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the bazaar, by jose andres - the good and the disappointing, a review

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hi fellow chowhounders -

well, i'll just reprint the letter i sent them...(i've also enclosed a copy of their menu, and our bill for their reference.) wanted to like it, so as you'll see, we'll be back, at least one more time.

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November 8, 2009

MR. JOSE ANDRES
The Bazaar
465 South La Cienega Boulevard
Los Angeles CA 90048

Dear Mr. Andres:

After reading multiple glowing reviews, my wife and I dined at The Bazaar, Tuesday, November 3rd, 7 p.m. Expectations were high but reasonable. Taking time to compose this means we would consider returning to enjoy your other tasty offerings. With all due respect I bring the following to your attention. Hopefully you see fairness in my noting both exceptional and problematic areas.

Upon being seated (on a little square table in the Rojo section, in front of the jamon and sardine can station), the manager recommended the anniversary tasting menu. While my heart was set on going a la carte, my wife liked the tasting menu, so we went with it.

The American Caviar Cone was a divine mouthful. The Sweet Potato Chips were mixed – while the yogurt espuma was decadent, flavorful and light, our chips, while tasty, were mostly cold and soggy, with but a handful delightfully crisp. A fresh batch would have been warm – I now remember a trusted reviewer’s comments about tasting menu experiences at Bazaar that tend to be subpar – opining that these items were seemingly mass produced and waiting. My wife, normally not a fan of olives, did enjoy the dual presentation of traditional and modern olives.

The Pan con Tomate was a tasty winner. A big reason I agreed to the anniversary menu was the Jamon Fermin platter. I mentioned to my wife it would be a highlight, with three being showcased. The jamon arrived on a slab. Asked to identify the selection, our server hesitatingly says, “It’s all Serrano.” I point out the description on the menu, which clearly indicated not only Serrano, but also Iberico and Iberico de Bellota. Another server comes, and now tells us, “Of course we’ll take care of you.” A SECOND plate of Pan con Tomate is brought. When asked why it was necessary, he replies, “We want to make sure you enjoy the ham with this bread with every bite.” Moments, then minutes passed. Nothing happens.

What transpired next can best be described as part avalanche, and perhaps part smoke-and-mirrors evasive maneuver. We are inundated with plates of food, before the jamon and pan were done. For the FIRST time ever we experienced a tasting menu where items came out in different and random order from what was specified. If tastings are believed to be carefully thought out, then the careless sequence and timing of food shows an obvious lack of care and respect for your cuisine and diners. Thankfully, I had a menu copy. I could not imagine how much worse it would have been without it.

The “Ultimate Spanish Tapa” was great - highlighted by the tuna belly. Quickly the second courses came out in a deluge. The Rossejat ‘paella’ was funny for us. We are Chinese. It was basically shrimp, tossed with rice vermicelli in an Asian-inspired sauce! The aioli provided a tasty but heavy twist. The Sea Scallops with Romesco were excellent – perfectly seared on the outside, succulent on the inside. The codfish fritters were delicious on its own. I deemed it both insensitive and ignorant to smilingly present a second plate featuring the SAME aioli while the other course paired with it is still unfinished!

We asked our server to slow the pace. It is ridiculous to be served plate after course when the last one is not even done yet. Our little table was covered with dishes! Once again, thoughts of the mass-produced items, “freshly” made, sitting and ready in big batches, ruefully danced in my mind.

The Catalan Pork Sausages were good, but not memorable. The Chicken Croquetas reminded me of chicken pot pie. The Beef Hanger Steak was decent – nicely seared outside, medium rare inside. The meat itself was not particularly flavorful. The Philly Cheesesteak was amazing! While I appreciate the use of Wagyu, it was a bit overshadowed. The star was the airy bread with cheese.

Again, I inquired about the jamon. In muted mumbles I am told they are “on it.” We never see them again. My wife is averse to confrontation of any sort, so I decided to let it go. My silence at that point is one of civility, and not of conceding to your servers’ ignoring our point.

Another misstep was being asked TWICE to move to the Patisserie by the wait staff that removes finished plates. We had to tell them we still had a few savory courses to go. The place was lively, but not so overwhelmed as to have four people waiting on our table with no idea of what had been served.

Definitely memorable was the dessert. We enjoyed the décor and atmosphere of the Patisserie. The hot chocolate mousse, pear sorbet and salty hazelnut praline was a heavenly combination. So rich, yet light - that alone was almost worth the 43-mile drive.

Summing up, the food was either pedestrian or amazing. That part I can live with. Next time, we pick line by line. I try not to make an issue of service – but when all of the above are added up, it’s a bit much to overlook. The careless manner of how food was brought out is shocking. When two servers cannot give me an honest answer with a straight face, and worse, avoid the issue the whole night about a course plainly printed on the menu, that’s unacceptable. I have rarely considered not leaving a gratuity, but this night came close. The thought of your kitchen staff behind the scenes persuaded me to leave the full 20%. I cannot believe it was simple oversight, especially on a pre-printed card to celebrate the one-year anniversary. Regardless of who was responsible, it is your reputation, Mr. Andres, which has been compromised. I don’t believe we’re the only ones who read the course descriptions, and hopefully you can see I do have a decent grasp of written English.

No, we are not part of celebrity nor the rich and famous, but just an ordinary family that enjoys fabulous fare. We have been blessed to enjoy full chef’s tastings at Providence, Ortolan, Per Se, Le Bernardin, The Mansion & Manresa, to name a few. I believe it reasonable to expect the best, especially from a restaurant deemed “Restaurant of the Year for 2009” and awarded four stars.

Thank you for your time. I hope you take this as friendly and constructive. I wish you and Bazaar the best.

Sincerely,
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  1. I am certainly curious about how Mr. Andres responds to your reasonable, well-written letter.

    1. Good letter. Now the ball is in their court. Trust your instincts and go with the a la carte, if you ever decide to give them a chance again.

      I'd skip the 3 jamon platter, and go straight for a full platter of just the jamon iberico de bellotas... A much better plate.

      1. Pacing, a pet peeve of mine.

        1. Rather than to Andres, you should have probably addressed your letter to Sam Nazarian ( a.k.a. SBE): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sam_Naza...

          Bazaar is just one more example of a tired and true business concept : pick a well known name ( Andres, Mina, ...), wrap it in a sexy and hollow concept, spend a bundle in PR, and voilà. BTW, training personnel is not a priority, mind you.

          Anyways, one thing is sure: SN has definitely done the correct first step it takes to end up with a small fortune in the food business. That is, he started with a large one.

          1 Reply
          1. re: RicRios

            Great letter! Your experience sounds a lot like mine -- The service was confused and harried. We were bombarded by all the items we ordered and since the plates are so small, at one moment I feared our whole meal would last ten minutes! It felt very much like we were being rushed.

            We didn't try nearly as many items as you did, but I really did feel they were hit or miss. Like you, I think the "Philly" was the knock out item.

            And moving guests to the "pastisserie" section for dessert is such calculated business move, that I can barely stomach it when they act like they're doing you a favor by getting their table back and schlepping you out to the lobby.

            (Yelp review link)
            http://www.yelp.com/biz/the-bazaar-lo...

          2. I was there the same night as you and had extremely poor service to the point where I don't know if I will go back. It was busy when we go there at 730 and only got more crowded.

            We started at the communal table in the bar and moved to the "tapas bar" part way through our meal. It took forever to get a menu at the beginning. The waitress had obviously forgotten and it was hard to get anyone's attention. her excuse was that they were "short on menus tonight". That makes no sense.

            Partway through the meal we wanted the caprese salad and were told we couldn't have it at the communal table as the kitchen will not send out dining room dishes to the bar area (half of the menu is the same in both areas). We had been told that the full menu was available but apparently they meant at the tapas bar not at the bar (not a very clear distinction at the Bazaar if no staff is around to explain.)

            We moved to the tapas bar, after asking if we could port out tab over and they said of course. Surprise surprise at the end of the night the tab had not been ported. I was able to get them consolidated and get my credit card back (they wanted a CC before I ordered food - I must look suspicious). They did end up coming the caprese salad which was nice but the service was just as bad at the tapas bar as at the bar area. Very unprofessional.

            My fave food was the tortilla espanola, which was an egg in an eggshell with potato foam. Also the caprese salad was pretty good.

            On the bad side was the braised veal cheeks - a salt bomb - inedible. We each ate a bite and left 2/3 of it. Nobody on the staff noticed. And I love salt.

            This was just a sample of the service issues we had.

            Good: philly cheese steak, foie with cotton candy, tortilla espanola, bagels & lox cone, caprese
            Fine: watermelon nigiri, croquetas de pollo
            Bad: braised veal cheeks

            I have heard there are less service issues at brunch as there isnt a bar scene or the same number of covers...

            1 Reply
            1. re: Senor Popusa

              I've had mediocre experiences there as well but nothing as bad as I'm reading here.

              Senor Popusa, they really asked for a credit card before taking your order?!?!?!?! Hmmm... I didn't know Mr. Andres was profiling his customers as well as pulling a bait and switch on his menu. What a sickening shame. Too many other restaurants in this city to go to rather than patronize a self-destructing place like The Bazaar.

            2. We had a similar crappy experience when we dined at The Bazaar back in July of this year. Dinner started out quite nicely and attentive, but quickly deteriorated into chaos and confusion once all the "beautiful people" showed up (I make this analogy jokingly because they're all just a bunch of poseurs). Seems that they care more about those who go there to be seen rather than the ones who actually go because they care about the food they're trying. It's a real shame. Jose Andres is a great chef and personality. For him to allow his hard-earned reputation to be tarnished in such a way is a great shame.

              Our party of 7 will not be returning to The Bazaar.

              1 Reply
              1. re: vicious

                We have had wonderful experiences at Bazaar. We do go early - order one dish at a time and love their brunch.

              2. Please let us know if you receive an answer.

                1. hi all - THANK YOU for your responses so far. i'm amazed at some of the similar issues you have raised. i'll definitely be reporting back, either way...

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: jacknhedy

                    I had the absolute worst service I've had at any restaurant on Wednesday night, 3 nights before my wedding. The food as jacknhedy mentioned was average to great. We all loved the philly cheese steak, the caprese and japanese taco. The dishes were beautifully constructed, well plated and delicious bites. The oozing cheese from the philly cheese steak with the crispy air bread and wagyu was as wonderful a bit of food as I can remember yet I'll never go back to the Bazaar.

                    I eat out about twice a week and have been to many fine dining establishments across the country and have had better service at Food Trucks and cafeterias. My biggest gripes were the
                    1. Pacing of dishes (same as jacknhedy)
                    2. The disappearance of our waiter and inability to find him twice during our meal for 20 minute stretches
                    3. The host with ear piece at the front having zero customer service skills and having zero lack of care about customer needs. During the 1st waiter disappearance we asked the host if he could help find the sommelier since we had been waiting about 20 minutes to order drinks. He didn't seem like he cared about what I was saying or asked and just said the server would be back soon.
                    4. The wait from being moved to the patisserie for dessert was about 20 minutes as well. Our server once again disappeared and we sat there for a long time until another waiter just came over ans moved us to the patisserie.

                    I really don't understand how Bazaar was named the best restaurant of 2009. It's not even the best restaurant on La Cienega.

                  2. Interesting to read other terrible experiences at Bazaar. i was there this past Saturday for brunch (around 2pm!) and had one of the worst dining experiences of my life. My cocktail took at least 20 minutes to arrive (15 minutes after my dining partner got hers!)
                    We ordered six small dishes. The first two of which arrived about 30-45 minutes into sitting there. After a few questions to the servers a few others trickled out slowly, then we were told one of them wasn't available anymore so we ordered another. We eventually waited almost TWO HOURS and I just told them to bring us our check. Of course the servers were hiding most of the time and I could barely find someone to refill our water as well. Two of our dishes never even made it to our table at all! They offered two free desserts but that did not make up for that experience imo.
                    The table of women next to us all waited so long for their food that they asked for their check before anything came and they left!
                    I have been to Bazaar before on a busy night and service was fine and was really surprised to see that a half empty restaurant at 2pm would be so awful. I'm not sure I will be returning after that disaster. There are too many other restaurants in LA to try that deserve my attention!:):)

                    1. Eight months ago when the world was hyping this place -- I already saw the flaws and overhype -- it is good to see I am not not alone
                      http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/602889

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: radman123

                        Wow! Very prescient. You definitely called it.

                      2. well, to everyone who has chimed in, i just wanted to say 'thank you' for your kind comments, and sadly, quite a few similar not-so-stellar experiences.

                        i think i've given them enough time - it's been TWO WEEKS.

                        let's be clear - i wasn't necessarily looking for some complimentary dinner. i wanted to see how they would respond. their lack of it speaks loudly and clearly that they don't care. i'm easy - a phone call with a sincere apology might have resulted in another reservation. an impersonal e-mail would have at least shown someone did read it and thought it perfunctory to respond with some formal letter on file (i think i'm not the only one who has written them...).

                        their silence would do any magician's disappearing act proud.

                        truth be told, they were the second choice. not sure if some of you my post requesting some unique restaurant in the beverly hills area. first choice was animal, but they were booked for a private event that night. (and the part i left unmentioned in my letter was the other silent thought in my brain - i should have gone to see laurent at lq instead!!!!! :)

                        it took some restraint - as i was tempted to title my review - 'the bazaar - the good and the bizarre.'

                        chalking (or chucking!) it up to experience. with that kind of attitude, in this economy, they certainly won't see a penny of my hard-earned after-tax money. it's just too bad when a good & talented chef meets bad business practice. (ricrios - your comments in particular made that point well.)

                        i am optimistic this will be the low culinary point of 2009 for us. we have some wonderful meals to look forward to from here!

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: jacknhedy

                          I'm with you on this one. If they aren't willing to write back then I would never go back. I had a decent meal there. Very little was memorable, besides the ambiance and uncomfortable chairs. Oh yeah, and bad service on the dessert end of things.

                          I'm reading an art book on El Bulli and that makes me wish I was in Barcelona. Over and over again they take about the chef's pale imitations, including this one, seemingly, at Bazaar. I can take it (if I am forced) but will leave it.

                          1. re: epop

                            hi epop,

                            that el bulli book was awesome! if you liked that, i think you will enjoy grant achatz's alinea book.

                            1. re: jacknhedy

                              thank you. I will look take a look.

                        2. I've been to the Bazaar a few times and the experience can be great or bad. It really depends when you go, how you order, and who your server is. Like Lizziee said, go early (preferably on a weekday) and order just a few dishes at a time. It also depends on who your server is. There is one guy there who is absolutely terrible. I won't mention his name here, but his name starts with an R. PM me if you want to know his name. Worst waiter I've had in my life and apparently a lot of people complain about him. Don't know if he's still there.

                          If you have problems, what you should do is talk to the manager of the restaurant. They are the ones that have the power to immediately do something, not Jose Andres who's far off in DC and probably doesn't read his own emails. When I had a problem with the waiter named "R", I spoke to John the manager. He totally made things right and made what started off as a bad night into a terrific one.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: martiniman

                            hi martiniman,

                            thanks for the suggestion. but here's what i think - sure - i didn't really expect andres himself, although in other situations it is always refreshing to see the proprietor/chef make the effort. there are enough people like that whom i'd prefer to patronize and support. assuming andres is not there, someone else is. that letter was opened and read. if it was left on his desk, that's bad. if it was tossed around like a hot potato, that's bad. if it was chucked, it's still bad. if someone read it and did nothing, double bad. if i had to call, it's still bad. i have received much better service from the neighborhood pho place, or (gasp) my car dealer's service people!

                            1. re: jacknhedy

                              Will all this sound & fury result in any perceptible diminishing of the booming business that is currently the norm at Bazaar? Sadly, I doubt it...

                          2. We just dined at the Bazaar yesterday. And have been there many times. When it first opened it was amazing. Lately, not so much. As others have mentioned service was not great. Our waiter dissapeared before we could even order wine. And when he finally appeared he said, oh, I thought you were only going to drink a cocktail with your meal. Really? We specifically asked for the wine list. But that is not my main complaint. Some of our dishes were so incredbly salty that they were inedible. I had always noticed a tendency by the kitchen to oversalt, but in our last visit they veered into the inedible territory. The scallops with romesco were lovely as were the piquillos with cheese. The Philly cheesesteak which had always been lovely was oversalted. Dishes rendered inedible by salt were cod fritters, califlower couscous, russian salad. I did complain to a hostess who was quite competent. I did have to make it clear to the restaurant that I am not some sort of salt intolerant freak. I am Spanish, actually my family comes from the same regions as Jose Andres, and love salt. However not when it is used like in The Bazaar. Totally inedible. It started with the shrimp fideua and now it has spread to most of the food. Somebody in that kitchen is not paying attention. Restaurant was packed and the server who had the table next to us was really good, ours, as mentioned before not so much. I do not think I will be back, alas, it had been one of my favorite restaurants.