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
465 S La Cienega Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90048
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