The Distinguished Gourmand: The Bazaar

April 30, 2012

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Perhaps it’s fitting that I review a restaurant today, because Restaurant magazine published its annual World’s 50 Best list this morning. Topping the list is Noma, an eatery in Copenhagen, Denmark that has ranked first in the world for three years in a row. The top restaurants in America include Per Se (NY), Alinea (IL), and Eleven Madison Park (NY). The only place on the list I’ve eaten is Blue Hill At Stone Barns (which moved up from #91 to #77 this year, cool!).

Although not included on this list, The Bazaar by Jose Andreas has won a number of awards since opening in the SLS Hotel three years ago. It was a “Best New Restaurant” James Beard finalist and won Esquire’s “Restaurant Of The Year” in 2009. Then inexplicably in 2010 it won Zagat LA’s “Top Newcomer” award and was ranked number 3 by GQ on their list of the ten best new restaurants in America. Go figure.

I’ve been trying weasel my way into dinner at Bazaar for some time. When my sister announced she was coming to town for my birthday I immediately made us a reservation. Then I had to change it, cancel it, renew it and change it once more before we finally got in, at 10:30 on Saturday night. Good things come to those who make, cancel, renew, and change.

Despite our reservation, we had to wait about 15 minutes for a table to clear in Rojo y Blanca, the main restaurant. We stood in Bar Centro mulling over the drink menu and watching as “salt air” margaritas and “liquid cherry” manhattans found greedy hands. When we were seated, our attention shifted to the food menu, and after much deliberation, we decided on about ten different dishes. The menu is broken down into Traditional Tapas and Modern Tapas. We leaned heavily towards the modern options, but tried to vary our order with a few traditional plates. Here’s how it went:

Smoked Yellowtail & Crispy Rice (yoghurt, grapes, capers, radish). This was a really nice, light way to start the meal. The grapes were hand-peeled and their sweetness held up well against the strong salinity of the capers. I'll probably never taste "crispy" rice like that again.

Ottoman Carrot Fritters (apricots, pistachio sauce). Little vegetable fried balls were another light, fun offering. The pistachio sauce was incredible. I tried to scoop it all up with my fork without looking like an idiot. I probably failed.

Endive (Capriola Farm goat cheese, oranges, almond, orange dressing). These were just alright. Nothing spectacular. The oranges were quite bitter, and the goat cheese and almonds couldn't alter the taste enough to make it enjoyable. They sure looked pretty, though.

Not Your Everyday Caprese (cherry tomatoes, liquid mozzarella) This was the first wild, unique bite of the night. You take one tomato and one liquid cheese ball carefully in your spoon with some of the pesto and basil, then eat all at once. The liquid cheese explodes and although you're not eating caprese, you'd never know it. It's mind-blowing.

Japanese Taco (Grilled eel, shiso, cucumber, wasabi, chicharron). I saw this and ordered it as one of our last plates, and it turned out to be my favorite or second best dish of the night. The eel was grilled perfectly, it managed to be crunchy and fatty and had only a mild wasabi flavor. I loved the construction with the paper-thin cucumber wrap. A brilliant take on unagi.

Cotton Candy Duck Liver. Doesn't really need much of an explanation. It was a very rich, sweet, silly, mid-course bite. Exemplary? No. Fun? Yes.

Grilled Wagyu Flank Steak (piquillo pepper confit). This was arguably the best plate of the meal. Was it real wagyu? Not if it only cost $16! Still, it was a perfect medium-rare (maybe a little on the rare side, which is fine by me) and the sauce was outstanding. You can't see it too well in this picture but the confit pepper is beneath the steak, and it was so flavorful and tasty. It all worked really well together. Beefy, fatty, a touch of heat, delicious.

Seared Squid (artichokes, chicken escabeche). Uh...I think. We were confused about this part of the order, and though it's the only squid dish on the menu it was plated disproportionately so one of us missed the squid and one of us the escabeche. Too bad. I'm sure together it would have been harmonious. I just got a mouthful of squid and onion. The squid was really good.

"Philly Cheesesteak" (air bread, cheddar, wagyu beef). It's like a puff pastry Hot Pocket filled with molten cheese topped with barely-seared beef. It was another playful deconstruction. I'd say it tasted fine, it was by no means amazing. The cheese was a bit uneven inside, which meant my first bite was super rich and creamy while the rest were more beefy with no cheese. Still...neat concept.

"The Ultimate Spanish Tapa!" (ensaladilla rusa potatoes, carrots, mayo, tuna belly). The "mayo" is a misnomer, because what happens is when it arrives on the table the waiter mixes together hard-boiled eggs and oil to create a deconstructed mayonnaise. The tuna was strong but not too fishy. I guess this is what canned tuna tastes like? I wouldn't know, I'm repulsed by the smell.

At this point our main course was complete, and we were asked if we wanted to move to the dessert room. Well, duh, obviously. We waited a few minutes while our table was cleared. Then a different hostess from the one who seated us ushered us to a table in the Patisserie, on the other side of Bar Centro. The menu here is broken up into smaller bites and heartier options. You can choose between a selection of chocolate bonbons, mini-tablettes, pastries and candies ($3 a piece), fruit ($1.50 each), cookies ($1 each) and cakes/tartes ($12). Or you can have a legit patisserie dessert and cupcakes. After ten minutes of mulling over all the different dessert options we made our decisions:

Hot Chocolate Mousse (pear sorbet and salty hazelnut praline). It might have looked like the grossest dish of the night, but it tasted incredible. The perfect blend of chocolate and salt made this a wonderful dessert.

Nitro Coconut Floating Island (passion fruit and vanilla). This is pretty nuts. They freeze the coconut ice cream with liquid nitrogen and serve it over caramelized bananas and syrup. Far out, eh?

Tart, Pop Rocks, Cookie. Since I'm not much of a dessert person, all I ordered was a milk chocolate with caramel and peanuts tart, a bowl of dark chocolate Pop Rocks, and a chocolate fleur de sal cookie. What the hell is wrong with me? Yes, we bought three orders of Dark Chocolate Pop Rocks for my sister to take back to New Jersey for her friends.

Overall I’d say The Bazaar provided a unique and fun dining experience. While most of the meal was phenomenal, a few plates less than spectacular. Flavors aside, what really sets this restaurant apart from most everywhere else in Los Angeles is the creativity factor. While The Bazaar isn’t WD50 or Aliena, it still offers the chance to enjoy progressive, modern cuisine, which is something not many chefs in this city are attempting right now. Hopefully with restaurants like the Bazaar, ink., and maybe on a much smaller scale Providence and Ludo-Bites, more menus will incorporate these elements in the future. Or, you know, I’ll just move to New York. Whichever comes first!

Landing – White Walls [MP3]

2 comments

  1. |

    so i believe suggesting we eat there together in september will not require any arm twisting……………..and no, elissa, you can not join us!

  2. |

    yeah! screw elissa! she could conceivably eat at daniel or per se whenever she wants!!!! she won’t get to come with us!!!

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