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Thursday, April 22, 2010

DCWD Travels: The Bazaar, LA

The Setup

Sometime in November, when CC and I decided on our trip to Los Angeles for Nationals, we both simultaneously had the same thought:

Bazaar.

CC and I are unabashed Jose Andres fans. We've both been to all of his restaurants (outside of the Jaleo outposts), and we love his infectious enthusiasm for food and innovation therein. Jose is one of those chefs that is even more excitable and irrepressibly engaging in real life than on TV, and the one time we got to meet him at a demo/book signing, we absolutely fell in love with him (though certainly, given how effervescent he is, it's hard to imagine how one could not like him). So when the chance came to finish the tour with his lone non-DC restaurant, we jumped at the chance. Joining us at this dinner were Official Father of DCWD BC, and Official Sister of DCWD The Squish.

The Vibe

The Bazaar is in the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills, and the inside is honestly just as chichi as one would expect given that location. The left side of the restaurant features two open kitchens, a modern color scheme of red and black, and lots of clean, straight lines. But as you move from left to right, the restaurant gets weirder from the patisserie (we'll get to that later), and then an actual Bazaar, which is perhaps coincidentally or ironically, bizarre (as in like, you can buy German-made giant stuffed animals that look like gummy bears for $80, or a set of wax candles shaped like Hermes and Aphrodite for $600).

The Food

Bazaar is like some mashup of minibar (shameless plug: read our minibar review!) and every other Jose Andres restaurant: avant-garde cuisine but presented in tapas/small plates form, but on some level, it's like a less exclusive minibar West. In fact, we saw some familiar dishes at Bazaar that we'd had before at minibar and Jaleo. But here's a rundown of what we ate in the order it came out, again in our conversational format:

K: The first dish that came out was called "Not your everyday Caprese," and was four one-bite portions that included a cherry tomato, a basil leaf, a small crouton, and the centerpiece of the dish, liquid mozzarella. A technique we'd seen before with minibar's "mojito," the mozzarella was created through spherification, encasing a liquid inside of a thin gel, so that when you popped the bubble with your tongue, it burst in your mouth. Eaten on a Chinese soup spoon, it was a perfect light start to the meal.

CC: This dish was recommended to us by our exuberant server, and I have to say, I am thankful that we took her advice. The "cheese" we had both in this dish and the "Feta-ccine" were indescribable--fresh and juicy and familiar, but totally foreign. Andres' play on recognizable foods is really what draws me to him. It's a fun brand of comfort food. Not as good as the mojito ball, but still the mozzarella spherification was a nifty way to start. And really, how can you go wrong with a caprese salad?

K: The second dish was a repeat of a minibar dish: the "Philly cheesesteak." Having been a mutual favorite at minibar, we encouraged BC and The Squish to try it as well. Each piece is a hollow bread crust, injected with liquid white cheddar, and topped with Wagyu beef carpaccio, cooked by blowtorch. This was enjoyed all around.

CC: As Kim mentioned, this was probably my favorite dish at minibar. There was no way I was not going to order it, if only for the Cheez Whiz for grownups filling. Plus the padre has heard me rave about it so often...

K: Next was the dish that I was looking forward to the most, that came in with the most buzz: the cotton candy foie gras. The Squish, being a picky eater (what a disappointment), didn't order one, but the other three of us each ordered one. As weird as the combination sounds, it was absolutely wonderful: a light touch of sweetness that instantly melted, followed by the unctuous and umami of the foie. A knowing smile was exchanged between me and CC after this one.

CC: I did get stuck with the short end of the stick here (punny, I know). Mine was that wimpy one on the right, and I wish there had been a little more whipped sugar with my foie--basically I wanted more of the dish as a whole. It was such a tease, but I think that's what Andres does best: tease your tongue! Sugar with foie gras is such a classic combination, and this was a whimsical interpretation.

K: CC and I passed on the next dish, again a repeat from minibar: the "bagel and lox cone," a cone made of wonton wrapper filled with goat cheese and salmon roe. BC enjoyed it alright, but The Squish, who thought that the lox would be smoked salmon and not roe, made a face after eating this. Again, I love the Squish, but picky eaters, man. Disappointment.

CC: Loved it at minibar, and I wanted to share that with the fam, despite the Squish's disinclination to try new foods...to be honest she wasn't the best dining partner for a meal like this--something to take into consideration for future adventurous meals.

K: The next one was a late addition to the menu: the "feta-ccine" that CC alluded to before. This might sound innocuous enough, but I mean, it's a Jose Andres restaurant. So the fettuccine was in fact made from jellied feta water, and served with sun dried tomatoes and feta. The dish was good, but given some of the other amazing dishes of the night, this one certainly was cooler than it was tasty, if that makes any sense. Though it certainly didn't help that The Squish got the lion's share of the dish, since it was one she actually enjoyed.

CC: Funny, this was one of the more memorable dishes for me, probably because the minute it starts to get warm out I bust out feta salads in every form I can think of, so this dish was particularly friendly to my spring palate as well as my curious side. This was another of the server's suggestions as one of the specials for the evening, and I thought it was a really creative use of cheese again, as well as a cute play on words. The Squish and I rehashed this for the rest of the weekend (you might gather that there were few pleasantly memorable moments for her in the meal so she jumped on this one).

K: Shrimp to me is a crapshoot; you either nail it and it's amazing and flavorful, or you overcook it and it's chewy and rubbery and unappetizing. The sauteed shrimp in garlic and guindilla pepper was one of the former instances. CC and I agreed that it might have been the best shrimp we've ever had; butterflied, perfectly light and juicy. Loved it.

CC: In fact, this is the best shrimp that I've ever had. Jaleo features a similar garlic shrimp on the regular menu, but it's got nothing on this version. Seriously, it was perfect.

K: My conversion to the world of avocado has been slow but steady, as I start to realize how its creaminess pairs well with many things. The following dish was a great example of that continuing education. A tuna ceviche and avocado roll was exactly that, tuna ceviche and jicama wrapped by slivers of avocado, topped with micro cilantro, salt, and bread crunchies. This was absolutely amazing, refreshing and almost buttery in its texture.

CC: Still not into avocado. I try so hard to keep reintroducing myself to the foods I don't like to widen my scope (nuts, rice, avocado, and sashimi being the most prevalent in this list--I WANT to like sushi!!!), but avocado has not won me over yet. That said, I didn't hate this dish. I am still impressed with the presentation and how thinly they sliced and worked with that fruit, and I love tuna and cilantro, but this was only okay for me. Fresh and innovative, yes. Something I would try to recreate at home, no.

K: Which is sad city for her, because I am absolutely going to try and recreate this at home. Anyway, of course, with all these great courses, there had to be a downnote, and unfortunately, this was when it came, in the form of seared scallops in a romesco sauce. It wasn't that the scallops were poorly cooked; quite the opposite in fact, as they were some of the better scallops I've had in a while. But the romesco sauce was poorly paired, we thought, and took away from the scallops. At the very least, it confused us.

CC: I didn't even want to dip bread in this sauce. It didn't make sense. Scallops are so versatile, this could have been so great!

K: The next dish was one CC and I both zeroed in on when we saw the menu: Brussels sprouts with lemon puree, apricots, grapes, and topped with lemon foam. The Brussels sprouts were fresh and crunchy, but it wasn't until you took a bite of it with the lemon foam and more importantly the small cubed fruit below that all of the flavors coalesced, the bitter of the sprouts, the sour of the lemon, and the sweet of the fruits. Not as buttery as Brussels sprouts before, but just as enjoyable.

CC: I loved this. I'm really into Brussels sprouts anyway, and I like how these leaves were separated, not just balled up in the sprout; it really added to the texture play. And that foam was awesome. If you haven't picked up on my love affair with citrus, then this should solidify it. LEMON FOAM.

K: After a small pause, we moved onto to the last five dishes, all traditional tapas and savory in nature. The first was something I had ordered, braised Wagyu beef cheeks with clementines. This dish met most of my checklist for "WANT" status: odd cut of the meat, super high end ingredient, braising, and an interesting combination. Luckily for me, it didn't disappoint. The braise was perfect, giving the already tender meat that lovely stringy fall-apart texture. Combined with the sudden sweetness of the clementines, this was a highlight.

CC: I wish there had been more clementines on this dish--I wanted just a little more from it. The beef was good, the flavors were great, but this wasn't spectacular. After foie gras cotton candy lollipops, I want spectacular. And honestly, I didn't want the stringy beef; I wanted a meatier cut with this, so I guess this was bound to fail since I expected filet mignon instead of cheeks. Wah wah.

K: Apparently CC is illiterate. Second in our carne carnival was a lamb loin served in a cake-like formation, on top of black trumpet mushrooms and potatoes. This was nice, but in the grand scheme of things, sort of forgettable. Which probably is more of a reflection on the quality of the meal than the dish. Still, good flavor, especially because they made a point of cooking the lamb rare which was beautiful.

CC: Meh. Our starters were much more exciting than these meat dishes. I also thought the lamb was only okay, and I didn't really think it worked well flavor-wise or texture-wise. It just seemed kind of thrown together, if immaculately presented.

K: Next were two vegetarian dishes in this savory streak, the first a reimagination of a dish that we'd seen before at Jaleo, and one that was listed on my latest appearance on Metrocurean's Five Bites: sauteed spinach with apple, pine nuts, and raisins. This iteration though was presented differently, the spinach wrapped into cylinders and topped with the rest. Still, the dish retained the same clean and full-flavored taste as I always remembered it.

CC: I thought this was a fun preparation with the cylinders, though otherwise not particularly inventive. Great flavor combination, but nothing about it said bizarre to me. Also I'm not that into pine nuts.

K: The second to last dinner course was another in the line of Jaleo familiars: piquillo peppers stuffed with goat cheese. Goat cheese is one of my weak spots, and so this has always been right up my alley. The creaminess and the fullness of the goat cheese matched perfectly with the soft fleshiness of the peeled and grilled peppers. Again, another favorite, classic and simple but just what I wanted.

CC
: I also love this dish at Jaleo, but I think it's better there. Maybe it was the peppers, but this was a little more bland than what I had come to expect. It was nice to end on the veggies after all that meat though, which weighed down what was an otherwise lighter meal.

K: The last course was yet another Jaleo-esque dish: beef hanger steak with a piquillo pepper confit. Tender and juicy, but like the lamb loin, in the midst of such a mindblowing meal, the traditional tapas sort of fell by the wayside compared to the modern ones. On some level I feel that, on any other night or in any other restaurant, this would probably have been a clear winner.

CC: I might have had too much wine by this point, but I don't even remember eating this.

K: At this point, we were ready to move onto dessert, when we were told that dessert was served in a completely different part of the restaurant: the aforementioned patisserie. Whereas the restaurant was black and red, the patisserie was decidedly princess-esque and baby pink.

CC: They actually host tea parties in the patisserie, which would be really fun. The real sweet treats were intermingled with candles made to look like cakes and lacy lollipops. It was kind of fun to experience the other side of the restaurant, but I think the idea of relocating a meal is a little odd and cumbersome.

K: The first dessert was a chocolate mousse of some sort. Frankly, this dessert was obviously our least favorite, because CC and I had a hard time remembering exactly what it is. I'm also pretty sure it was my call to order it too, which is personally embarrassing. But after the dinner, I'll take some misses on dessert, I guess. Though luckily the other ones made up for it.

CC: This pudding thing was the least memorable.

K: The second dessert was a preparation we first saw at minibar; a ball of coconut meringue which had been solidified by liquid nitrogen. It was presented on seared bananas and a mango sauce. I actually really loved it, mostly because of the playfulness involved with eating it, having to crack it with your spoon.

CC: This mushroom cloud of citrusy meringue was a lot of fun to look at, crack apart, and eat! This was definitely a winner, embracing the coconut and bananas and cold crunchy/creaminess of the cloud while not feeling overly acidic and tropical--thanks again to a server suggestion.

K: The last dessert we picked was a chocolate cake. Again without the benefit of my notebook or a souvenir menu from the patisserie (we of course asked for the dinner menu, because we're both shameless, and I'm a packrat with mementos), I can't remember exactly what was special about this particular cake. All I know is it was the Squish's choice, so it probably was pretty standard, and that's what I remember about it. It was straightforward.

CC: My family and I believe that no meal is complete without dessert, and that dessert must include chocolate. Win.

K: Lastly, we had seen the drink menu, but had abstained in favor of wine with dinner, but we just had to sample one of the drinks, all of which seemed to incorporate some crazy avant-garde technique. Of course, being who we are, we went with the most ostentatious one, the caipirinha which was prepared using liquid nitrogen off a special cart by a specific guy. On some level, we weren't even allowed to have him come over, but we talked the patisserie waiter into making it happen.

To say it was a mad scientist presentation doesn't do it justice; smoke everywhere as the bespectacled man behind the rolling cart furiously whips out what turns out to be the drink pictured at right. It was beautifully prepared, I almost didn't want to drink it. But drink it we did. Or at least, try to. It being frozen, it was more like a caipirinha icee. This would have been fine, but the process seemed to zap the background flavor of the drink and leave behind the straight kick-you-in-the-face aspect of the cachaca. You just got the feeling that you were sipping straight alcohol when you chipped away at it. The flowers were a nice touch though, but presentation wise, and while eating.

CC: Sadly, this drink disappointed me. It was all show and I liked that (as Kim said, they also were very accommodating by bringing the drink cart to the dessert side, apparently not a common thing). I love caipirinhas, but this liquid nitrogen mixed cocktail tasted like alcohol shaved ice. At least it was pretty...

K: So that's our trip to the Bazaar. Fanciful, beautiful presentations, absolutely revelational preparations and tastes and combinations. But what else is there to expect from Jose Andres? Instantly in my top 5 meals all-time, though sadly no real place for it on this blog, with its DC focus. But we're here to share food experiences, and record our food diary, so if you ever find yourself out in LA, go to the Bazaar.

CC: Honestly, when it comes down to it, the play on the Bazaar/bizarre highlights the spectacle and the playfulness. It's fun and fanciful, and extraordinary at points, but where it is most successful is in those modern exciting dishes.

K: Thanks for reading! Hopefully we'll get to travel more soon!

The Bazaar By Jose Andres on Urbanspoon

1 comment:

Debra Mennins said...

I'd hang out at The Bazaar Patisserie while my hubby eats his meal. I think my dentist in la will have a few choice words with my hang out places though.