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

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.