Sunday, December 7, 2008

Bazaar - 12/02/2008

465 S La Cienega Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90048
(310) 246-5555

After trying the restaurant on opening night, I find myself back at The Bazaar a mere 2 weeks later, this time as a guest of Chef José Andrés. After our first outing, Chef Andrés contacted Kevin of KevinEats in response to his review of The Bazaar. I was surprised he would take the time to read Kevin's post let alone invite us to discuss its contents. I wasn't sure what to expect when we got to the restaurant but José was very approachable, a hearty handshake and warm "Amigos!" putting us all at ease.

The dinner kicked off at Bar Centro where we sampled some cocktails and bar food. As before the cocktails were brilliant.

Nitro Caipirinha - Liquid Nitrogen Freeze
I started with a Nitro Caipirinha, which ended up very much like a sorbet, cold, creamy, and very refreshing. Andrés used this course to highlight one of his philosophies on cooking. First he warned us if we called the drink "molecular gastronomy" he'd have us kicked out. He doesn't use the liquid nitrogen for its own sake. Rather what he wanted to create an alcoholic sorbet and the low freezing point of alcohol that necessitates the use of liquid nitrogen.

Magic Mojito - Served in a shaker and strained over cotton candy
Mojito - Havana's refreshing classic, made in the traditional method
I also tried the Magic Mojito which we were denied last time. This was presented as a martini glass filled with cotton candy. The mojito was poured over the candy dissolving it. Overall I thought the drink a bit too harsh and lacking in sweetness. I sampled this side by side with the classic mojito which had more balance between the sweet/sour elements.

Americano - Our favorite apertif - Campari, sweet vermouth, and soda
I am not a big fan of campari, too much herb and bark, but the use of sweet vermouth and orange foam tempered flavor of the campari rendering this drink oddly pleasing. I may have to try this again some time.

Pisco Sour - Pisco, fresh lemon juice, egg whites and bitters
Another very good drink, the egg whites give it a pleasing thickness and the lemon juice and bitters compliment the pisco nicely.

"The Ultimate Gin and Tonic" - Choose from four gins and two tonic waters
This was a very pure expression of gin and tonic the aromatic flavors of the gin seemed heightened by the fresh flowers and herbs in the drink.

Chef Andrés also ordered a couple dishes from the bar to pair with the alcohol. In the interest of focusing on the conversation with Chef Andrés, I only commented on the new dishes or those that I changed my opinions about.

Potato chip "patatas bravas" - With salsa brava and aioli
Fresh made potato chips with patatas bravas sauce, perfectly appropriate bar food and a very good pairing for the cocktails

Jamón Ibérico - Dry cured, free-range Ibérico Ham, Spain

'Pa amb' Tomaquet - Toasted sliced rustic bread brushed with fresh tomatoes and olive oil

Croquetas de pollo - Chicken and béchamel fritters

Steamed brioche buns - With trout roe and crème fraîche
The steamed buns came in little bamboo dimsum containers and Chef Andrés said they were modeled after the Chinese baozi. Served with salty roe and crème fraîche, the brioche buns were a nice change up from the classic potato blini.

We then moved to the main dining room and sat at our old table in the Rojo section. Thanks to Kevin for recording the dishes we had. Neither of us took photos as we were too engrossed with Chef Andrés.

Aceitunas con anchoas y piquillos - Stuffed green olives with piquillo and anchovies
Andrés really went on about this dish but I still didn't care for it. The anchovies were a bit more apparent this time and did add a nice saltiness

Sea Urchin - With pipirrana and Andalusian vegetables

Watermelon tomato skewers - With Pedro Ximénez reduction and sexy tomato seeds

Tortilla de patatas 'al momento' - Classic potato omelet prepared at the moment

Papas Islas Canarias - Salty wrinkled potatoes with "mojo verde."
The kitchen changed the type of potato used in this dish. The new potato was a bit softer, a bit grainier with a purple interior. I enjoyed this dish last time but these potatoes had a different flavor and were very tasty standalone but unlike last time these went very well with the mojo verde as well.

Tempura avocado - With airy mayonnaise
I was quite surprised at how well-prepared this was, golden and crispy with the avocado avocado inside still soft and buttery-rich. I typically find tempura too oily but here there was barely any excess oil left on the plate, another sign of the care that goes into each dish.

Buñuelos de Bacalao - Codfish fritters with honey aioli
A little less oily than last time but still a bit too soft. Apparently the soft texture is a traditional feature of the fritters but one I just don't care for.

Alitas de pollo - Boneless chicken wings with green olive puree

Olives Ferran Adrià - Liquid 'olives'

Japanese eggplant - With soy sauce-miso glaze and yogurt
One of the worst courses last time the dense texture we complained about last time was actually an intentional effect of the dish. Chef Andrés spent plenty of time describing this dish, noting how difficult it was to get a texture so firm, but to me just because you can do something doesn't mean you should. This time we got a plate that hadn't been cooked quite so long giving a much improved texture.

Stewed baby carrots - With coconut sorbet and ginger

Dashi 'linguini' - With tomato, lemon and caviar.
The savory dashi was abundantly apparent in this dish and went nicely with the salty caviar but I thought the lemon was a touch discordant with the noodles.

Pisto Manchego con flor de calabaza - Sautéed peppers, zucchini, onions, eggplant and tomatoes with squash blossoms and egg

Carrilleras de cerdo con naranja - Braised veal cheeks with California oranges
We had this dish last time but they replaced the pork with veal since then. The veal was perhaps a hair softer than the pork with a slightly gamey richness. Very good but I preferred the fattier flavor of the pork.

Avocado wrapped tuna
This really looked like an exotic tuna roll at an LA sushi restaurant. Fairly good but it could have used a bit more salt.

Japanese baby peaches - With persimmon, yogurt, and olive oil
Just as delicious as last time with the added sweetness of persimmon.

During our conversation with Chef Andrés, he touched on a variety of topics from his culinary origins and inspirations to the Internet and cutting edge-communications technology. His main point to us was that food can be viewed from a number of perspectives: the diner's, the chef's, tradition, and technique and he highlighted using his Croquetas de pollo as an example. His intent was to make the best tasting chicken fritters possible. His inspiration for creating this dish came from eating his mother's chicken fritters as a child. In terms of technique and quality of ingredients, Chef Andrés he has probably surpassed his mother but in terms of tradition he can never do so. Ultimately the which fritter is better? That depends on who is judging and in what context. Being a pragmatist, he understands the ultimate judge of a dish's success is up to the diner.

Of course none of the information Andrés provided is apparent from reading the menu or tasting the dish. We were only able to learn of this history by talking directly with the chef. To help diners gain some insight into the mind of a chef, Chef Andrés suggested a couple of books, Brillat-Savarin's "The Physiology of Taste" and Escoffier's "Le Guide Culinaire." Certainly there should be no required reading for the average diner before sitting down to meal but as bloggers Chef Andrés holds us to a higher standard.

With regards to the blogging community, Andrés, unlike many other chefs does not disregard them out of hand. Instead he sees a blog post as potentially representing the views of many other diners who share the same opinion but instead of posting on a public forum, spread their opinions through word of mouth. As such, bloggers are a valuable resource to the chef since they provide at least some insight into what diners might think of a restaurant. At the same time, as bloggers making our opinions available for all to see, we can influence many more people than the average dinner. Therefore, Andrés understandably feels we should be more knowledgeable than the average diner.

Another theme that seemed to come up multiple times throughout the course of the night is quality. Chef Andrés is obsessed with quality, both in terms of ingredients as well as cooking technique. As I mentioned earlier, Chef Andrés really went in depth on the inspiration for his world's best stuffed green olives. He loves stuffed olives but the vast majority of stuffed olives are made by machines using subpar anchovy paste. Chef Andrés allows no such shortcuts, hand stuffing each olive using only top quality peppers and anchovies. Listening to his description, I could hear the overwhelming sense of surety that his olives were indeed the best in the world no matter what anyone else says.

He also discussed his watermelon skewers as an example of espousing quality above all other concerns. His watermelons come from Mexico because they aren't available domestically during winter as a result of his decision, he received some criticism for not supporting local farmers. Of course Chef Andrés prefers to use local ingredients but dogmatic adherence to this policy should not come at the expense of quality.

Lastly the focus on quality can be seen in the changes to the menu. Two weeks in and a number of dishes have been replaced while others have been modified and the improvement is noticeable even after such a short time. Chef Andrés' vision for the Bazaar is a place where he can share good food with as many people as possible and price doesn't dictate the quality of the dining experience. A guest can come in get a glass of wine and a plate of chicken fritters and still have an unparalleled meal all for $20. I see the passion to be better every day in Chef Andrés and his team, with that motivation driving them, The Bazaar can't help but succeed.


Loving Annie said...

Very nice of Chef to have invited you to come back and see things through his eyes as well as learn from yours.

The changes sound good.

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Tangbro1,

Very nice! It's encouraging to hear that Chef Andres invited you back and made so many improvements to the menu.

It shows genuine care and the insight you shared today was great to know.

Hadi said...

Hi, just started reading your blog. Amazing reviews. I love 'em, especially the Urasawa's because I went there before I read your review and everything you said about it is exactly like I think.

One suggestion and I really hope you do it. Please take a pic of the receipts showing the amount you suffered, or always tell us the approximate amount that you incur. Because each time I read your review, I want to go try out, but afraid that it is not within my budget.

By putting down the amount incurred, you really will help a lot of your readers gauge the budget that is needed.

Tangbro1 said...

Hey Annie,

I am still shocked that Chef Andrés would take the time to talk to us. It was exceedingly generous of him and I learned a great deal. I think that he took the time is just another sign of his attention to detail.

Hi ExileKiss,
The changes to the menu were a welcome improvement. I think he is relentless in his pursuit of making the best food possible and the changes were a natural part of that iterative process.

I am glad you enjoyed the review. It is good to know somebody other than me actually looks at more than just the pictures. If you read either of the books he recommended let me know what you think.

Hi Hadi,

I am glad you like the reviews. For some inexplicable reason I stopped posting pricing information, but I will be happy to start again. If there are any restaurants in particular you are curious about message me and I'll post those prices.

Hadi said...

Hey Tangbro1,

Actually, all. Haha. Especially Omakase! I love Omakase(s) after Urasawa.

How do I message you through email? Because I cant find the link to send you a private message. Sorry, unfamiliar with blogs.

Tangbro1 said...

Hey Hadi,

I modified my profile to show my email address you can get to it by clicking on my picture

TonyC said...

that is one epic dinner... personal invite to dine with the chef.. which ends up as a lesson in gastronomy, requiring a reading of The Escoffier


Tangbro1 said...

Hey TonyC,

It was definitely one of the most memorable dinners I have ever had. I ordered the books he recommended but I don't know when I'll have time to read them.

Aaron said...

From what I glean from your entry and Kevin's, a running theme seems to be the difference between food bloggers and average diners. I suppose when you're running a successful blog like yours and Kevin's, the issue of responsibility is paramount. Your reviews really do shape much of the public opinion. People believe in your expertise; and as such all bloggers should take that into consideration and devote themselves to be knowledgeable in their fields.

On that note, I've had The Physiology of Taste on my desk for the last ten months gathering dust. I tried reading it, but some of it is much too archaic and difficult to grasp for the modern reader/eater.

Tangbro1 said...

Hey Aaron,

I can see Andres' point about expertise and I believe the knowledge gathering process should be fun. Eating, cooking, reading the process should be just as enjoyable as the end result.

I just got my copy, but I haven't had time to read it either. Maybe I should just stick to appreciating the cheese named in his honor.

Food, she thought. said...

How utterly cool! I love that Jose cares enough about bloggers' experience and opinions and influence enough to ask you to come in as his guest. This must have been some of the concern I felt at The Bazaar when the waiter queried us thoroughly about a dish we didn't care for.

Recently while listening to Tony Bourdain in the background while doing other things, I heard him make a disparaging comment about food bloggers and people who take pics of their food. I think the influence of bloggers cannot be denied and I love the Andres not only recognizes it but seems to celebrate it.

BTW: we have ressies at Bazaar for New Year's! I cannot wait to go again!

TonyC said...

finally going this weekend. gonna print your blog entry + kevineats and then decide...


Tangbro1 said...

Sounds good, I'll be looking forward to reading your thoughts.