Thursday, February 2, 2012

Bazaar (SLS Hotel) - Los Angeles

Scrumptious Little Snacks

I first heard of Chef José Andrés, known for turning traditional tapas on their ear, when he appeared as a guest judge on Top Chef a few years back. After that, I started seeing him everywhere - most recently on an episode of No Reservations where he shoved Bourdain’s head into a basket of peaches so he could smell their ripeness. I loved Andrés' unbridled enthusiasm towards food, so when we found out Bazaar was in LA, Eddie and I got ready to cruise.

The SLS Hotel brought George Clinton funk to the swank standards of Beverly Hills' restaurant row and Bazaar fit right in, encompassing a collection of eateries - the Patisserie, Bar Cento, SAAM and our restaurant for the evening, Rojo Y Blanca. Secret messages mentioning SLS were everywhere. From cocktail napkins that advised, “sip liquor slowly” to the pen accompanying our check inscribed with, “scribble little secrets”. It was like an Easter egg hunt of acronyms.

How very bizarre. Even though this was spelled like the Middle-eastern market or Harper’s handheld guide to fashion, Bazaar seemed to represent more of the “strange, out of the ordinary, odd” definition. Stepping inside was like vacationing with the travel agent of acid trips. It was equal parts art exhibit, 70’s bachelor pad, Disney’s Haunted Mansion and high society. We weaved between a gallery of glass cases, including spray-painted hand grenades, a golden 10-speed bike and the oil painting of a half-woman/half-zebra, before reaching the bar.

Then the tilt-a-whirl twisted again, revealing a cocktail kingdom, black and shiny like patent leather, backlit with the color of the setting sun before turning us around to face leather sofas and exquisitely, upholstered chairs that seemed reminiscent of sitting in William Hearst’s study. A hint of Dr. Moreau lingered in the low lighting and a moving portrait that slowly morphed a man into a monkey.

But they didn’t monkey around when it came to drinks and their magic mojito was no joke – though it did bring a smile to my face. Here they replaced the usual sweetness (sugar and Sprite) found in mojitos with a tuft of cotton candy that dissolved under an alcohol waterfall of rum, lime, fresh mint and club soda.

They should serve their "salt air" margarita to a blind person because then they would know what the beach looked like. Instead of salting the glass, they topped it with a salt air that looked similar to the frothy foam of bubble bath, so every sip got a swish of this briny brilliance.

Passion Fruit Up! was like a tangy Orange Julius, but only better because it was full of orange rum. Passion fruit and ginger-laurel syrup made for a citrusy-sweet sip that was finished with passion fruit foam and rivaled my favorite cocktail on the planet - the passion fruit martini at Manhattan's Blue Water Grill. Game on!

And then they broke out the liquid nitrogen. The LN2 Caipirinha was like a boozy slurpee with Brazilian cachaça (similar to rum), fresh lime and sugar frozen by liquid nitrogen. Since this was presented tableside, the one-man-show wheeled his cart around the dining room, stopping here and there to swirl his concoctions in a magic act of sorts, including puffs of smoke and a "ta-da" finish that was far more exciting than pulling a quarter from your ear.

Eggplant tempura with honey air - As an east coast Italian, I’ve had more deep-fried eggplant than Tony Soprano, but we weren’t in Jersey anymore, Toto, and the dish was as complex as the mobster himself. Puffed up like a tough guy, the soft flesh of the veggie brought delicacy to the tempura crunch while retaining its sturdy structure. The honey air was the exact opposite of the salt version seen in the margarita, though just as complimentary, and added a touch of sweetness to round out this modern-day moulignon.

Piquillo peppers stuffed with Capriola Farm goat cheese – These reminded me of the Rolling Stones' signature trademark tongue and my mouth was ready for a makeout session. Just like any good rock and roll song, these classic, simple elements were some of the ones that resonated the loudest.

Lemon artichokes, olive tapenade and dandelion – The only caper I'm a fan of is "The Great Muppet" one and that's why I was surprised to find these sodium-filled flowerbuds on the plate, especially since the olive tapenade seemed to summon the salt levels of the Dead Sea and even the bitter dandelion wasn't enough to kill the excessive brininess. But Eddie proclaimed this one of her favorites for its powerful bursts of flavor and refreshing cleanse of the lemon artichoke.

Braised Waygu beef cheeks – I couldn't turn the other cheek when it came to the texture of this spongy beef, but I felt like it was a correctable mistake. They could have saved (cow) face if they just cooked it a bit longer and rendered out some more of that chewy, cheek fascia.

Philly cheesesteak – Air bread was the best invention since…sliced bread! This hollow, pita-like, 3D, mini-football arrived with rare sliced Waygu beef on top. I was already enamored, but since this was a cheesesteak, where was the cheese and onions? “If you bite it, they will come.” *crunch* One bite of air bread and the treasure flowed from its hollow center like a savory piniata, raining melted cheddar and caramelized onions all over my tastebuds.

And we'd just scratched the surface. We didn't even get a chance to try the duck liver wrapped in cotton candy or the shrimp cocktail stuck with syringes of cocktail sauce. And what about the endless varieties of jamon and Spanish cheeses?!

Since we were stuffed, we also declined a seat in the Patesserie, which was where they served dessert and I haven't been able to forgive myself for not getting a couple of Earl Grey bonbons or homemade passion fruit marshmallows to-go in one of their signature, pink boxes. Or something a little more out of the ordinary like black olive lollipops, saffron with edible paper and the one I still coveted...chocolate covered Pop Rocks. They would be mine and we would be back, whenever we were in the mood to Supper Like Superheroes.

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