Saturday, January 31, 2009
The Bazaar by Jose Andres at SLS
A week after my DineLA inauguratory dinner at the Bazaar in the SLS Hotel, I still don't quite know what to think about the restaurant. What is it that makes it a "bazaar"? There aren't any famous bazaars in Spain. Perhaps the 24 karat golden squirrel coin bank or the $1,000 paparazzi photos that HC pointed out constituted a bazaar. I briefly contemplated the reaction my waiter would have if I tried to haggle the price of the jamon Iberico. But how is this supposed to be a reflection of the food. As I found out that night, the Bazaar is more of a description of the atmosphere than the food, which is most of the reason I'd go there anyway.
If rich people ever shopped at a bazaar, I wonder if they'd still appreciate the bargaining and haggling as much. I sure felt like a shopper looking for the best combination that my DineLA $44 would get me. My choice of three tapas, a "Philly" cheesesteak, and a choice of dessert for $44 would only be a deal if I looked at the more expensive selections. Therefore, most of my picks, and those of my companions, were seafood heavy.
We did opt for the jamon Iberico de bellota made of acorn-fed Spanish pigs because, how could we not? Mattatouille refers to jamon Iberico as pork crack. Indeed, that sandy texture of cured meat is one I could keep in my mouth forever. Almost as good as Ore's culatello at Totoraku.
Perhaps the division of the menu into "rojas" and "blancas" was meant to reflect proper wine pairing, but I chose almost indiscriminately based on price. While that may be a terrible thing to say for a foodie, I was here for a deal and it was Chinese New Year after all. If I'm not going to get proper Chinese food, I was going to get my money's worth.
Hence the obligatory canned king crab with raspberries and raspberry vinegar, the most expensive "canned" item. While the raspberries were a refreshing touch, the crab lacked any deep flavors of its own. In fact, the fruit overwhelmed the shellfish, which made the entire dish somewhat off. Several other seafood items including kumamoto oysters, mussels and scallops were available in tin also. According to the menu, Spain is one of the foremost canning regions, and this was Chef Andres' ode to the rich tradition. However, none of the items are actually canned; they're merely served in a tin.
How would you make a fancy Philly cheesesteak? I don't know how many people would reply by filling air-bread with cheese and topping it with rare slices of Wagyu beef. Imagine biting into a savory puff pastry filled with melted cheese.
I can't say I only chose the expensive items. Having made sure the total of my selections surpassed $44, I chose the watermelon tomato skewers with Pedro Ximenez reduction for something more experimental. Pedro Ximenez is a white grape and sweet dessert wine, though the dish's flavors were dominated by the fruit. I was caught in the balance between the acidity of the tomato and the sweetness of the watermelon. Both seemed to benefit from the other, even if they were vying for my palate's affection.
Ah, by now you've probably realized that it takes just as much stamina to get through a Bazaar review as it does a dinner. Although I can't enthrall you nearly as much as Kevin can. My sea scallops with Romesco sauce were tasty, but not very particular. The Catalonian sauce derived from almonds, hazelnuts, roasted garlic and tomatoes sounds much more interesting than it tasted. I got a nutty flavor from this common Spanish sauce, but it paled in comparison to Alain Giraud's pistachio emulsion scallops.
Those were my selections for the night, but our table had plenty more visual treats.
Mini steamed uni buns
Tiny foie gras sliders
Lamb loin with foraged mushrooms and pureed potatoes
Clockwise from center: tomato and olive oil toast, jamon Iberico de Bellota, tzatziki sauce for the sweet potato chips, and an over-eager eater
And food porn picture of the year: hanger steak
Dessert was done right with just as many choices to keep things interesting.
My floating island nitro-inflated coconut puff with passionfruit syrup gradually deflated as we dug into the rest of the sweets.
A visit to the Bazaar is fairly incomplete without looking through their cocktail menu. My Jose Andres' Gimlet had an entire lime floating in the center, while my girlfriend's Magic Mojito was strained over cotton candy. Among some other unique cocktail accouterments were chocolate ice, salt foam, spherified olive juice and liquid nitrogen caipirinhas. For $16 a drink, choosing the flashiest presentation may be the best way to spend your money.
As I first mentioned, most of the fun of the Bazaar experience is in the decorations, the furniture screaming for attention. One note about the men's bathroom--the walls are all mirrors. I don't know if that does it for some people, but I don't need to see myself from three angles while taking care of business. I also don't need anyone who walks into the restroom to be privy to the aforementioned sight. There some hits, but also a few misses. For example, I'd avoid the toro nigiri on watermelon with soy foam. Still, Bazaar is quite a dining experience, full of all the commotion of a real bazaar. Just don't expect a bargain.
The Bazaar by Jose Andres
SLS Hotel at Beverly Hills
465 S La Cienega Blvd
Los Angeles, 90048
$44 DineLA menu, $36 for Jamon Iberico, $16 cocktails, $10 valet