Sunday, October 04, 2009

The Bazaar by José Andrés - Los Angeles

I'm sure that in the countless words that have been spilled about The Bazaar by José Andrés (and there have been many), I won't be the first to say that it is Disneyland. Plain and simple, it is a theme park made for people like me. And it isn't just for the fact that there are three distinct themed rooms, which is obvious; but for the food, which takes you on a ride as head-trippy as a Small World on acid.

The menu, itself, is like a park map which asks: What do you want to go on next? Every section is like a new land to explore. With the traditional, like cheeses and charcuterie, you got yourself Frontierland. And with the dishes that uses the much-bandied-about techniques of molecular gastronomy, it's Tomorrowland.

First, let me tell you about the design of the place: It will remind you of the Haunted Mansion Holidays, the one that incorporates the splashy color schemes and characters of Tim Burton's Nightmare Before Christmas -- a merger of the weird and the classical, as if a MOCA installation vomited on The Getty.

There are chairs that glow. A restroom from the future (see above). Shapes that shift. Giant electronic portrait frames which feature baroque art that morphs at intervals. Philippe Starck, the go-to guy for nightclub design, seems to have designed the place to put you off kilter, to conjure up the same kind of giddy childlike excitement you had when you saw an audio animatronics statue move for the first time. Most of all, there's a playfulness here, a testament that imagination and creativity didn't die with Walt Disney or Salvador Dali.

But with everything that titillates and beguiles, you are let in on the joke. Take for example, the wall behind the reception desk. It's covered with 8x10 headshots of people. You gaze at it, cock your head and wonder if you're supposed to know these faces. Then you walk around to the other side of the wall and you laugh your ass off. Now you get it. There are 8x10 framed pictures of the backs of their heads. Punchline delivered.

Once you sit down and start ordering, the E-ticket ride really begins. And though we had reservations for brunch on a Saturday, it turns out we didn't really need it. We had the restaurant all to ourselves. When Space Mountain doesn't have anyone in it, you don't need a FastPass.

The plan was to get the tasting menu for $40, but our server warned us: you don't get much with it, maybe four items tops. Better to pick out stuff yourself, discover things on your own, he said. And he was right.

There was the "12 Tiny Eggs Sunny Side Up", subtitled "Huevos a La Cubana 'Andy Garcia'", from the brunch menu. I still have no idea what the dish had to do with the Ocean's Eleven actor, but when you can get a penny-size, unbroken yolk in every spoonful, you don't wonder about anything else other than why the dish hasn't been copied for every IHOP and Denny's in America.

Though I secretly hoped that José Andrés has found a way to coax a chicken to lay an egg with a dozen yolks, these are, of course (or at least I presume) twelve quail eggs cracked into a round pan. And like it had been through a ticker tape parade, it's showered with confetti slivers of salty rendered ham, chives, and drips of sauce. Beneath the egg disk: a platform of a jasmine rice that's been crisped up to a crunchy texture, like the Koreans do with their bibimbap. The only thing I wished for was a bottle of Maggi to douse over everything, maybe Sriracha, too. Still, it's easily the heartiest of all the dishes we tried that afternoon.

A play on "Philly cheesesteak" is the lightest and quickest to go, since it's the size of a canapé. No hoagie roll is employed here, just something they call "air bread", which has the stale crunch of a puffed-up motza cracker, its hollowness filled with cheese, exactly like an eclair. Instead of chocolate, it's topped with a few microplaned slices of Wagyu beef so thin you're liable to inhale it directly into your lungs if you breathe in too heavily.

There is a section devoted entirely to the Spanish love of canning, and of course, they have to actually serve it out of an oval tin. The sea urchin roe -- one of the best things we ate -- sits like ice cream over silky oil and bits of finely diced vegetables with the jarring crunch of Pop Rocks and the sharpness of relish.

The "Not your everyday Caprese" is true to its name, unless you're already a student of Ferran Adria, Wylie Dufresne, or José Andrés, whereupon it would be the starting lesson in Molecular Gastronomy 101. The liquid mozzarella that constitutes a quarter of the dish is made by a process that involves syringes, sodium gluconate and sodium alginate. The result is a Mr. Wizard science magic trick that creates a thin film of skin around the liquid -- a temporary water balloon that bursts on your tongue. The trick for the diner is to pick up the fragile orbs with a spoon, along with the de-skinned cherry tomato, the pesto, and the Cheez It-like cracker. And when it's all in your mouth: POP!

There are more traditionalist, straight-forward, no-nonsense offerings like buñuelos, codfish fritters which were a bit salty but ate like a perfectly fried hush-puppy, still damp and oozy in the center. A dish called "The ultimate Spanish tapa!" straddles the line between the ordinary everyday and extra-ordinary once-a-year-for-a-birthday (which this was). Essentially, it's a rich potato salad; but it becomes much more when you start digging and discover hard boiled eggs, carrots, peas, and a nicely fishy tuna belly -- all deluged with blanket of eggy foam, the wonder froth that binds it all together.

Then there are boneless chicken wings, as close as you can get in the restaurant to a McNugget in shape; but also not that far off in flavor either, with a divet of olive puree on top. And a cookie, called volcano, which is a chocolate hazelnut brittle that tastes like an inside-out Ferrero Rocher.

But the best, as they say, is always saved for last. And in the dessert called "Nitro Coconut Island" we found a bulbous, hovering dome like E.T.'s spaceship. What is it? What is it made out of? Is it meringue?

Upon the mere touch of our spoon, it cracked and crumbled, like the climactic scene of an avalanche movie, when one minute a main character is innocently admiring a snow cavern, and the next, a fissure suddenly develops. Then someone frantically yells "RUUNNNN!!!"

In the aftermath of the collapse we found out how they did it: it's a ball of coconut milk foam quick-frozen under nitrogen. As if it weren't already fun as cotton candy, there's accompaniments of passion fruit sauce and caramelized banana coins.

I dreamt of it last night, hours after our trip, which I thank my lovely dining companion for treating me to. And although it was only slightly more expensive than two one-day tickets to the real Disneyland, just like my first trip to the Magic Kingdom, I went to bed overstimulated, my head dancing, swirling with the wonders I've seen and tasted, everything that I've described above.

The Bazaar by José Andrés
(310) 246-5545
465 S La Cienega Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90048

To read Pepsi Monster and Kevin Eats' review on
The Bazaar CLICK HERE and HERE
THIS WEEK ON OC WEEKLY:
Haven Gastropub - Orange

21 Comments:

At 3:13 PM, Blogger Pepsi Monster said...

Hey Elmo!

Glad you made the long trip up! I'm glad you finally get to experience this place.

Don't you know the water faucet and where the water going through the board for the drain? LOL

I think the wait staff would been cool enough if he just admit that it probably works best if there is a large group so you can more items rather just pointing the price. But they are usually always helpful.

Slightly more expensive than Disneyland? Hehehe. Jose Andres compared it to the Chocolate Factory in Willy Wonka. LOL

 
At 5:30 PM, Blogger kevinEats said...

I should probably revisit The Bazaar sometime. Was there any reason you went to brunch instead of dinner? Did you consider Saam?

 
At 7:11 PM, Blogger Sawyer said...

wow this place looks amazing...have read about this place on other blogs too. one day i'll have enough money to splurge on this place...the use of nitrogen sounds particulary interesting

 
At 8:46 PM, Blogger joanh said...

I've heard so much about it, but didn't make it there last time.. I do want to check it out and the dessert and everything looks amazing.

did the quail eggs taste like regular eggs? (not crazy about quail eggs)

 
At 10:10 PM, Blogger EatTravelEat said...

I've heard about this person before on Anthony Bourdain's show (or am I wrong?). Everything looks so good! The comparison to a theme park is so similar :). I think I would much rather come to here than Disneyland. Those liquid items like the liquid mozz are so tempting and intriguing.

 
At 6:16 AM, Blogger Bill said...

Looks fun and tasty.

 
At 7:32 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Pepsi,

Those restroom faucets are a trip! Though I'm not sure how functional the sink would be if you actually had mud or clumps of dirt on your hands (but then why would you, if you're in Beverly Hills).

kevinEats,

Funny enough it was because we couldn't get a reservation for dinner until 10:30 p.m. (and I called two weeks in advance), so we opted for brunch. Turned out better this way anyway (we had a show to catch in the evening). And Saam? This OC bumpkin didn't even know what Saam was until you mentioned it! But it looks like its a secret room with the same food and better service? I see that Michael Voltaggio was there when you went (pre Top Chef). A kitchen tour with him would be reason enough for me!

Sawyer,

Yeah, this is a definitely a "once in a year" or, if this economy keeps going the way it is, "once in a lifetime" thing. Even better if someone treats you!

joanh,

I can tell you that the eggs (whether they're quail or not) DO taste like regular eggs. I couldn't tell! They were nicely cooked!

EatTravelEat,

Yes! It was Bourdain who had him on the "Food Porn" episode of No Reservations! But I've seen Jose Andres before somewhere. Or maybe Bourdain has had him on more than once? I think that's it.

Bill,

It's both!

 
At 11:04 AM, Anonymous plumpdumpling said...

So exciting! Forget Thai Nakorn; THIS is where I'm going first when The Boyfriend finally takes me to California.

I'm a dense dessert freak, so a big ball of foam shouldn't delight me, but what fun!

 
At 12:30 PM, Blogger Menu Taster said...

Woah... I was at The Bazaar for Sunday brunch yesterday as well. We ordered the brunch tasting menu and received 7 courses (6 shared, 1 individual). We also order an extra course the, "Crab meat steamed buns." This was tasty.

I'm going to post my review on menutaster.yelp.com sometime this week.

 
At 1:35 PM, Anonymous Marvin said...

Sounds like this was an excellent birthday gift. That quail egg thing over rice looks killer too! Hopefully I'll be able to splurge on this place someday.

 
At 4:50 PM, Blogger kevinEats said...

Service-wise, Saam was definitely a cut above the main room, and I believe there might be a few Saam-unique items as well, such as the Dragon's Breath. It's certainly my preferred way to dine at The Bazaar now, especially since they've lowered the price to only $95 for 20 courses.

It was nice meeting Michael (and Marcel) after dinner. I would run into him again at Hatchi at Breadbar and then at his new home at The Dining Room.

 
At 10:18 PM, Anonymous Das Ubergeek said...

Wow. I am an ardent devotee of what in Pennsylvania are called "dippy eggs", and it never once occurred to me to make a multiple-quail egg omelette in a small pan. Why is it I always read things like this 45 minutes after 99 Ranch closes?

I have to say that $150 meals do not come my way very often -- you are very lucky indeed. :)

 
At 2:22 PM, Blogger Chubbypanda said...

Jealous! Just rewatched the No Reservations DC episode where Boyrdain did MiniBar.

 
At 10:06 AM, Blogger Exile Kiss said...

Hi Elmomonster,

Great review. :) I'm glad you liked The Bazaar as much as I did. :) It's a wild and crazy place and so much fun.

I'm also happy to hear it's still good now that they've settled in a bit more. I'll have to go back soon.

 
At 10:27 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

plumpdumpling,

Do both! But yeah, probably do this one first, because if there's a possibility that the BF has cold feet about spending the cash after one food outing, that outing should be the best! And I kid you not, this is the best in LA right now. Esquire Magazine agrees with me.

Menu Taster,

Apparently this was the weekend for Bazaar brunching! I saw a Chowhound post on their brunch the other day as well! I was there Saturday. I'm looking forward to seeing what you had, to see what I missed by not ordering the tasting menu.

Marvin,

It's one of those gift that keeps on giving (all I have to do is look at the pictures, and my taste memory takes over). I'm lookin' forward to the day you write about it. Man, it'll be a hilarious read. No pressure or anything, being that you're nominated for Most Hilarious Blog!!

kevin,

Ah! Marcel was there too? Damn! That would've been the time to go. I thought of him when I saw the foamy dressing on the Ensalata Russa! Well, you've convinced me. Next year, Saam is where I'm returning the birthday favor to my lovely dining companion.

Das,

I know right?! A dozen quail eggs in one plate! Why didn't we think of that? I wonder who first did it. Perhaps it *WAS* Andy Garcia!!!

Chubbypanda,

That episode pretty much cinched it for me. I figure, why go to Vegas or Chicago, when L.A. now has its own molecular gastronomist! Well, at least his restaurant. I'm sure Andres is still firmly rooted in DC.

ExileKiss,

It *IS* fun isn't it?! I do wonder what the scene is like at dinner. Probably a lot funner. Now to re-read your post on Bazaar (you have so many, I think I missed that one).

 
At 10:44 AM, Blogger Juliet said...

You should really write a book. You are quite gifted with the written word!

I am drooling at the thought of sea urchin. Yes, out of everything you described, that's what got me. I love the stuff. I'm a weird little white girl.

 
At 9:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi

I was wondering if I could get your contact information for a possible event at Bloomingdale's at South Coast Plaza. My email is lauren.conlisk@gmail.com. If you could send your name and a little bit about your food blog that would be great!

 
At 9:37 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Juliet,

Aw, thanks for the vote of confidence! I do wanna be like Eddie Lin when I grow up!

And uni? I can't get enough of the stuff. I don't know why anyone wouldn't like it, although I know of so many people that don't. I wonder if the residents of Santa Barbara (where most uni comes from) get cheaper uni than the rest of us.

Anon,

I'm always reachable via my email (which is on my profile page), but I warn you: I am a shy food blogger and usually shun invitations to gatherings where I can be ID'd.

And you want to know about my food blog? Tada! You're here!

 
At 4:57 PM, Anonymous Evelyn said...

That is one expensive but extraordinary meal! They sure are creative with the food. The Nitro Island had my stomach growling. I'd take this over Disneyland any day! :D

 
At 7:17 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Evelyn,

I'd like to think that my younger self would've also picked this over Disneyland. That dessert is totally made with kids in mind, or at least the kid still living in all of us!

 
At 11:45 AM, Blogger Eddie Lin said...

I want to see an Elmo Monster book too!

 

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