Saturday, January 31, 2009

Special Foodventure #101: DineLA dinner at the Bazaar (Beverly Hills)

The Bazaar was one of the hottest restaurant openings last year, with tapas-forerunner chef Jose Andres joining forces with local uber-hospitality management company SBE to open a three-part restaurant in the new SLS hotel in Beverly Hills. Since the Bazaar's focus is on small plates, ideally it would be great for me to go with a group so we can all order, split and share a variety of different items. And that perfect moment came when DineLA Restaurant Week rolled around, and the Bazaar's deal sounds particularly sweet since instead of a prix-fixe like almost all the other restaurants, we can choose our own courses from pretty much their entire menu, or so we initially thought.

Squirrel Coin Bank
I've been to the Bazaar for drinks a few times before (and apparently, the bartender noticed; I feel like such a lush now) and I still can't decided whether the over-the-top glitzy decor makes for fascinating, albeit gaudy, eye-candy or just an tasteless celebration of all things tacky. It certainly doesn't help the case that right next to the bar and patisserie is an exorbitant gift shop selling wares like a golden squirrel coin bank for $4,500 or limited-edition paparazzi prints of poor celebs-in-hiding for about a grand each. Oh yea, a considerable percentage of the bar and patisserie clientele unnecessarily flashy too (think guys wearing heavily-embroidered jeans and deep V-neck t-shirts with giant chest graphics, and women in neon-colored stockings and faux-fur vests and top-hats; both gender tend to sport too much fragrance) leaving me aghast and amused at the same time.
Brandy Alexander
But anyhow, my pre-dinner cocktails since I arrived early - my first drink was a Brandy Alexander (pictured above) that had nice aromas (esp. since the bartend freshly grated nutmeg on top) but ultimately too thin in texture since half-and-half was used in lieu of heavy cream. For my second drink I decided to order something I already know I'd like, the Jalé Berry with fresh jalapenos and blackberries with gin and Cointreau (I requested Plymouth). I just love the spike of spice and grassiness that the pepper added to another-wise standard and somewhat fruity ccoktail, and the overall bouquet of aromas was pleasantly complex (peppers and berries go well with the citrusy, mildly-herby aromas of this particular gin, which is one of my faves.)

Aaron of Food Destination and his g/f and ordered drinks of their own, and a few minutes later Tony of SinoSoul came with his g/f (yea, I ventured here solo -- thankfully was joined by Tony's friend Danny later on) and we slinked into our booth in the "rojo" room of the restaurant (fyi, the menu and the dining room is divided into rojo and blanca with totally different feel.)

After our waiter confirmed the DineLA setup (three tapas except from the meats & cheese sections, plus a "philly" or "hilly" sandwich and any $10 dessert from the patisserie menu) we put our budget-minded math brains to work. With tapas ranging from $6 to $16 how much one saves (or even lose) on the DineLA deal hinges on the price value of what's ordered. So of course, we mostly stuck with the pricier small plates. But we weren't being total penny-pinchers and put in an order of jamon iberico de bellota ($36 for two ounces, OK -- split six ways it's only an extra $6 each...)
First to arrive was our shared jamon and a complimentary starter of toast with olive oil and tomato puree. The toast was refreshing, flavorful but surprisingly not heavy -- like a fresh margherita pizza sans basil and cheese.
Jamon Iberico de Bellota
As for the jamon - it was divine and I can see why they kept the pigs on an acorn-only diet (and fetching the consequent high price for the ham) it had a smooth, silky and rich texture w/o feeling fatty at all thanks to the marbling and was bursting with meaty, bacon-like flavors with a slight tinge of smoke-cure and nut taste. It was hard to refrain from taking more than my share of 2-3 slices.
"Philly" sandwich
Since none of us were vegetarians, we all got the "Philly" sandwich (the "Hilly" merely swapped the beef for mushrooms) - lovely to look at and fun to eat, the best way I can describe it is that it's the eclair's savory, meaty cousin. The light, crispy bread was puffed and it's interior is filled with molten cheese. While delightful to try, I think mine had a little too much cheese, which overwhelmed the otherwise nicely-seared thin slices of beef.
King Crab in a Can
Next up was their king crab in a raspberry vinegar with fresh raspberry, served in a can as an homage to Spain's claim of having the best canned foods. I absolutely love the presentation and the spectrum of sweet to sour in this dish, from the ripe, sweet raspberries to the more subtle, tender and fresh crab pieces and the fruity-tart sauce.
Mini-Sandwich Remix!
I was curious about their mini sandwiches, so I got their foie gras on brioche with quince jam; since Tony got a trio of sea urchin on steamed buns /w avocado slices, we decided to swap one -- and we both agreed the foie gras tasted better, so buttery rich with a hint of liver flavor - the brioche were a perfect backdrop and the quince jam was a nicely matched pairing, as if I was sipping the Sauternes while eating the meat. The sea urchin sandwich was a bit lackluster due to the ratio, the sheer amount of bun and the richness of the avocado easily overwhelmed the naturally subtle sweet-briny flavor of the urchin.
My final savory (and only hot dish) is the rossejat, described as a paella-like dish with shrimp, served with a garlic sauce on the side that I'm supposed to toss in. Unlike everything else so far, this dish looked amazingly ordinary (like a stir-fried vermicelli dish minus the granules of vegetables -- or as Tony noted it "something out of a Rice-a-roni box"), and the taste was off too. The garlic sauce pretty much overpowered everything, rendering the dish more like a shrimp scampi with noodles as opposed to a paella. It's not Stinking Rose pungent, but the lingering aftertaste did stick for a quite a while after I finished this.
Six Desserts
For desserts, we all decided to order something different so that, again, we can split and share.
Apples in Red Wine, Vanilla Ice Cream
I think this time I got the bad pick with the apples cooked in red wine with vanilla ice cream (and bean, apparently); on their own the apples had no sweetness at all but retained all the tannic astringency and acid of the wine it got cooked in, I have to scoop a little ice cream with every bite to make it palatable. However the other sweets, particularly the Greek yogurt panna cotta with apricot and muscat gelatin and hot chocolate mousse with pear sorbet and salted-hazelnut pralines, were provocatively tasty.

And of course, after the meal's over we took our sweet time exploring the space, from the various exorbitant gifts at Moss to the other sweets on display at the Patisserie to their glitzy bathrooms (mirrors all over; kinda fun, but also weird to stare at myself while I'm doing my business.) By the end I still haven't had a better clue of what the place about (asides from coming up with the phrase "bizarre Bazaar" in my head,) but the space, food and drinks are definitely intriguing enough for me to make a return trip one of these days for a special-occasion meal. Of course, not on a weekend when the tacky d-bag crowd is out in full force.

For more photos of this meal, including what others in my party had, check out my flickr set here.

What Do Others Say?
- Here's SinoSoul's account of the same meal
- Dig Lounge had a pleasant DineLA dinner here
- KevinEats came on grand opening night, tried practically every course here for 50% discount, had a less-than-stellar experience, and got invited back to check out the food again with the chef (along with FoodDigger)
- Gourmet Pigs had a better experience with her half-off grand opening meal
- Food, She Thoughts soaked in every little detail and had some great photos
- Yelperocracy gave it 4 stars

The Bazaar at SLS Hotel
465 S. La Cienega Boulevard
Los Angeles
The Bazaar on Urbanspoon


Aaron said...

Wow you got this review up fast considering your heavy backlog. I'm lucky nowadays if I can get one entry out a week. Meanwhile, I'm still eating of course. Nice picture of the canned crab peeking over the side of the tin. I think your rossjat may be a little heavy, but considering everything else we had was so light, it was nice to have some substance

Unknown said...

Wow....they all look so good. Wished I went now....sigh.

Anonymous said...

geezus HC, that Sony W210 is a BRAND new cam just released. HTF did you get your hands on it already?

Seriously, I think your uni bao / foies burger shot puts mine to shame. NICELY done @ f2.8 and a relatively fast shutter (1/40).

Highly impressive!

Exile Kiss said...

Hi H.C.,

Great review. Sounds like you had an interesting evening there, and at least you got to enjoy the delectable Jamon. :) There were some dishes you tried that weren't available when I first went; I'll have to go back sometime soon and try those out. Thanks.

H. C. said...

@Aaron, well I shifted my posts priorities depending on circumstances (this one I moved up since people still have time to do dineLA here) ~ actually my backlog is around 4-5 now since I've been posting around 3-4 times a week.

@Tu, hey -- I asked ;) foie gras!!

@TonyC, HA! My camera is a DSC-W120 , not 210 -- thanks for the compliments on the photos. I tweak with the settings a little but it's mostly point-pray-and-shoot, repeat as needed ;)

@Exile, oh I am looking forward to a return trip myself ~ as soon as I can corral a group of folks to go with.

Diana said...

Interesting. I'm not sure whether I'm dying to go, but I'm definitely intrigued. Sounds like a fun experience (particularly for the patisserie clientele watching)!

kevinEats said...

Seems like the food has gotten a bit better since my last visit, though the crowd appears to have descended further into douche bag territory.

Hopefully the place doesn't degenerate into another Apple.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a mized night, but Foie Gras Burger on Brioche always sounds great. You should try Issa in SF, they make them both great. I was actually going to go there the same time and night you guys were but I last minute changed b/c of Burumun and went out with her. Value-wise it didn't seem that big of a difference, so I am going to just go on my own.

If you are working on getting a group to go again, I'd definitely love to join ^_^

H. C. said...

@Diana, ha - the people gawkage is totally worth the otherwise pricey fare at the bar / patisserie. Just sip and nipple slowly ;)

@Kevin, I think this place had more traction than Apple ever did (location-wise is definitely better) ~ but I liken the Bazaar to what S. Irene said about XIV with its two distinct clientele of d-bag sceney folks and fairly-serious foodies. But like anything else, time will tell...

@Kat, will definitely let you know about my next Bazaar trip ~ won't be for a while though.

Unknown said...

Great looking pics HC. While the food has its misses, it was a great time and I defintely enjoyed the dinner at Bazaar.

Hope to catch you at a later food event.

H. C. said...

@Danny, definitely looking forward to eating/drinking with you some time! Thanks for the photo compliment!


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