The Bazaar by Jose Andres

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This report is several months old and the following meal was enjoyed in June, during my last trip to Los Angeles, accompanied by the delightful Mr. Richard and the beautiful Lisa. I won’t comment on the surroundings or décor; suffice to say the artist in me was thrilled with all the eye candy. It is not an understated, demure room by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, I would hazard to guess it could have been designed by Jeff Koons, if Jeff Koons did such things.

Sweet potato chips with Greek yogurt foam with star anise and tamarind.
Delightful concoction of crisp, light chips (so much better than the bagged version, which I adore). The hint of tamarind and star anise enhanced the creamy yogurt. I think we were cleaning the bowl with our fingers…

Traditional olives with Piquillo peppers. Served in a can, these were to tease us for what was to come, the MG’d liquefied version. Traditional and piquant, a perfect amuse.

Liquified olives. The liquefied olives were the Molecular Gastronomic version of the traditional olive. Served in a mason jar, a waiter deftly and carefully served them in utensils similar to Japanese soup spoons so they could be consumed in one bite, letting the vinegared goodness squirt gleefully in our mouths. Bright, enticing, and very adventurous.

Caprese salad. How does one make a simple caprese salad better? For starters, making the globular bites of cheese and cherry tomatoes exactly the same size. Second, peel the perfectly ripe tomatoes. Third, use the very best olive oil, freshest basil, and enhance with blanched garlic. This offering was quite simply, the very best caprese salad I have ever experienced, with each ingredient speaking its own language, yet complementing its partner.

Guacamole with jicama and fritos and cilantro. In this dish, the jicama was sliced paper thin to act like an Asian wonton wrapper, encasing the guacamole. This was one of the first dishes to be served which, while perfectly fine, seemed out of place with the other Spanish flavors. In fact, being a California native who has eaten various versions of guacamole my whole life, I found the filling rather pedestrian, although the packaging was certainly unique. It looked pretty, but did not inspire me or send me through the rapturous ceiling as the previous courses had done.

Paddlefish caviar cone. So simple and again, so very, very good. The tuille cone – which so often can be made so thick as to overwhelm that which it contains – was paper thin and showcased the ample caviar. Just enough crème fraîche and chives to balance out the saltiness of the caviar. 

Conservas – raspberry and vinaigrette with King Crab
. Another tin-served course, there is a refined palate at work that knows how to marry two seemingly disparate delicacies such as raspberries and crab. Here, succulent crab with a hint of vinaigrette and edible pansies provided a cool repass from the salty caviar. This was a favorite of mine and I was very lucky to have such good friends let me eat the bulk of this course.

Papas with bacon (Canary Islands); potatoes cooked with salt water served with mojo of parsley, cilantro, and cumin
. I admit it; I am not a cilantro fan and was fairly sure I wouldn’t enjoy these potatoes as they were meant to be eaten, with the mojo. And I was incredibly wrong. Somehow the pervasive soapiness that I get from cilantro was absent here and instead, I got to experience delightfully tender morsels of salted potatoes, dipped in the enticing sauce. While dusted with a fine layer of salt, these were not too salty at all.

Avocado with tuna, rolled with cornnuts and micro cilantro. Like the guacamole purses, this was a course that failed slightly for me. And I like avocados! The creamy texture of the obviously great tasting avocado was too similar in mushiness to the interior tuna concoction. It was only the addition of the house-made corn-nuts that provided some much-needed crunch, but it was not enough. I’m sorry to say that I don’t recall the sauce. All I recall was a mouth full of mush.

Nitrogen Capairinha
. To hearken away from our wine, we opted for the extra charge ($30) to try the molecular gastronomic capairinha. Prepared tableside, the ingredients are combined and then nitrogen is added to create the most decadent, alcoholic slushy imaginable. Made with a premium cachaça, Sagatiba, the shared indulgence cleansed our palate and excited us for what was to come. Expensive yes. And worth every penny.

Some bread. Bread is not automatically served at Bazaar as it is in most restaurants. We had asked for it early on as there were many courses from which we wanted to sop up sauces. Having the bread arrive so late in our meal, we realized why there was a delay: They were baked to order. Brushed with and served with some of the quality olive oil, it would have been quite easy to cancel the rest of the meal and simply feast upon the crusty, delightful loaves of goodness.

Hangar steak with Piquillo peppers. Surprisingly, here is where I began to falter and Lisa stepped up to the plate. I’m normally more of a carnivore and this hunk of meat was truly astonishing, so it was surprising to me how much she went after it. Don’t get me wrong – I had my fair share – but knew there was still more to come and happy with just a few bites.

Pollo croquettes. Simple fried chicken goodness. Not too heavily breaded and not overly complicated. Simple goodness. Tender and rich. Nothing special and not very memorable, but savory and satisfying.

Piquillo peppers with goat cheese and grape reduction
. Another classic dish, classically prepared. No MG bells and whistles or unusual ingredients to detract from the wholesome goodness of the bright pepper and rich, creamy goat cheese. The grape reduction added a touch of richness.

Cauliflower couscous with harissa broth
. While we were not impressed with the two ventures outside the Spanish flavors towards the Mexican, but this endeavor into Moroccan flavors was considerably more successful. The tiny bits of cauliflower mimicked the classic texture and sensation of rolled couscous. The harissa broth was rich and enticing, with a delicate spice that engaged instead of overwhelmed.  With some micro-greens and raisins, I adored this dish and its delicacy and trompe l’oeil innovation.

Lamb loin, truffle gelée, forest mushrooms, and potatoes. Again, it was Lisa who is not as big of a carnivore as myself who cherished this dish. I was slightly put off by the gelée – it was a thick, gelatinous layer which had to be worked through the find the other ingredients. Once discovered, the lamb was tender and rich and worked to be a great complement to the mushrooms. The potatoes were not overwhelming in flavor and the truffle essence – which so often can permeate a dish – was balanced, but the soft creamy texture was too incongruous with the hunk-o-jello and rich meat.

Mushroom risotto, Idizabal cheese
. Of all the dishes of the evening, this was the one which faltered the most. Surprisingly both soupy AND pasty, this uninspired dish showed no predominant mushroom flavor in the rice despite the lovely whole mushrooms, nor was there the necessary creaminess indicative of a great risotto. It was more of a soup and rice soup and went mostly uneaten.

Sangria. Not really a course, but we were talking with the Maître ‘D about how much we were enjoying the wine and the capairinha and he offered to give us a miniature version of their much-lauded sangria. Made with white wine, I would happily return just to sit on the veranda (okay, I don’t think they have a veranda), so sip these…

Foie “popsicle.”
This was not part of the chef’s choice on the tasting but there was no way we were going to leave without tasting this famous dish (well, I had had it before, but Lisa and Rick never had). Here, a perfect cube of cold foie gras terrine is encased in spun sugar and dusted with hazelnut bits. Best consumed all at once, the mouth is rewarded with creamy, decadent foie, a hint of sugar which disappears quickly once consumed, and the crunchy nut bits. 

We had been sitting in the dining room for some time and it was at this point we were directed towards the lounge/shop area for dessert. It is very difficult to not become overwhelmed with the bounty in both the retail establishment and the glass-covered patisserie offerings. From the menu, we went with the waiter’s suggestion of Panna Cotta, Flan, Crème Caramel along with some coffee and tea. Regrettably, while the desserts all had a decent enough flavor, we were again confounded with such a remarkably similar texture to be rather bored. Too many soft, gooey things, although I definitely enjoyed the heavy rich caramel poured atop the flan. But looking at all of the sweets in the shop, I can’t help but think we would have been better served choosing a selection of delicacies from the store. Lisa did order a small serving of the Chocolate Pop-Rocks, which proved quite fun and confirmed our belief; better stuff a la carte…

Even taking several months to getting around to writing this, it has proven to be one of the most memorable meals of 2009. The quality is exceptional, the service is never stuffy and we were completely charmed by waiters, bus servers, and quite pleased when the chef agreed to step out and answer some questions. I had grown weary of some of the MG attempts in Northern California (with the exception of those by Jeremy Fox at Ubuntu), but here there is enough variety and juxtaposition to make the scientific aspects of the meal more than just a novelty. It was truly a joy to behold.
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