Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Whimsical and Fun! :) Opening Night at The Bazaar (or, The Traditional and Molecular Cuisine of José Andrés)

As I stood looking at close to 20 varieties of potted plants, and the utterly playful, bizarre and interesting decor by Philippe Starck, I wasn't quite sure if I was prepared for a night of dining at The Bazaar. Thanks to the extensive and brilliant coverage by Eater LA, I learned about the famous Spanish Chef José Andrés and his newest (and first) endeavor into Los Angeles: The Bazaar (located inside the new SLS Hotel).

As we were waiting to be seated, one of the staff was kind enough to show us around the hotel, and the rooftop Pool Lounge, where Chef Andrés has created some interesting Appetizers and Tapas to enjoy with the gorgeous scenery there.

According to his bio, Chef José Andrés is largely credited with popularizing Spanish Tapas in the U.S., and he studied under the famous El Bulli's Ferran Adrià. Since then, he's opened up some interesting restaurants on the East Coast, and has won a variety of awards such as Chef of the Year by Bon Appetit magazine. For his L.A. debut, his concept for The Bazaar sounded very interesting: He wanted to recreate the experience of eating at a "bazaar," a marketplace where multiple vendors sell different foods to sample.

And with that idea, The Bazaar is made up of multiple sections with completely different themes: Bar Centro (a bar, lounge area), Rojo (a more "traditional" dining area with traditional Spanish Tapas), Blanca (a more modern dining area with modern creations), and Patisserie (for Sweets and Desserts). In addition, they want to have roaming Carts with specialty items being served from time-to-time.

After seeing the lobby and entrance area, I knew this was going to be an interesting evening. :) Stepping inside, I was greeted by a framed video monitor of some fancy-looking maitre d' talking about something and looking very focused. From there, it was a visually stunning and engaging landscape by Philippe Starck. Where XIV was inspired by the chateaus of France during the reign of Louis XIV, The Bazaar felt wonderfully playful and whimsical.

Essentially, The Bazaar has an "open tab" and allows the customer to move from one section to another by informing their server first. The server would prepare a table in the new section reserved just for that party, and move them over, as well as the running tab. I decided to try Rojo first, with its dark wood feel and brilliant red, this was the dining area focused on Traditional Spanish Tapas, but the waitress explained that you could order anything from Blanca at Rojo, and even the fanciful drinks of Bar Centro if you wanted, and they would be brought over to your table.

I started with a signature drink showcasing the "Molecular" (and creative) style of Chef Andres: "Magic Mojito". When I saw the ball of Cotton Candy in a glass arrive, I knew it was only going to get better from here. (^_~) The waitress strained the Mojito over the middle of the Cotton Candy, so that the edges still had the fluffiness. I took a sip (and bite :), and the Mojito washed over the Cotton Candy in my mouth almost simultaneously, and you got this wonderful, fun mixture of textures of the sweet Cotton Candy, with the refreshing Mint and Alcohol of the Mojito itself. It was a great combination and really fun. :)

For starters, the Jamon Iberico de Bellota (Hand-sliced, Acorn-fed, Free-range, Iberico Ham from Spain) arrived first. It was served with Toasted Bread and Fresh Tomato Puree and Spanish Olive Oil (on Marble Plates(!)).

The Iberico de Bellota was simply stunning. There was this gorgeous aroma and taste that went beyond any Iberico Ham I've had in the past. A very clean Pork base, fresh, with a good saltiness that was divine with the sweetness of the Fresh Tomato Puree on Toasted Bread. Outstanding! :)

The next starter arrived from the Blanca section: Olives Ferran Adria. Named after his mentor (and a tribute), this showcased a bit of the "Molecular Cuisine" of Chef Andres, with Olives being pureed and combined with Calcic, before being dropped into an Algin bath which causes the spherification.

It was absolutely fascinating looking at these spheres (I had seen similar creations with the cocktail spheres at Providence), but these were perfectly formed: One bite, and Pop! The pure liquid essence of Olives washed through my mouth. It was really fun and the clean, concentrated essence of Olives in liquid form was a blast as they burst. :)

I decided to try their "Salt Air" Margarita from Bar Centro: Instead of the rim of the glass being layered in salt or sugar, there was a layer of what looked like "foam" on top. When I took a drink, this "foam" dissolved almost instantly, and it was almost like you were inhaling "salt air" with each sip of the Margarita. This was another fun drink, with just the right balance of alcohol to sweet and salty, but I preferred the Magic Mojito more.

Next up was another dish from Blanca: Organized Caesar Salad (with Quail Eggs and Parmesan Cheese).

This was a deconstructed / "organized" Caesar Salad, with the salad being wrapped in ultra-thin Jicama slices, with "Air Croutons." Each bite of these little rolls conveyed the essence of a Caesar Salad, with the grated Parmesan Cheese on top, and a dab of the Caesar Salad Dressing at the bottom of the dish. The final roll contained a Quail Egg to represent the egg normally used in a Caesar. It was cute in concept and tasty, but nothing outstanding.

Their Mozzarella-Tomato Pipettes (with Micro Basil), however, quickly brought things to another level. It was shocking and intriguing to see a plate of bite-sized Cherry Tomatoes punctured through with a little Pipette containing some kind of liquid.

The waitress explained that as you bit down and removed the Cherry Tomato from the Pipette, you should squeeze the Pipette at the same time, releasing the Liquid Mozzarella and Olive Oil mixture. This sounded fun :) - I took a bite and squeezed the Pipette and what you got was the essence of a classic Caprese Salad with the wonderfully sweet Cherry Tomatoes, Micro Basil, and the Mozzarella and Olive Oil Liquid. Really fun and different! (^_^)

Their "New Way" Dirty Martini arrived next. This was a Dry Martini, Olive Spherication, and Olive Brine Air. Like the previous creative drinks, this was a lot of fun: As you drank the Dry Martini, each sip led to some of the "foam" on top of the drink to dissolve immediately and give off a truly Olive-like, Briny aroma!

Back on the Rojo Menu, there's a section called "Latas Y Conservas" where Chef Andres pays tribute to the top-notch canned products of Spain, only here, they basically prepare a variety of fresh seafood and plate it in a clean, empty Can, to make it look like you're partaking in one of the interesting Spanish canned products.

Their King Crab with Raspberry Vinegar arrives first, and the Can presentation is cute and engaging.

The combination of flavors are even more engaging: Fresh chunks of Alaskan King Crab (so sweet and clean-tasting) combine with fresh Raspberries, Micro-greens and a Raspberry Vinaigrette in unexpected ways. The fresh, tart and sweet Berry aromas work surprisingly well with the King Crab. It was different, interesting, and something reflective of the mixing of different aspects to create something unexpected.

Continuing on, the Espinacas a la Catalana (Catalan sauteed Spinach with Apple, Pine Nuts and Raisins) arrived next. I wasn't sure about this dish, but it came highly recommended from the energetic waitress, so I relented. :)

Spinach can be quite mundane at times, but this version was really surprising: I'm not sure how they got the Spinach to become so light and airy(!), but this was like the good essence of Spinach, with the Apple Puree, Pine Nuts, Apple Chunks and Raisins combining to elevate this into one of *the* tastiest Vegetable dishes I've had in a long time. Airy, tender, a great balance of savory and sweet, and juicy(!). Excellent!

The next dish was also from the traditional Rojo Menu: Vieiras con Romesco (Seared Sea Scallops with Tomato-Almond Sweet Pepper Sauce). The Sea Scallops were wonderfully fresh and sweet, but surprisingly, the Tomato-Almond Sweet Pepper Sauce tasted... boring: Mainly salty with some notes of Tomato but little else. I was hoping to taste some Almond or have a spicy kick from the Peppers, or something. The Scallops were great, but the Sauce could've used some adjustments.

Speaking with one of the Rojo Chefs, they recommended another from the Latas Y Conservas (Canning) menu: Mussels Escabeche.

Taking a bite... I suddenly felt all was right in the world. These were absolutely outstanding! (^_^) The fresh Icy Blue Mussels from Canada were so sweet, succulent and tender, bathed in the Escabeche Sauce of Carrots, Onions, Rosemary, Orange Peel, all pureed and then emulsified with Xanthan Gum. I was so happy eating every bite of this dish! :)

Testing out the Bazaar concept, we move over to Blanca, where they focus on the Modern Tapas and Modern Cooking dishes. True to its name, this section of the restaurant is bright and adorned with shades of white everywhere.

Fascinated by the Molecular-style of cooking, I ask if I can watch them make the Dashi "Linguini" with Tomato, Lemon and Caviar. :) The chef explains that they take Agar Agar and combine it with a house-made Dashi Broth, which results in a large "sheet" of gelatinous Dashi.

Then, they take a Pickle Slicer, and cut beautiful, thin slices of this gelatinous Dashi, which results in "Linguini"-like Noodles!

While visually, it looks like translucent, golden "noodles" of some sort, they actually have a texture like a soft Linguini! :) Except, each bite results in a rush of flavor of fresh Japanese Dashi Broth. The bits of American Sturgeon Caviar and Lemon Zest combine to make it another fun, tasty dish, but a bit on the salty side.

Their Tortilla de Patatas "New Way" (Warm Potato Foam with a slow cooked Egg 63 and Caramelized Onions) is another stunner: It arrives in a Martini Glass, and looks more like a fancy dessert than the "Tortillas" dish I thought was ordered.

I take a spoon and dig in, all the way to the bottom and scoop a piece of all the layers: A gorgeously light, airy, creaminess is all I can taste. :) The kitchen uses N02 gas to aerate the Potatoes via a canister, like Whipped Cream, and their "Egg 63" refers to cooking an Egg at exactly 63 degrees Celsius, which cooks the Egg through, but is at just the right temperature to prevent it from hardening up. The result is a super-creamy, soft Egg that's even softer than a Poached Egg.

Their Taylor Bay Scallops with Beet Nitro, Pistachios and Arugula arrives next in wild fashion: The beautiful plate is still "smoking" from the Liquid Nitrogen at the bottom of the dish(!). It looks really cool, and I'm excited to try it. :)

Unfortunately, it's a bit too tart and salty for my tastes: The Liquid Nitrogen crystallized the Beets, and I'm not sure if they were marinated or pickled, but the result of the crystallization is that the Beets tasted surprisingly salty and tart. The Raspberries were mainly tart as well, and while the nuttiness of the Pistachios helped with the overall flavors, there wasn't enough balance.

The final savory course was also from the Blanca menu: Japanese Baby Peaches with Yogurt and Olive Oil. This was described as an "International Dish" with Japanese Baby Peaches, Greek Yogurt, Hawaiian Red Sea Salt, Middle Eastern Za'atar spice, Italian Balsamic Vinegar, and Spanish Olive Oil. :)

This was another amazing dish! The Japanese Baby Peaches had a very delicate, fragrant aroma that was the essence of Spring, and the dish skated the line between savory and sweet perfectly, with the Greek Yogurt and the Balsamic Vinegar and Olive Oil bathing the Japanese Baby Peaches with little accents of flavors without overpowering. Brilliant. :)

The first dessert was from the Blanca menu: Traditional Spanish Flan with Fresh Cheese and Fruit. The Spanish Flan was decadently smooth and creamy (not very cake-y or harder like some Flans can be). The waiter mentioned that it's because this Flan was cooked at a specific temperature as well (like the Egg 63) which allowed the texture to be so supple and creamy. The liquid Caramel was nice as well.

The surprise was the Goat Cheese "Cream" accompanying the Flan. There were pungent notes of Goat Cheese, but it was blended nicely with Milk and Sugar, and made into a "Whipped Cream" in a way. Eating it with the Flan and liquid Caramel and Berries, it made for a challenging dessert (^_~), and even though I love Goat Cheese, this was maybe a little to strange for me. The Flan itself was outstanding!

Their Beet Meringue with Pistachios and Berries arrives soon after. It's another truly challenging dessert with its play on flavors, textures and expectations: The Beet Meringue(!) is literally Beet essence in Meringue form. Very bizarre and it tastes like salted Beets. However, when combined with the Beet Sorbet, Pistachio Cream and Pistachio Cake, it helps balance things out almost perfectly; the Beet Meringue still overpowers the rest of the dish, and I find myself focusing on the Sorbet and Pistachio Cake over everything else. It's definitely creative and interesting, but challenging also.

At this point, I wanted to move to Patisserie and try their "Sweet Little Snacks." :) The Patisserie is led by Pastry Chef Michael Gillet, and it occupies a cute section of the restaurant next to Bar Centro with many of their items in sample form, on display.

The menu is adorable with a pink ribbon binding all the pages together, and Chef Gillet brings out a small sampler of Chocolate-covered Pop Rocks(!) to each new party as they're seated. Imagine the wacky Pop Rocks candy, but covered in Chocolate and when you eat it, an effervescent popping and fizzing occurs with each bite. It's fun and a nice grown-up version of the classic kid candy. :)

The Maldon Salt Chocolate Mini-Tablet arrives first. This is "one of Chef Andres' favorites" according to the waiter and I eagerly try a bite. It's a good-quality Chocolate, literally with some Maldon Salt in each bite, so it's an alternating Salty and Sweet taste. I suppose it's like the situation where people add salt to their Watermelon... it's OK, but I need time to get used to it first.

I order some Gyokuro Asahi Japanese Green Tea at this point. The Tea is very fragrant and light and smooth, and it helps clear the palate between these dessert courses. No complaints. :)

The Hot Chocolate Mousse with Pear Sorbet and Salty Hazelnut Praline arrives just after the Green Tea. The Dark Chocolate used in the Hot Chocolate Mousse adds a slight bitterness, and the Pear Sorbet by itself is refreshing and sweet, but when you scoop it all together (with the little Chocolate Spheres and Hazelnut Praline Cream), it's a perfect match! A really nice combination of flavors and textures (Mousse, Sorbet, Crunchy Spheres, etc.).

The Apples "Carlota", Bread Pudding with Saffron Sauce arrives next. Named after one of Chef Andres' daughters, this is another interesting challenge of flavors: Chunks of Apples with Bread Pudding are fine, with a slight tart sweetness. But then the Saffron Sauce comes into play, and you get this strange, interesting play of the beautiful Saffron herb that I normally associate with savory dishes, mixed in a dessert. It's fun and challenging for me, and overall, I think it works. :)

The final dessert is the Greek Yogurt Panna Cotta with Apricots and Muscat Gelatin. The key to this dessert (like many of the dishes here) is to taste all the layers in one bite. With that, the luscious Panna Cotta, Apricot flavors and the Muscat combine into a beautiful symphony of sweetness. Nice. :)

Lastly, we moved over to Bar Centro to try one of the roaming carts making a Nitrogen Caparinha. This sounded like too much fun to pass up and it turned out to be really cool! :)

Beverage guru Lucas Paya brings over the cart and I watch in complete fascination as he pours Liquid Nitrogen into a container and then the Caparinha beverage.

The end result was a cocktail drink that you had to eat, instead of drink. :) Topped with Micro-Tarragon and Edible Flowers, the Tarragon went a long way, infusing each chilled bite of the cocktail with a really fragrant herbal sensation. A fun way to end the evening! :)

For the opening night to the public, service was surprisingly good: Plates were cleared away quickly and the servers all seemed to know many things about the menu and each dish ordered. Tapas Plates ranged from $6 - $32 (for a sampler platter), with most dishes averaging ~$9. Desserts at Patisserie ranged from $0.75 - $45 (for an entire Cake), with most desserts about ~$12. Our total came out to be ~$125 per person (including tax and tip) (and we over-ordered).

The Bazaar turned out to be bizarre at times, but also so much fun! :) While the concept seems like a gimmick (technically at any restaurant you can just order drinks from the bar at your table, and get dessert delivered over), there's something engaging and interesting about physically moving to a new dining area with a completely different setting, and trying other portions of the menu. I'm new to the Molecular Cuisine movement, and while this wasn't as crazy as some of the stuff I've seen on TV, the combination of tasty classic Spanish dishes along with the Modern interpretations is something worth attention. I can't wait to go back to try the Carrilleras de Cerdo con Naranja (Braised Pork Cheeks with California Oranges), or their "Rossejat" de Fideos (Traditional Paella-style Pasta with Monkfish and Shrimp, cooked in a Seafood Broth), but most of all, I can't wait to go back to have more fun with my food. :) The Bazaar was the most fun I've had eating in quite some time.

Rating: 8.2 (out of 10.0)

The Bazaar
(inside the SLS Hotel)
465 South La Cienega Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90048
(310) 246-5555

Hours: 7 Days A Week, 6:00 p.m. - 10:30 p.m. (last seating)
[Bar Centro] 7 Days A Week, 6:00 p.m. - 1:30 a.m.



Charlie Fu said...

Another lover of Jamon Iberico de Bellota! Greatest ham ever!

Thanks for this post! LA is sorely lacking in this style of creativity, I'll have to check it out asap =)

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Charlie,

Thanks! :) Yes, I've discovered a new love for Jamon Iberico de Bellota! :)

Where else have you tried this Jamon in L.A.? I'd love to try more interpretations of this. Thank you.

(And please report back if you end up going. :)

Unknown said...

Bev Hills cheese shop sells the Bellota. it really ruins you for any other ham!

Exile Kiss said...

Hi LL,

Thanks for the tip! :) I'll have to pay them a visit soon.

Charlie Fu said...

It was a restaurant in San Diego. THe owner bought a whole leg and served it as shavings on a salad. We asked the owner to serve us a plate (about.. 1.5 the size of your serving) of just the jamon Iberico @ about $50. Delicious! So delicious we ordered a 2nd plate as dessert =)

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Charlie,

That sounds great! :) Please e-mail me (or reply here) with the restaurant name that you went to. I have to try it. :) Thanks!

Gwen said...

You can also find Jamon Iberico at the Cheese and Charcuterie at Surfa's in Culver City. Hand sliced, it sells for $69/lb. Truly amazing!

Excellent post and beautiful pictures. I can't wait to try this restaurant!

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Gwen,

Thank you, and thanks for the tip on Surfas. :)

I hope you enjoy your visit to The Bazaar. :)

weezermonkey said...

We went to The Bazaar recently, and I was searching online for other people's experiences there. We loved it so much! Glad to see you did, too. :)

Exile Kiss said...

Hi WeezerMonkey,

Glad to hear you enjoyed your visit, too! Gorgeous pictures. :)

Right Way to Eat said...

Hey Exile Kiss,

Just went there this week. Love my experience as well. I like the seared scallops also. You missed out one of their best dish for me that night...the lobster medallion. You need to check it out next time if you do get a chance.

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Pepsi Monster,

Nice! :) I'm glad you had a good time at The Bazaar also. :) Thanks for the tip on the Lobster Medallion. I'll be sure to try it next time.

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