Last week I was in Los Angeles for a few days over spring break. During our 3 day stay there, Russ and I dined at Bouchon (French food) and The Bazaar by José Andrés (tapas of the traditional and “modern” persuasions). While we had a lovely dinner at Bouchon with great food, it wasn’t quite as remarkable as the latter restaurant. You see, José Andrés is a Spanish chef who formerly trained under Ferran Adria at El Bulli, a quite famous restaurant that worked on molecular gastronomy. Molecular gastronomy investigates and explains the chemical reasons behind cooking. This has created a modern style of cooking using innovative techniques that transforms ordinary ingredients into surprising and extraordinary new forms.
I’d never eaten at a restaurant using this modern, scientific, and sometimes weird style of cooking. If you watch Top Chef, you’ll remember Marcel putting foam on everything several seasons ago. That was about the extent to my exposure to molecular gastronomy before eating at The Bazaar.
The Bazaar is located in the SLS Hotel. When you walk in, it’s a bit overwhelming scene of just stuff everywhere. There aren’t many walls, so it’s a rather big space that’s barely divided into 4 spaces: 2 dining rooms on your left (Rojo and Blanca rooms), a bar in the back of the middle (Bar Centro), and a small dessert room (Patisserie) and visually overwhelming shop (Regalo) on your right. There is another dining room, the Saam room, that I believe is hidden in the back. It is only open a few days a week and serves a prix fixe menu for $120 per person.
We ate in the Blanca room, where light wood tables are surrounded by tan sofas, oddly large white plastic chairs, and comfortable arm chairs (thankfully, that’s what we sat on). The large waitstaff is constantly cruising the room, keeping everything running smoothly and extremely efficiently. As soon as we finished with a plate, it would be whisked away from the table. Dishes are served quickly after ordering (and they can pile up – order around 2-3 at a time until you get full). The servers also offered useful advice on how to eat the more unusual dishes and prepared some special cocktails and dishes tableside.
Let’s get on to the food…
First of all, please excuse the horrible quality of the photos. They were taken with my cell phone under dark lighting, so they’re not the best. But at least you can see what I’m talking about! We started the evening with 2 cocktails: an Air Salt Margarita for Russ and a Magic Mojito for me. Russ ordered the margarita only to find out what “air salt” was like. It turned out to be foam, which I’m still not quite sure how they made out of salt. It was ok, but the mojito not only tasted better but was very cool; the drink begins with a pile of cotton candy in a glass, which is then filled with the liquid. The cotton candy immediately disintegrates (I wish I had been fast enough to get a picture!) and sweetens the drink. However, at $16 each, I wasn’t so impressed that I felt the need to order more.
The following dishes pictured are all items from the “modern tapas” menu in the Rojo y Blanca rooms.
Russ started with the cotton candy foie gras. It’s a cube of cold foie gras on a stick, which is wrapped with airy cotton candy. He proclaimed it delicious (I’m still skeptical, but I’m sure it was).
We shared the not your everyday Caprese, which consisted of small tomatoes, basil leaves, pesto sauce, “air bread” (in this case, small hollow crackers), balsamic vinegar and “liquid” mozzerella. We were told to very carefully and gently scoop the delicate cheese with a spoon. Once it reached my mouth, I knew why: the ball of cheese immediately turned to liquid. In many online reviews, people complain about the balls bursting in their mouths in an unappetizing fashion, but I didn’t have that experience. It was pretty amazing to have a ball of cheese turn to liquid in my mouth and the whole dish came together well with classic Caprese flavors.
Here is the oragnized Caesar. The small towers are very tighly wrapped lettuce topped with either Parmesan cheese or quail egg, surrounded by little air bread croutons and dressing. Crunchy, gooey, salty, cheesy – lots of elements going on here. Definitely the most interesting Caesar salad I’ve ever had!
At this point, I was very relieved to have a dish that took more than 1-2 bites to finish. I was getting worried that there was no way we’d get full before ordering way over $200 worth of food (thankfully, this didn’t happen!). This is the Brussels sprout salad, with lemon purée, apricots, grapes and lemon air (again, air = foam). It tasted very strongly of lemon but for some reason that actually worked for the dish. The sprouts were crunchy, coated with foam and dressing, and overall it was a very refreshing salad.
This is the Philly cheesesteak, served over “air bread” with cheddar and Wagyu beef. What’s air bread? Well, let me show you:
I don’t know how they make hollow bread, but it’s fun to eat. There was no visible cheese that I could see, and Russ theorized that nutritional yeast was used. Whatever it was, it still tasted very cheesy, which went great with the excellent beef. A few bites of this dish were too salty, but I really enjoyed it.
Not pictured: bagel and lox cone (very very salty, with an unappealing texture) and one dish off the “traditional tapas” menu, Jamón Serrano Fermin (served with toasted bread and a lovely tomato sauce – I highly recommend this!).
Once we were done ordering tapas, our server inquired if we would like to move to the Patisserie room for dessert. I don’t think I’ve ever moved rooms in a restaurant, except perhaps from the bar to the dining room. This is part of the Bazaar experience and you shouldn’t skip it, even if you’re not very hungry after dinner. They have tiny bites, and it’s fun to see the desserts before you order them. There is a long table with a display so you can see what you’re ordering (which is particularly important because the servings are extremely small).
On the left is my favorite: chocolate covered Pop Rocks. I was initially repulsed by the idea, but too intrigued to pass them up. They were actually really good and an interesting sensory experience. First the chocolate melts in your mouth, then you get that familiar popping sensation from the classic candy (perhaps one of the first moleculary gastronomy products?).
In the middle: basil white chocolate mini-tablette. Basically, a small basil leaf with white chocolate poured over it. I wasn’t a big fan, but Russ enjoyed it. If you like basil and white chocolate, I suppose you would like it.
On the right: I can’t remember the name of this one, but it was a housemade candy that was basically a much higher quality, adult version of commerical Kit Kats. When Russ described it as a Kit Kat, I felt a bit ripped off, but once I tasted it I changed my mind. Much, much better than a Kit Kat.
Despite my earlier fears, we actually spent less on tapas and dessert at Bazaar than we did on 3 courses at Bouchon. I think around 3-4 tapas per person does the trick, depending on which you pick. The ones from the modern menu tend to be smaller portions (and not for smaller prices). If I returned, I would order more off the traditional menu, and definitely get the Jamón Serrano again. However, for my first experience with molecular gastronomy, it was fun to order off the modern menu and enjoy the chef’s tricks to make hollow bread, liquifying cheese and salt foam. It’s pretty amazing the things you can do to food.
Also, if you want to check out great pictures of the decor and food, read the review at No Salad as a Meal.
The Bazaar by José Andrés
SLS Hotel at Beverly Hills
465 S La Cienega Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90048