Los Angeles (last visit: October 2010).
José Andrés is a Washington, D.C. based chef whose mini-empire covers a variety of cuisines, including Spanish tapas (Jaleo) and molecular gastronomy (minibar). He's now opened a place in Los Angeles: Bazaar. Located in Beverly Hills, it fittingly has a trendier feel than his other restaurants. There are different sections within the space: the main dining room; a tapas bar (where the whole menu is available); Saam, which offers a multi-course tasting menu.
Cross a Spanish tapas bar with a restaurant devoted to molecular gastronomy, and you've got an idea of the menu. Traditional choices include various kinds of ham, including the insanely expensive Jamón Ibérico de bellota Fermin; there are also buńuelos (codfish fritters) and croquetas de pollo (chicken fritters). On the molecular gastronomy side, you can get spheres of liquid that taste just like olives - or how about a drink quickly frozen with liquid nitrogen?
Many months prior to my visit, it was my understanding that the tapas bar served only a limited menu. By the time I got there, the full menu was available. If this matters to you, it would be a good idea to check about the current policy.
If you're familiar with José Andrés restaurants in Washington, D.C., then...that will be no help at all. Located within the Philippe Starck designed SLS Hotel, Bazaar screams Beverly Hills. The space is divided into four areas: main dining room; tapas bar, where snacks, as well as the full menu, are available; Saam, a restaurant within a restaurant, where a special tasting menu is served; dessert room, the last stop after eating a meal here. OK, five areas: there's also an area where you can admire, and purchase, Beverly Hills tchotchkes.
I ate at the tapas bar. Eight seats overlook the chef's area, separated by a rough, wide black countertop. Black and red predominate; lighting is low to moderate; music consists of soft to moderate instrumentals, with some vocals. Timing of my meal was very good at first, but as the restaurant got busy there were long waits between dishes.
Forget the prose. Here's what I had:
LN2 caipirinha. It was almost a traditional caipirinha, but instead of ice cubes the ingredients were quickly chilled with liquid nitrogen. The result: a caipirinha Slurpee - slushy but very smooth. I ordered this for the novelty, but it turned out to be a good drink.
Chipirones en su tinta (baby squid with own ink). Possibly roasted, the squid was chewy yet somehow tender, and strongly flavored. This would turn out to be my favorite dish of the evening.
Sea urchin sandwiches. This certainly sounded different. Three pieces of steamed brioche, with sea urchin. It was pretty good, but not that unusual after all.
Olives - modern and traditional. Traditional olives were...traditional olives. Meaty and smoky, they impressed a guy who's not always certain he likes olives. Liquid olives are one of chef Andres's signature items: olive sized ovoids of mildly olive flavored liquid. This is one of those molecular gastronomy things - one of those successful molecular gastronomy things.
Cotton candy foie gras. A chunk of pâté rolled in corn nuts, then wrapped in cotton candy. Not as exotic as it sounds, but very good.
Japanese eel tacos. Eel, cucumber and shiso. Decent, but not something I'd get again.
Just shrimp cocktail. This really is just shrimp cocktail - but presented in a unique fashion. Aside from the shrimp, a flavored liquid was provided in a little squeeze bulb. Put the shrimp in your mouth, squeeze the bulb, and voila! It was good, but just because the cook did a good job; the rest was theater.
Not your everyday Caprésé. Caprésé is made with mozzarella and tomatoes. The not-your-everyday version used a sphere of mozzarella flavored liquid. I'd order this again, but the liquid mozzarella wasn't as robust as the regular variety, and was a bit overwhelmed by the tomato .
Philly cheesesteak (air bread, cheddar, wagyu beef). The "bread" was mostly air - like a puffy cracker. The cheese was liquid and light. Who knows if the wagyu was true wagyu or not? That doesn't sound like a description of anything good, but it was very good indeed - just a little behind the squid among my favorites tonight.
For dessert, I relocated to Bazaar's dessert area. The Pâtisserie has a menu, and a cafeteria like area showcasing desserts. Eat the desserts here, or buy some for later. The atmosphere: lighter colors than the bar or main dining area, and the (same) music was louder. I ordered a "Traditional Spanish Flan - Vanilla and Fruit." That pretty much describes it. I also got some goodies from the cafeteria area (fruit jelly squares and some cookies) for later. They almost lasted until I drove back to my hotel.
I'm having a hard time figuring out my feelings about Bazaar. Before arriving, I thought it might be more like Andres's minibar. Bazaar suffers by comparison. However, that isn't fair: it doesn't try to be like minibar, it's less expensive, and in any case if I wanted that experience, Saam would be the closest approximation, not the main restaurant.
If I were to compare it to a bar or gastropub, Bazaar would be stellar. However, that comparison isn't fair, either: Bazaar is more expensive, and has a different vibe.
I guess I'd say that I enjoyed my meal a lot. If you haven't delved into the world of molecular gastronomy, here's a chance to dip your toe in the water without going whole hog. If you like tapas with a modern twist, give Bazaar a try. However, I'm not tempted to return, except perhaps to sample Saam.
I failed to write down the cost, but the online menu has prices.
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