As soon as I finished reading S. Irene Virbila’s four-star review in the Los Angeles Times for The Bazaar by José Andrés, I tickled my telly and made a reservation for two the following week. I’ve always had an affinity for the quirky culinary genre of molecular gastronomy (See: Alinea and Snackbar) and was excited to experience L.A.’s hottest Spanish import since Penelope Cruz.
The layout of The Bazaar is unlike any dining space I’ve ever experienced. Designed by Philippe Starck, the restaurant is comprised of several funky venues in one. There are two tapas bars (Blanca and Rojo), Bar Centro, and a pretty in pink Patisserie.
We were seated in the contemporary Blanca room. The abundance of blond wood furniture and creamy vanilla decor seemed fitting for a garden party, but not so much for a night on the town. I yearned for the spicy Rojo room next door.
Upon settling into our table, The Astronomer and I were each presented with two menus—the red one was comprised of classic Spanish tapas (with a modern twist), while the gray one consisted of bold molecular gastronomy creations.
Our lovely-as-can-be waitress advised us to order four tapas each. Our first course was the Japanese Tacos ($10). The name of the dish was much more enticing than what arrived at our table—grilled eel, shiso leaf, cucumber, wasabi, and chicharron. The dish was pleasant, but wasn’t a “revelation” as promised by Ms. Virbila.
The Not Your Everyday Caprese ($12) has emerged as one of The Bazaar’s signature dishes. The cherry tomatoes were plump, juicy, and perfect, while the liquid mozzarella was creamy and delightful. The tomatoes and mozzarella were topped with “air bread” (“hollow crackers” is more fitting), fresh basil, and cracked black pepper. The moment when the smooth mozzarella orbs give in to the pressure of one’s teeth is quite spectacular.
This dish was fun and lively, but the combination of flavors wasn’t as adventurous as I had hoped for. It would’ve been awesome if Andrés had taken a cue from fellow El Bulli alum Grant Achatz and mashed up some unlikely flavors to create something truly extra-ordinary.
The presentation of the Just Shrimp Cocktail “Yeah Right” ($12) was admittedly eye-catching, but the overall taste was a yawn. The worst part of the dish were the small and over-cooked shrimps; they were nothing like the plump jumbo ones I was expecting. Consuming cocktail sauce via pipette was a novel experience, but it couldn’t hide the fact that we were eating inferior shrimps.
The Philly Cheesesteak ($8) marked the transition from cold plates to hot ones. “Air bread,” making its second appearance of the evening, was piped full of oozy cheddar cheese and topped with Wagyu beef. The cheesesteak’s flavors and textures were nothing short of fabulous; definitely one of the stars of The Bazaar.
The foie gras sliders ($12) on brioche buns with quince paste were really, really rich. The quince was too mild to balance the foie overload, but the coarse salt flakes atop the buns were up to the job. Note to self: You do not like foie gras unless it’s in ice cream sandwich form.
The Astronomer was enamored with the sweet potato chips ($10) with yogurt, tamarind, and star anise. I, on the other hand, didn’t come to a four-star restaurant for chips and dip.
The Butifarra—Catalan pork sausage, white beans, mushrooms Senator Moynihan ($9)—was straightforward and tasty. The sausages weren’t anything special, but the texture of the beans had a sear that was outstanding.
Our final dish of the evening was the lamb loin with foraged mushrooms and potato puree ( $14). The only interesting component of this dish was the gelée of natural jus adhering to the lamb. Other than that novel twist, the flavors were fairly ordinary, and the texture of the lamb wasn’t melt-in-your-mouth amazing.
For dessert, we moved from the Blanca room to the Patisserie a few paces away. This change of scenery is a very cool and unique part of The Bazaar dining experience. The Patisserie’s vibe is completely different from the room we were previously in. Carnation pink is the dominant color and everywhere one looks there is literal and figurative eye candy.
The Astronomer and I shared a Nitro Coconut Floating Island ($10) for dessert. A ladle of coconut milk is dipped in liquid nitrogen for one hot minute. The chemical causes a slightly hard shell to form around the exterior, while the innards remain light and foamy. The coconut milk “island” was paired with bananas and passion fruit, which reminded me of the flavors of South East Asia.
As we paid our bill, we were treated to chocolate-covered Pop Rocks. I was disappointed to learn from our waiter that the Pop Rocks were purchased from an outside vendor and only covered in chocolate in-house. The best part of the Pop Rocks finale was the look on The Astronomer’s face as he experienced Pop Rocks for the very first time. Priceless, truly priceless.
When it comes to molecular gastronomy, I want wild textures and even wilder flavor pairings. The Bazaar wasn’t nearly bizarre enough.
The Bazaar by José Andrés
SLS Hotel at Beverly Hills
465 S La Cienega Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90048