Buzz, buzz, buzz... It's what L.A. thrives on. There certainly has been buzz aplenty on the eatery at the new SLS Hotel (formerly Le Meridien, and before that Hotel Nikko). The restaurant is called The Bazaar. It is helmed by José Andrés, the ebullient Iberian chef most famous for his television appearance as the host of the Spanish cooking show "Vamos a cocinar".
I first saw José Andrés on TV while in Madrid in 2006. Immediately, I thought that his simple yet profound Spanish food sensibilities would lend itself nicely to my home city of Los Angeles. In addition to being a food celebrity, he now operates several restaurants in the D.C. area. When The Bazaar opened for business, Mrs. J.L. (a native Madrileña) & I quickly decided to pay a visit. We were certainly not the first, as fellow 'Hounds burumun, KevinEats & exilekiss had already reviewed it a few days prior.
... BUT we were fortunate enough to visit on the night when José Andrés was actually "in da house"!
LOCATION: The SLS Hotel is a new hotel brand name, the newest corner of the empire of nightlife mogul Sam Nazarian and his SBE Collection. It is centrally located on La Cienega’s restaurant row, just north of Gyu-Kaku, in Beverly Hills. Street parking is scarce, but not completely non-existent. To save time and hassle, valet parking is the way to go. If you so request, your server at The Bazaar can add the cost of valet parking ($14) onto your tab at the end of your meal!
DECOR: Whoa. Maximus Philippe Starck. Sam Nazarian must have signed a huge contract with this guy. As soon as you step out of the car, it hits you. People have termed the style as whimsical and playful. Call it what you will, but I’d like to describe this particular genre with the phrase, “Giant objects, shiny surfaces, and occasionally glowing furniture with a baroque twist – oh, and lots of display cases”. Previous reviewers (particularly exilekiss & burumun) have described well the partitioning of the room. We were seated in the “Blanco” portion of the restaurant. The environs were certainly lively, and did NOT detract from the food. Noise level was moderate to low, so table conversation was easy. The patronage in the dining room & bar was about 50% to 60% on the night we went. Bathrooms are quite photogenic; just make sure it’s empty before you shoot it.
SERVICE: Spiffy and professional. The front hostess team was very helpful, and sat our party of 4 immediately. Our server (Heidi) was outstanding. She was affable, knowledgeable, and got every one of our 36+ plates and 10+ drinks correct. Quite a feat. Brava! By the way, I encountered NO problems from the staff by bringing my camera and using it (sans flash) throughout dinner and in each section of the restaurant during a walk-around.
DRINKS: I dropped the ball on this one. My companions are not bigtime drinkers, especially on a “school night”, so I missed out on a lot of the “molecular” cocktails. Mrs. J.L. enjoyed her peach Bellini, with a nice Japanese peach bite at the bottom of the glass. We ordered a pitcher of the sangria rojo, which was prepared tableside with a nice bottle of Tempranillo (I ask: Why use such a nice bottle of wine when you can use a lower quality table wine for sangria?) – In any case, the sangria was very satisfying and fruity (in other words, just right).
FOOD: On the menu, “Rojo” denotes more traditional offerings, and “Blanco” denotes lighter and/or more experimental plates. We asked Heidi our server to have the kitchen “surprise us” – with both categories (sort of a mix-n-match). She (& the kitchen) did not disappoint. Mostly dishes were hits, a few were “comme çi, comme ça” plates, & a few were misses.
Jamon Iberico de bellotas – Mrs. J.L. does not kid around when it comes to eating ham. Forget the run-of-the-mill jamon; we went straight for a large platter of the good stuff. The first bites were heavenly. It was served with rustic bread, fresh tomato paste, and olive oil (a Spanish bruschetta, if you will). I prefer to munch on the jamon without the bread, since the paste can overpower the nuances of the jamon.
At this point, Chef José Andrés decided to pay our table a visit! He was very cordial, asked us how we enjoyed everything so far, and posed for a few photos with Mrs. J.L. & myself. Mrs. J.L.’s mom is a big fan of Chef Andres back in Madrid – she’ll be truly excited to see the photos. I asked where he obtains the jamon Iberico de bellotas; it turns out that the jamon is imported by the Chef himself. On with the meal:
Calamares with aioli - Oily, but surprisingly light & delicious. The dipping sauce is perfect.
Aceitunas (anchovy-stuffed olives) - Spot on. Reminds me of my last trip to Valencia.
Croquetas de pollo - Fresh, hot chicken croquettes. ‘Nuff said.
Tortilla de patatas - Ah, great taste, but not as “singed” at the bottom as I would have liked. Mrs. J.L. thought they were perfect (shows how much I know….).
Tortilla “New Way José” - Very inventive! It captures the essence of the tortilla, but with whole new textures!
Espinacas - The best spinach dish I’ve had in the last 2 years anywhere. Anywhere. (And I actually like spinach!)
Ajo gelatin - My favorite “blanco” dish of the night. It was recommended by Chef Andrés. A flavor explosion!
Patatas bravas - Small whole potatoes were used (instead of cut potatoes), not too spicy… These can become dangerously addictive.
Trout, stuffed with jamon – Really tender fish, with a healthy sheen on its skin. Excellent.
Olives Ferran Adria - An homage to Andres’ teacher, these little bites were prepared using organic esterification. The experience is akin to having caviar. Pop the thing in your mouth whole. Press. It bursts open to reveal a supremely balanced olive-ness taste. Molecular gastronomy has officially arrived in L.A.
Lomo de cordeiro - Perfectly succulent lamb. I usually avoid lamb, but this was a treat.
Bay scallops - Not terrible, just mediocre.
Beef lomo – Too salty, bland.
King crab in a can (lata) – I wanted to like this, but the crab meat was too “processed” tasting. The raspberries were unable to rescue it.
Cheese platter – Better Manchego is to be had from La Espanola’s store in Harbor City.
Cigalas – These Norwegian “lobsters” are common in the Mediterranean Spanish cities, but they are rare in L.A. The sauce it came with did not enhance the unique flavor of these medium-sized crustaceans.
DESSERT: We shared a total of 5 desserts.
Clementine sorbet (rojo): Interesting taste, with a hint of Persian rosewater (golâb). My favorite of the 5 desserts.
Pineapple fennel salad (blanco): The pineapple & coconut soup was a nice fresh contrast with the ice cream & fennel.
Greek yogurt panna cotta (blanco): Served in a layered cup, it was nice, but I thought the tastes didn’t mesh too well.
Traditional Spanish flan with goat cheese yogurt (rojo): Well-done flan, but yuck on the goat cheese yogurt.
Beet meringue (blanco): The meringue “macaroons” were very beet-y tasting. President-Elect Obama would not like this (according to reports, he dislikes beets in general). Mrs. J.L. & I did enjoy this, though.
Coffee & espresso services were deftly executed. Coffee refills were prompt and welcomed.
BOTTOM LINE: Mucho gusto, indeed. Mrs. J.L. said that this was the best (restaurant) tapas she’s yet had in L.A. I also thought that these were high quality tapas and nouveau tapas… Expensive for tapas, true, but I didn’t mind, since the experience was so delightful.
Meeting and chatting with José Andrés certainly enhanced our meal. He even personally checked back with our table a second time to ask how we were doing!
It seems I’m doing more and more hotel dining lately. This place will probably catch on fire with the hipper-than-thou crowd, pronto. Though I really did not delve into the bar on this visit, I am really fascinated by the concept of molecular beverages. I am definitely coming back for all those crazy cool drinks. I expect to get, for lack of a better word… buzzed. Ah, more buzz.
The Bazaar (Rojo y Blanco)
465 S. La Cienega Bl.
Los Angeles, CA 90048
Sorry, picture to come later....