The Bazaar by Jose Andrés report, Wow!
I've wanted to eat at the Bazaar since reading the LA Times review but have never really had the occasion or companion to go taste it out. But for a joint birthday with my girlfriend (two days apart), the occasion seemed perfect.
The atmosphere within the restaurant is terrific and completely unique. Fantastic decor and design keep everything interesting without being overwhelming. We weren't seated at the greatest table, but that didn't matter as the food was phenomenal. We started off with cocktails, a manhattan and bollini. Both were excellent, particularly the molecular gastronomy faux-cherry. Once seated we took a while to peruse the menu and I got in an order for a cai pirinha, which was good because the cart finally got to us almost an hour later (right as the last course of our first round of ordering came out).
I scanned the menu and vaguely picked out some dishes I'd remembered hearing about over the last year and a half. I decided on the iberico and melon, caprese, foie gras cotton candy and the olives modern and traditional, and my girlfriend picked out the shrimp (she usually lets me order, but I think she thought I was only going to get two things ;))
First out was the shrimp, absolutely outstanding, the butter/garlic sauce was so perfectly executed that we both wanted something to eat it with. the touch of smoked paprika was a perfect complement to the shrimp, but didn't overwhelm it. and the shrimp were perfectly cooked, tender, bursting with flavor and just mouth watering in their own right. I wanted to savor the flavor of each one and steal the whole plate for myself. This is the dish I'd order a second order of on a single visit, but we were sticking to different plates.
Second up was the Olives Modern and Traditional. My girlfriend tried to persuade me out of ordering it, but I went ahead and we were both glad. She said she'd never liked olives, but they've always been a personal favorite, she tried the traditional olives, stuffed with anchovy and something (I forgot, maybe feta?) and said it was pretty good, I thought it was very good, but the olive itself was a hair saltier/brinier than it needed to be, but still, excellent. The modern olives though, WOW! this was one of my favorite moments of the night, watching her taste it, She loved it, and it was one of her favorite things we had. the explosion of olive flavors within the modern olive was just mind boggling, it even had different textures, imo, for the mix of liquids that flooded my mouth. It was absolutely an unreal and amazing experience, and as one of the lowest priced items on the menu something we will definitely order every time.
Coming out next was the Jamon & Melon plate. It was a generous portion of Iberico layered beautifully with melon and served on a black slate. It was perhaps the most arresting food presentation of the night and I really wished then that I hadn't forgotten my camera. The melon was utterly succulent, perfectly ripe and utterly juicy and tender. The jamon was better than any prosciutto or other ham product I've ever had but only subtly so. The flavors were almost elusive, savory, salty, and mouth-coating all at the same time. It was quite the experience. My only real thought in retrospect is that the dish would be even better eaten with chopsticks rather than a fork as a fork makes it really difficult to get both ham and melon together, whereas with chopsticks it would be simple and thoughtless. Oh, and for the record, I've never once liked a prosciutto and melon appetizer, and I've had them too many times to count.
Coming out next was the caprese salad, and in their only trip up moment of service, the cai pirinha cart and the foie gras cotton candy came at the same time before we'd even looked at the caprese salad (the rest of the meal was timed absolutely perfectly, better than any restaurant service I've ever had in my life). Having been told by the server who brought them that the foie gras had to be eaten right away we went for the lollypops while the cai pirinha performance began. The lollypop was the most disappointing thing of the night, in comparison to all the other dishes I would rate the flavor as only average. It was my first time tasting foie gras, and I thought it was excellent, but I prefer ankimo, honestly, It was a good experience, but not up to par with all the other dishes.
The cart-man continued his performance with the liquid nitrogen as he froze the cachaca. I was excited, my very first cocktail ever was a cai pirinha in playa del carmen mexico and the server there made them as blended ice beverages with just cachaca alcohol, ice and a squeeze of lime. No other cocktail drink has come close to being my favorite since then, and no other cai prinha I've had has been made that way (not that I've found many places that have even heard of them). This cai prinha blew the ones from my memory ten years ago out of the water. Intense, perfect, balanced, delicious and amazing. My girlfriend tried it and declared she would come back just for that drink and stared jealously at it while I savored it (and shared some, of course). Both of us agreed it was the very best thing of the night.
The caprese salad was the first real miss, but only for one of us. We both tried one of the mozzerella balls first (as there were five mozzarella balls and three tomatos) and while she didn't like it I was thinking it was like a more intense, watery version of burrata, she loved the tomato and took an extra one and gave me the rest of the mozzarella. I tried the tomato with the mozzarella and DAMN! the mouth sensation of combining the exploding cherry tomato with the exploding mozzarella was staggering. It's absolutely a must to eat them together, and I wish a server had mentioned that to us. She didn't get to try them together and said afterwards that the caprese was her least favorite. I also loved the little croutons and the basil pesto concentrate on the salad and I did my best to clean the plate of all the goodness remaining.
Having consulted some with our cai prinha server and our other server we went back to the menu for three more dishes. I'd been eyeing the piquillo peppers, she'd been eyeing the hanger steak and the server suggested the wild mushroom rice was a good savory rich item at the end of a meal. We got all three.
First out was the wild mushroom rice. Savory was the right word, It wasn't quite a risotto, (better in fact) and I loved the variety of mushrooms included, of course my first bite was a porcini mushroom so I was in heaven for the rest of the dish. This was also terrific because the rice was just about the only "filling" thing we ordered.
Next up came the piquillo peppers. I'm going to try to replicate this one at home. Brilliant combination of fresh goat cheese, piquillo and piquillo puree. A simple dish but absolutely executed to perfection and one of my personal favorites. I was glad to get cheese worked in somewhere. :)
Finally came out the Hanger steak. Though my girlfriend gave it an initial look that said, "Steak is a word that implies a much larger cut of meat," the dish was absolutely divine. It was the favorite of both of us for the night, and I guarantee that we'll order it again. It was cooked to an utterly perfect medium rare, better than any I've ever seen, and the flavor was so rich, layered and complementary I must have spent a minute or two savoring my two and a half bites in rapturous awe. My girlfriend looked at me while I was still working on my first bite and said, "You look like you're in heaven." to which I enthusiastically--but slowly--nodded my assent. She then mentioned how she normally didn't like medium rare but that this was outstanding. When I could talk I said, "if it wasn't medium rare you couldn't taste all those incredible flavors!"
Totally satisfied we sat and chatted for a long time waiting to get taken over to the dessert area. Eventually we were escorted over there and decided on the chocolate heart lava cake and a lemon ginger bonbon and Madeleine. The lava cake was rich, outstanding and delicious, but we both agreed it was also just a lava cake. Then nothing came out for a long time, and then we were given the check, our bonbon and Madeleine were on there but never materialized, I mentioned it to the dessert server when he came to get the check and he apologized brought them over immediately along with a plate with a variety of complimentary and complementary other items, another bonbon, Madeleine and a passionfruit marzipan. My favorites were the marzipan and the bonbon, though I thought the white chocolate made the bonbon too sweet, but my girlfriend didn't much care for the marzipan but did love the bonbon. We both agreed the Madelines were incredibly ordinary and almost out of place there.
Dinner all in was only 150 (about what I wanted to spend) plus tip, though the grand total went over 200 when you added in the two cocktails from the bar at the beginning of the night (that check had to be settled then and didn't follow us for some reason), and it was MORE than worth it. We will definitely return, maybe only once or twice a year, and maybe not such an extensive tasting journey, but it's definitely an incredible place to eat.
We chatted some more, browsed the little art gallery and made our way out to the valet nearly three hours after arriving. It was definitely the best dinner and restaurant experience I've ever had in my life, and I think it was for her as well.
Nice review. What time were you there and how was the crowd? Always interesting to see how things are going for these types of high end, art food places given the iffy state of the economy. Would you say that the service was more professional and less warm or did the wait staff demonstrate some individualized personality along the way?
I totally agree with your assessment of the cost of your meal. $150 for the two of you seems like a steal. Did you feel like you had enough food at the end of the evening?
We were there at 8:00 on Monday. They were fairly busy for a Monday, the kitchen was ON which I was worried about (needlessly) before hand. Having no real context for how big the space is I can't say with confidence it was full. We did have about a twenty minute wait for our table to become available (or it was available and they just wanted us to buy drinks at the bar first, hah). There were two stools open at the bar, no elbowing in, and the bar area in general was about 65-75% full.
I think part of the restaurant we were in was probably closed off, but I'm not certain.
The service was both professional and warm and there was definite personality, but not in an annoying or grating way, each of our servers distinguished themselves. The only real fault in service was at the pastry area, where he forgot our small bites, I think there was only one server for the entire area and he comped us some more small bites in apology, so I was willing to forgive him. The service did seem to fall off as the meal was ending (10pm-11pm).
We both felt full, didn't want anything more to eat, though my girlfriend commented that it was the fanciest/best dinner she's ever had but she does prefer to go to places that have more on the plate. She loves the variety of tapas but hates the expensiveness and lack of fillingness of tapas.
This will be topping my list of best restaurants in chowhounds 2010 los angeles restaurant poll. :D
Does anyone ever go to Bazarre just for two or three plates, or do most people just pile up everything, I can't say I've seen many reviews mentioning fewer than six dishes tried. :)
I could see us going back pretty often if we were ordering kai pirinhas, the olives and maybe two of their traditional tapas (we liked the shrimp and the hanger steak more than any of the modern tapas, which were also excellent). But I don't know if that'd be gauch-ly out of place. :-p
Also, it was nice to be in a restaurant where men still wear coats and ties to dinner. We dressed casual because she had a sprained ankle and couldn't wear heels (and therefore wouldn't wear a dress) but next time we'll be dressing for dinner, which is always part of the fun, imo.
Nice write-up...it seems like you were at at different restaurant then I was a few months ago. I was totally underwhelmed by the food and the service was terrible. Maybe it was because we were there on a Saturday night - but that is still no excuse when spending $200+. My friend went the following weekend and she said her service was even worse then mine was!