Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Bazaar by José Andrés

I'm sure it's obvious that my foodie instincts lean towards the homemade, bakery fare, and ethnic foods, but make no mistake: I am happy to have a good formal restaurant dinner any time. In this case, I had a great dinner experience at The Bazaar by José Andrés in Beverly Hills. Thanks to a new foodie friend (writer of movies and munchies) we got reservations for a Wednesday night in this Philippe Starck decorated space. Between the four of us at dinner, we were able to sample a good number of dishes and keep the price down to about $75 per person including tip and tax, although excluding alcoholic beverages.

I honestly didn't expect to like the food that much; I expected to experience new combinations of flavors and textures, taking a bite or two of each dish just for a good try. Having read a tad about molecular gastronomy on various blogs, I knew that it could tend towards the extremes of non-traditional food - and so I ate a mini-meal beforehand! I think that this decision allowed me to enjoy the food much more, since I was not eating to be full, but to taste.

Generally it felt like the tapas ingredients were fresh, high quality, and well prepared, but I was most impressed by the intentional composition of each dish. I felt like someone had played with the food, and I was there to sample the results of their playtime.

At the server's recommendation, we started with lovely crisp, salted sweet potato chips and an aerated yogurt dip with olive oil and hints of anise. I thought the little brown paper bag was a fun touch.

Then the foie gras lollipops came...yes, lollipops, wrapped in cotton candy! Can you believe it? When popped in the mouth, the sugar made a nice case for the smokey and salty foie gras cube in the center. This was actually my first taste of foie gras ever, since the idea of having the fatty stuff in my mouth has never appealed to me, but I mostely enjoyed this. If there had been a tad less of the foie gras in the mouth at the end, I would have enjoyed it completely.

One of the general themes that I enjoyed throughout the evening was the use of fresh citrus, and this artichoke heart salad set the tone, hearts nestled in a citrus sauce with peeled slices of grapefruit, blood, orange, and navel orange, with pomegranate seeds and fresh herbs.

This traditional tapas platter of 3 types of jamon brought lots of salty smokiness to the table...

accompanied by Catalan-style barely-toasted bread spread with shredded tomato.

These "Philly Cheesesteaks" were a pocket of airbread filled with cheese and topped with slices of tender steak and chives -

See what I mean about food play?

The Japanses tacos were the least popular of the evening, with overcooked eel (although I am not familiar enough with eel to be able to tell the difference), but cute in their cucumber shell.

The "Not your everyday Caprese salad" with balls of liquid mozzarella, peeled cherry tomatoes, pesto, basil leaves, and croutons.

A colorful mouthful!

The citrus returns in a brussel sprout salad, green apple tucked into the brussel sprout cups, citrus sauce, and lemon "air" to top.

Very fresh brussel sprouts. The foam was a little something extra for flavor, texture, and looks.

Perhaps not the best looking, but very good tasting tender lamb slices hidden under this potato foam.

We moved over to the Patisserie area for dessert in order to have access to the full dessert menu.

The waitress that moved us forgot to let the dessert staff know we were there, but eventually a waitperson came to take care of us.

The dessert area has funky decor, and was located practically in a boutique, which was odd to me - I didn't really want to be surrounded by cases of merchandise, even if it was high-end...

But the dessert selection was pleasing, and I was happy with my choices: green tea shortbread cookie, sesame seed croquant, chocolate tablet with salt, and passionfruit marshmallow. Chased by 4 plated desserts!

With a very bitter espresso; I normally enjoy espresso after dinner, but this one was too strong.

Flan and vanilla bean whipped cream, smooth and caramelly, lovely.

The small dark chocolate cake, filled with a chocolate mousse and topped with salted caramel sauce and chocolate nibs. Loved the caramel sauce.

Clementine sorbet, with some lemon sorbet, fruits, and more foam - very refreshing and light.

And, finally, the coconut floating island, which had been frozen in liquid nitrogen as videoed here. Creamy and light, with passionfruit syrup and mint leaves.

The liquid nitrogen left it soft while still holding shape, with a more solid base.

All in all, a unique experience for me, which I enjoyed for its visual aesthetics and fresh flavors. While half of our dinner party were not as pleased with the experience, I believe expecting play rather than a filling, comforting meal would make Bazaar a fun meal for anyone willing to drop the cash.

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