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Neal Vitale Reviews: The Bazaar Restaurant in LA

[Ed. note: As a foodie, I am jealous...]

On Saturday night, March 21, six of us visited José Andrés’ latest restaurant, The Bazaar, on La Cienega Boulevard in Los Angeles. It was quite the treat! [Andrés trained under the renowned Ferran Adria of El Bulli in Catalonia, and has several Washington, DC, restaurants, including minibar, Cafe Atlantico, Oyamel, and Zaytinya. The Bazaar is his first West Coast venture.]

The restaurant is enormous, filling what was once the lobby of the Nikko Hotel. The lobby (of now the SLS Hotel, from hotelier and entrepreneur Sam Nazarian) is relocated around the corner from the old entrance, leaving an open space that is loosely divided into two main restaurants, Blanca and Rojo. [The image that kept coming to mind was the main floor of a chic retailer like Barney’s, strewn with lighted display cases.]  There is a central bar area, and a patisserie; there is also a Moss home furnishings store woven throughout. Typical of the modernist feel, there are flat panels with images of serious uniformed men…which slowly morph into animals (à la video artist Bill Viola). Visually, it is unlike any restaurant I’ve ever visited. We sat in Rojo, and had a table next to the kitchen. The tabletop itself was checkerboard patterned, with lines cut into the surface; illuminated from within with pink light, it gave the appearance of a  reverse checkerboard – dark squares, separated by glowing pink lines. Half of us watched the kitchen work (led by sous-chef Marcel Vigneron, runner up on Season 2 of “Top Chef”), while the others tracked the scene in the room.

 We decided to do the top tier tasting menu ($95/head), and started with some Sangria made with cava, Hennessey, orange liqueur, and fruits and herbs. Lovely. [NOTE- what follows is my best recollection of the meal, but I may have some dishes out of sequence – shoot me!] We had a dip of Greek yogurt with tamarind and star anise, served with sweet potato chips. Good, but underseasoned. This was followed by skewered cubes of watermelon and tomato (unexceptional), little one-bite puff balls topped with caviar, jamón ibérico on grilled bread that had been spread with finely chopped tomatoes, and cotton candy foie gras – lollipops of foie gras surrounded by a small nest of spun sugar. Incredibly good. [We had moved on from the Sangria by now to a Naides 2006 Verdejo.]

 Next came so-called tortilla de patatas “new way” – served in a hollowed egg shell standing (glued) to a piece of slate, a potato foam mixed with caramelized onions and egg (fabulous). Fingerling potatoes that had been boiled in highly salted water, so they come out dry-skinned and salt-patched, were served with a soothing, rich salsa verde (among the best single dishes I have ever eaten). Olives two way – “real” ones skewered and stuffed with anchovies, accompanied by spoons which held a small orb of manufactured “olive essence.” Shrimp skewered on a pipette of cocktail sauce that you squeeze into your mouth as you bite the shrimp. Boneless chicken wings served with a green olive puree. To celebrate Spain's tradition of fine canned goods, servings (in small tins) of mussels in oil, vinegar, and pimentón, and King crab with raspberries and raspberry vinegar (however weird it sounds, it was brilliant). [By now, we had moved on to a Crianza Pesquera 2005 (Tempernillo) from the Duero.]

 The hits just kept coming with “not your everyday Caprese” – tomatoes with liquid mozzarella balls (we ordered a second helping), braised veal cheeks with oranges, oven-roasted cippolini onions with celementines, passion fruit, and pumpkin seed oil. “Philly cheesesteak” was made with Wagyu beef. [We ended with a Chateau Montelana Cabernet 1992, from one of our friends.]

 Dessert was hot chocolate mousse with pear sorbet and salty hazelnut praline, apples “Carlota” (warm apple tart with saffron sauce and milk ice cream) – my least favorite dish of the night – and nitro coconut floating island. This last dish was supposed to showcase the flashy “molecular gastronomy” of the restaurant and chef but, while the dish was good, its liquid nitrogen “smoke” dissipated between the kitchen and our table – the perils of a place that serves 200. An assortment of equally inventive and exotic candies ended the meal.

 It was a terrific, unique evening, and a meal that lasted well over three hours. [Even if you’ve tried Andrés’ cooking in DC - even the 31-course tasting at minibar that features some similar dishes - this spot is an entirely new and different experience.] I’m ready to go back as soon as possible!