slices of avocado!

Sea Urchin sandwich with avocado and steamed bun (3 for $12) - LOVE this dish with the briny, nutty flavored sea urchin paired with creamy yet structured slices of avocado and placed in tiny, pillowy little bao!  Presentation, in a steamer, is awesome as well.

Not your everyday Caprésé with cherry tomatoes, liquid mozzarella ($12) - inventive reconstructed version of the classic Italian insalata. Very good, but not as mind blowing as other dishes at The Bazaar.

Foie gras cotton candy ($5 each) - like the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Santa Monica beach and Third Street Promenade, these cubes of foie gras wrapped in cotton candy and served on a stick are like a tourist trap - something you have to bring 'out of towners', like my brother and his wife, to experience on their first visit.
There is always one liquid nitrogen drink on the menu - they wheel a bar cart tableside, then 'freeze' your alcoholic beverage with liquid nitrogen.  Deliciously theatrical and entertaining!
I forget what the name of the drink was now, but they always rotate the drinks anyway.  So cool to have to 'spoon' your cocktail - like having an uber upscale slurpy / saved ice that also gives you a nice buzz.

On a 7 point scale:
Flavor - 6.5 bites
Presentation - 6 bites
Originality - 7 bites
Ambience - 6 stars
Service - 6 stars
Overall experience - 6 bites
Price - $$$ (3 bite marks)
Probability of return visit - 100%


The Bazaar by José Andrés
465 S. La Cienega Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA
Ph: 310.246.5555

OpenTable: Look for reservations

The Bazaar By Jose Andres on Urbanspoon

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