The Bazaar by Jose Andres – Part 1: Spanish Tapas
As my birthday was approaching this year, I was curious as to where my husband would take me to for my birthday meal. As the date got closer and closer, I realized my husband hadn’t really come up with a restaurant. He threw out a couple of suggestions for places we had been before, but I was pretty noncommittal on those suggestions because a) we’d been to these places before, and b) I really wanted my husband to just make a decision and surprise me with something. Well, I guess be careful what you wish for. The week of my birthday, my husband got in touch with me at work and asked me to look into a specific restaurant that he had read about. As soon as I saw the restaurant, I was hooked. It looked nice, served the kind of food that I would love, and it was a new place we’d never been to before. So, I told my husband that this place would work and he should make reservations. Fast forward an hour or so as I’d been away from my phone and hadn’t seen his response back to me. All of a sudden, he told me he really wanted to choose a different restaurant – despite the fact that he chose this first restaurant and I had already agreed to it. Instead he wanted to make reservations at a restaurant that, while we’d never been to before, he has talked about wanting to go to for years now. Located in Beverly Hills, we had never been to this particular hot spot because we always were afraid that it was way too swanky for us and one of those locations that’s all about being seen. You know, the usual Hollywood/Beverly Hills hotspot. On top of the fact that perusing the menu made it somehow seem like a place where I’d have difficulty finding much I’d want to eat. Not the kind of place I envisioned for my birthday, and I let it be known to my husband that I preferred the first restaurant as opposed to this particular restaurant. After going back and forth a couple of times, I ended up relenting and agreeing to go with the restaurant he chose, but I made it known the whole time that this was his selection and not mine, even though this was my birthday. So, I told him if I ended up not liking it, he’d be the one paying for it. He told me not to worry that he knew I’d like it and justified the decision by saying that since he was taking me out for my birthday he should get to choose where we go and all I needed to do was enjoy it.
The Bazaar by Jose Andres at the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills is a masterpiece of both food and interior design. The brainchild of James Beard Award winning chef Jose Andres, the Bazaar features classic Spanish tapas of Chef Andres’ childhood combined with new, modern, sophisticated culinary techniques. Combine that with the modern, cutting edge interior design of Philippe Starck, and you’ve got a fun, fanciful, sometimes whimsical, and very retro restaurant that sometimes feels more like an art gallery or a high end fashion shop rather than a beautiful, relaxing, and intimate restaurant.
When you step into the restaurant you immediately notice that the restaurant is essentially divided into three very different, and distinct sections, all separated subtly by color, lighting and decoration. To the far right is the Patisserie, highlighted by a beautiful display, buffet style, of some of the nights dessert options. You can walk right up to the display case, look at the selection, point to what you want, and have your hand picked dessert delivered right to you.
In the middle section of the restaurant, the bar is featured. Not only is The Bazaar by Jose Andres known for its food, it’s also well known for its creative and distinctive cocktails, many of which are prepared at the backlit bar which is the focal point of the middle section of the restaurant.
Finally, to the far left hand side is the main dining area of the restaurant. There is a semi-open kitchen area where you can watch sous chefs create some of the many tapas on the menu. The main dining area is filled with comfortable, intimate dining areas all intimately lit so as to provide each party with privacy. Some of the seating is made of couches, and wingback chairs and long benches. It’s a beautiful, but classic mix of styles to create an air of modern sophistication.
The Bazaar may be famous for its Spanish tapas, but it has quite the reputation for its modern and creative cocktails menu as well. Of course, that meant that my husband was going to have to sample at least one of their handcrafted cocktails. What he chose to order was a drink called “Smoke on the Water”. Made with Johnnie Walker Black, blackberries, Islay mist and flame, the drink itself was a work of art when it was brought to the table. You can easily see where the drink gets its name. The interplay of the alcohol, the flame and the large spherical ice cube creates a cloud of smoke that fills up the stemless glass. And you’ve got to keep the ice cube in the glass in motion until the “smoke” dissipates or else the chemical reaction causes the drink itself to start freeze and crystalize. The whole thing was very cool. My husband loved the flavor of the drink with combination of the Johnnie Walker Black and the Islay mist, the blackberries then added a nice hint of fruitiness and sweetness to the drink along with the orange peel in the drink itself. My husband said that the drink was so smooth and good that you could easily get loaded off of these drinks and not even realize it.
As this is a tapas restaurant, that means that everything on the menu is rather small in size, therefore it is recommended that you order a number of different items and share them so that you can sample a little bit of everything. The menu itself is divided into a section “traditional tapas” and “modern tapas” and then within those categories it is further broken down into other categories such as jamones, quesos, sopas, carnes, pescado y mariscos, salads, vegetables, seafood, little starters and little sandwiches. My husband and I decided we wanted to sample a little bit of both sides of the menu.
From the “modern tapas” menu there is a section called “some little starters” and “some little sandwiches” for which everything is divided into a “per person” price, meaning that you could order individually for each person at the table and whatever you were ordering literally came out as a single serving per person. This is useful if there are items that only one, or some, of the people at the table want to sample and item, this way the people not interested in the particular item don’t have to eat something they don’t want. This worked out for us with an item my husband insisted on ordering called the “cotton candy foie gras.” With the lifting of the ban of foie gras being allowed to be served at restaurant, The Bazaar has brought back one of their most popular and whimsical creations. As its name states, it is literally a buttery piece of foie gras enrobed inside silky strands of homemade cotton candy. You can see why this is considered a “modern tapas” as you’d never see anything like this in a traditional tapas bar in Spain. When the lone single serving of the cotton candy foie gras was brought to the table, the server politely asked me why I wasn’t interested in giving the dish a try. He even told me that he never liked foie gras himself until he tried this dish and now it’s one of his favorite dishes on the menu. My husband was so excited to try this dish and after eating this creative, sweet and buttery dish, he wasn’t disappointed. His words to me were that the cotton candy foie gras was “funky” but in a good way. The dish was rich from the foie gras, but that the cotton candy was the perfectly compliment to help cut through the buttery richness of the little slice of heaven hidden beneath all that cotton candy. My husband even said that he could have enjoyed a couple of these little one bite wonders. I’ll take that as a sign he really enjoyed it.
Another selection from the “modern tapas” menu that my husband decided to enjoy on his own was the caviar cone. Made with American sturgeon caviar atop a bed of creme fraiche all inside a mini cone, this creation really was a cute little one bite sample of caviar goodness. My husband who is a big fan of caviar just couldn’t resist ordering a cone for himself. After he popped the cone in his mouth (it really is just a one-bite cone) I asked him how it was, and all he said to me was that it was really good. You either like caviar and its salty goodness or you don’t. If you do, then this combination of the caviar and the creme fruit is a match made in heaven.
The third item we ordered off of the “some small starters” section of the menu was a dish called the tortilla de patatas. This was actually something I wanted to try, and my husband was interested as well, so we actually ordered a serving for each of us. Described as having been concocted in a “new way” the dish is made with potato foam, egg 63, and caramelized onions. I think I loved the dish more than my husband did. Not to say that my husband didn’t like the dish, but he didn’t find anything earth shatteringly unique about eggs and potatoes. For me, this tiny glass jar with its mini wooden spoon held a delightful treat. The cooked egg at the bottom of the glass jar is fantastic and unlike any egg I’ve ever had before. Egg 63 is the modern way of cooking a perfectly uniform egg. By that, it means that the egg white and yolk cook evenly and uniformly so that they melt together as one mass rather than having the egg whites become firm while the yolk is still runny. To create egg 63, you have to drop an egg in its shell into 63 degree Celcius water and allow it to cook for one hour. This creates a texture to the egg yolk and white that I’ve never experienced before and found to be incredibly creamy and light and wonderful. All the taste of a delicious egg, but without really being able to tell a difference between the white and the yolk. Atop the egg you had this potato foam which felt light and fluffy and was pretty much an aerated mashed potato. The caramelized onions were crispy and crunchy and sprinkled over the top of the dish almost as a “salt” for the dish along with some chives. When you combined the soft delicious egg with the airy potato foam and the little bit of salty caramelized onion in one small bite, the taste was rich and fantastic full of unique and different flavors and textures that you just wouldn’t expect.
From the “traditional tapas” side of the menu, I couldn’t resist ordering some jamon. Jamon is the Spanish word for ham, or in English its the translation for the dry cured ham found in Spain that is so hard to resist. There are two different types of jamon, jamon serrano which means ham from the mountains, or jamon Iberico which is ham from the black Iberian pig. My husband and I are big fans of jamon and couldn’t decide between the different types of jamon, so we decided to order the fermin platter which would give us a small sample of three different types of jamon served at The Bazaar. The jamon is served with Catalan style toasted bread with tomato jam, which I absolutely loved as the bread and tomatoes were a perfect compliment to the salty jamon. The three different types of jamon included Jamon Serrano de Fermin which is dry cured ham, Jamon Iberico Fermin which is dry cured, free-range Iberico ham, and finally Jamon Iberico de bellotta Fermin which is acorn-fed, free-range Iberico ham. It was interesting that you could actually taste the distinct differences in the three different types of jamon, and I definitely had a favorite. Unfortunately, I didn’t know which type of jamon was which, so I can’t tell you which one I liked the best. That salty and smoky flavor of the dry curing process just imparts so much flavor into the ham that it’s irresistible. Can you go wrong with jamon?
One dish that I wanted to try, that ended up really surprising my husband by how good it was, was the market fish ceviche and avocado roll. A couple of years ago, when I didn’t have an appreciation for how amazing fresh fish could be, I never would have touched this dish. But when I read the description on the menu, it sounded so fantastic I couldn’t pass it up. Classified as a “modern tapas” the dish is made with fresh ahi tuna made into a ceviche with micro cilantro, jicama and coconut all rolled into thin sliced avocado and topped with crushed corn nuts. At first, my husband was more skeptical about this dish because he is not a lover of avocados as they tend to have a chalky taste to them. However, the avocado used to make this avocado roll was perfectly ripe and soft and literally melt-in-your-mouth. The ahi tuna ceviche was fantastic, a little bit of acidity from the tang of lime juice and incredibly fresh fish combined with the coconut giving it a bit of a tropical flavor. The kicker was the crushed corn nuts atop the avocado roll which gave the dish a bit of crunch and texture and a slightly salty flavor as well. My husband and I both thought this ceviche inside the avocado roll was one of the most unique things we’d ever tried. Every element of the dish complimented the other elements and the flavor was a little sweet, a little salty, and all smooth and silky. It was literally like having butter melt-in-your-mouth, I’ve never experienced anything like it.
From the salad section of the “modern tapas” we ordered the Not Your Everyday Caprese salad. Sticking with the idea of using modern gastronomy techniques in the modern tapas, this salad is definitely not your every day salad. Peeled cherry tomatoes are set atop a bed of fresh made pesto, a garnish of balsamic vinegar, little squares of air bread and balls of liquid mozzarella. Again, using the technique of molecular gastronomy, The Bazaar creates what they call liquid mozzarella rather than using slices of fresh buffalo mozzarella as you’d assume to find in a caprese salad. First off, the air bread was fantastic. It’ll be revisited again in another dish we ordered later in the night. The fresh pesto was delicious, the sweet basil, garlic and olive oil flavor hitting my tongue, combining with the acidity of the ripe cherry tomatoes the flavor profiles of this dish are off the charts. The idea of peeling the ripe cherry tomatoes is a terrific idea that I wish I’d see in more dishes. But, it’s the liquid mozzarella that makes this dish. Inside the “skin” of the mozzarella ball, the cheese literally is liquid. You have to eat the whole ball of mozzarella in one bite. The minute you bite into the ball and break the skin, the liquid mozzarella shoots out at you. It’s one of the more unique experiences of “eating” food in liquid form. It taste exactly like a caprese salad, and yet this is so different from your traditional caprese salad.
Back to the “traditional tapas” side of the menu, we ordered the Jamon Iberico and a fried farm egg with truffle butter. The description of this dish hit all my husband’s buttons, Jamon Iberico, fried farm egg, truffle butter, all combined into one dish? My husband couldn’t resist, and frankly, neither could I. Served in a cast iron skillet, a fried farm egg topped with truffle butter is cooked to the perfect consistency and topped with a few slices of Jamon Iberico. At the table, the fried farm egg is cut into by the server into quarters to release the delicious runny egg yolk. The dish is served with homemade bread. The flavor of the egg with the richness of the truffle butter was creamy and slightly sweet. Therefore, the Jamon Iberico was the perfect compliment with its slightly salty and smoky flavor to match to the sweet egg. But, it was the bread that was the star of this dish. The slightly toasted and crusty bread that was served as an accompaniment to the dish was the real star. Thin, and crispy, yet incredibly airy this bread was like nothing I’d ever tasted before. How could it be this thin, yet still flavorful. How could it be this airy and light, and yet still have body and be crispy? It was like a great puzzle, a juxtaposition, which was a great accompaniment to the creamy fried farm egg.
Another item my husband wanted to order off the “traditional tapas” menu was the stuffed piquillo peppers. Again, this was going to be a dish strictly for my husband as piquillo peppers are not something that I eat, regardless of what they are stuffed with. In this case, the piquillo peppers were stuffed with Capriola Farm goat cheese to create a sweet, creamy texture with the roasted piquillo pepper which adds a bit of heat, and yet still slightly sweet flavor. My husband enjoyed the stuffed peppers and insisted that I would too as it really wasn’t that spicy at all, just a little bit of heat all balanced out by the smoky flavor of the roasted pepper and the cooling effect of the goat cheese. He definitely said that this was a dish that would want to order again. It was simple, yet flavorful.
Admittedly, by now, we realized that we had ordered a lot of food, or at least it seemed like a lot because there were so many dishes, but we knew going into this experience that we wanted to be able to try a lot of dishes. And honestly, it was a lot of dishes, but there wasn’t a lot of quantity in each dish. Our next to last dish was probably the dish most reminiscent of an “entree” of any of the dishes we ordered. From the carnes section of the “traditional tapas” menu, we ordered the braised wagyu beef cheeks with mojo rojo.
Our final dish was the most anticipated dish of the night, and the dish that brought The Bazaar the fame it has today, the “Philly cheesesteak” off the “some little sandwiches” section of the “modern tapas” menu. This is the dish that had my husband and I taking notice of The Bazaar and has been the dish that my husband has dreamed of trying for years now. After all this time, we were finally going to get to enjoy Chef Jose Andres’ modern molecular gastronomical take on the classic Philly cheesesteak sandwich. The Bazaar’s version of the “Philly cheesesteak” is made with air bread, cheddar, and seared wagyu beef. Those sound like your traditional Philly cheesesteak ingredients, but this is anything but your traditional Philly cheesesteak sandwich. First off, the cheddar cheese is melted cheddar cheese that is somehow stuffed inside this incredible, airy, light crunchy air bread. This cigar-shaped, crusty on the outside, air bread that’s hollow inside and filled with melted cheddar cheese. Then, seared, ultra-thin sliced wagyu beef slices are then layered over the top of the air bread, a garnish of minced chives is thrown on top, and these Philly cheesesteak sandwiches are then served hot to the table. One bite into the Philly cheesesteak and your mouth in assaulted with all sorts of incredible flavors. The crunchy, crusty air bread, the tangy, sharp cheddar cheese, and the incredibly tender and flavorful seared wagyu beef. All of the elements come together perfectly. You can taste each individual element, but yet, it blends together to form what your mouth thinks is a classic Philly cheesesteak sandwich. I’ve never experienced anything like this, and now I see exactly what all the hype over this Philly cheesesteak is. I could have devoured about 10 of these. This was as about as perfect a dish as you could get.
After the tapas portion of the meal, I was quite impressed with everything we’d experienced so far at The Bazaar. And yet, this was only the beginning of it all. When you’re finally done with your meal, it’s time for the next phase of your dining experience at The Bazaar. This would be dessert offerings in the Patisserie. A table in the Patisserie is prepared especially for you, and when you’re ready, a host guides you from the table you sat at for dinner, to your new table where you can enjoy after dinner drinks and dessert. It’s time to experience dessert in a whole new way….