Thursday, January 14, 2010

Saam - 01/02/2010

The Bazaar is one of the rare restaurants where each visit has been stronger than the last. After a slow start opening night, the restaurant has gradually become one of my favorite spots in LA. Though I am far from the only one who feels this way and night after night the restaurant is packed with the typical LA crowd. The one exception to this is the private dining room Saam which serves a 20 course fixed price menu in a serene intimate environment. With the departure of Chef de Cuisine Michael Voltaggio over the summer and the arrival of Joshua Whingham, I felt enough time had passed to warrant a return trip.

Nitro Caipirinha
Dinner at Saam always begins with a welcoming cocktail, and the Nitro Caipirinha is the perfect choice to set the stage for the meal to come. Liquid nitrogen is always a crowd pleaser and a great attention grabber. The instant freezing from the liquid nitrogen ensures an unmatched smoothness and a sprig of tarragon adds a soothing note of licorice on the finish.

Beet "Tumbleweed"
A new course on the menu the brittle strands of fried beet bore little resemblance to the vegetable's raw form, instead possessing a chip-like crispness and saltiness. Betcha you can't eat just one.

Olive Oil Bonbon
One of the most minimally elegant courses, pure olive oil is encapsulated in isomaltose sugar then topped with salt and vinegar to create a sort of deconstructed vinaigrette. Knowing what to expect this dish didn't have the same impact as before but still proved to be quite flavorful and intriguing.

Bagel & Lox Steam Bun
An interesting interpretation of the classic Jewish deli repast. The steamed bun possessed an intrinsic butteriness and a warm spongy texture like the inside of a fresh bagel. The salmon roe, which I liken to lox-in-training, possesses a simple saltiness and fishiness reminiscent of smoked salmon.

Tuna Handroll 2009
I wouldn't be caught dead eating a spicy tuna hand roll at a sushi restaurant but I quite enjoyed Bazaar's. The liquified nori and fresh avocado purée proved to be spot-on compliments to the fresh tuna. What makes this distinct is the thin crispy cone which adds a nice fried sapor to the traditional flavor profile of a tuna-maki.

Ultimate Gin and Tonic

I have always enjoyed the cocktails and even though Saam now offers a full wine pairing, I preferred to stick with the mixed drinks. The staff recommended starting with the gin and tonic and though I wasn't offered a choice of gin or tonic, this still wound up as one of the best G&Ts I have ever had. My companion was so enamored of the spherical ice she she wanted to make them at home. A quick Google search on spherical ice provides two options, a thousand dollar mold or a website that mails ice spheres for 8 bucks a pop. I think spherical ice will stay a Bazaar-only treat for a while.

Black Olives Ferran Adrià
The liquid olives, both a signature dish and an homage to Chef Andres' mentor Ferran Adrià, have been part of every one of my meals at The Bazaar. This was a slight variation on the classic preparation, with a more forceful saltiness than before.

Jose's Combination
Our waiter mentioned this is a combination of two of Chef Andres' favorite ingredients to work with: ham and caviar. I don't recall the type of caviar but the eggs were fairly large with a nutty sweetness and light salinity. The Ibérico de Bellota has a similar flavor profile so it stands to reason the two would really build upon one another but eating the two simultaneously actually highlighted the subtle differences.

Boneless Coconut Thai Chicken Wing

Quite delicious but not particularly interesting flavor-wise, the novelty comes from finally having a boneless chicken wing actually be what the name suggests. "Boneless Wing" is something of a misnomer, as it is just chicken breast shaped like a wing. Ironically Bazaar defies convention on this classic finger food by using an actual chicken wing. The meat is cooked until it becomes so tender that the bones can be extracted without destroying the shape of the wing.

Sea Urchin Ceviche
In the movie American Psycho one of the characters raves about the sea urchin ceviche at an exclusive restaurant. For some reason the idea of an uni ceviche struck a chord with me and I have been looking for one ever since. The topping of hibiscus air gives the dish a vibrant redness but robs it of any visual appeal, reminding me of the sea foam from a cresting wave hitting the shore. In addition to the hibiscus, the uni is paired with lime and passion fruit all of which provide various degrees of acidity. Quite light and refreshing but the lackluster quality of the uni kept me from enjoying this dish fully.

Chipirones en su Tinta
During my recent visit to Julian Serrano I marveled at the menu's similarity to the Bazaar's. My favorite course there was the squid and I was eager to see how The Bazaar's would compare. The perfectly cooked squid is fittingly seasoned with its own ink while the lush greens add a welcome succulence.

Japanese Baby Peaches & Persimmons
This course is far too delicious for a simple plate of fruit and yogurt with the various accompaniments combining to draw out a note of pure simple sweetness from the fruit.

The Golden Boy - Amontillado Sherry wine, Bitters, Cava and gold dust
The bitters draw out an herbaceousness from the dry nutty sherry almost like a stick of incense while the gold dust adds a glittery air of ostentation, quite appropriate given the surroundings.

Guacamole "New Way"
A neatly deconstructed chip and dip, with the creamy avocado gave the course structure while the tomato sorbet added an unexpected chill. Hints of peppery spice and citrus round out the dish which came topped with crumbled Fritos.

Hot & Cold Foie Soup with Corn
From the name I actually thought this was going to be a combination of hot and cold foie gras preparations but the top half turned out to be a cold corn espuma with house-made corn nuts. The soup was a blend of foie and chicken stock which made for a very thin texture that belied the intensity of the foie. A wonderful multi-dimensional dish, with strong textural, flavor, and temperature contrasts.

Norwegian Cigalas
We were advised to take a bite of the lobster, a sip of the bisque and then finish with a bit of the seaweed salad. On its own the lobster was quite enjoyable, sweet and clean with a light crisp bite. The soup which tasted strongly of lobster coral added another layer of complexity and accentuated the essence of the shellfish. The seaweed brought things to a fever pitch before abruptly dispelling the shellfish and preparing the palate for the next cycle.

"Smoked" Arctic Char with Tzatziki
This dish was almost an exact repeat of one from my first trip to Saam but the salmon was replaced by a close cousin. As before the cool refreshing cucumber and tangy yogurt proved to be able compliments to the delicate smoky fish.

Not Your Everyday Caprese
I have always loved ensalata caprese and Bazaar's rendition proves to be a fun twist on the original.

Passion Fruit Martini - Rum, passion fruit and ginger-laurel syrup, topped with passion fruit
One of the sweeter cocktails at Bazaar the fresh fruit and lively syrup completely mask the alcohol.

Wagyu Beef Cheeks
The meat wasn't the tenderest I have ever had but the doneness was almost perfectly even giving it a very dense uniform texture throughout. I expected something overwhelmingly heavy but the beef cheek proved to be expertly balanced with the onions and citrus fruit. .

Philly Cheesesteak
As an added bonus for $15 the Philly Cheesesteak came topped with shaved white truffles that proved to be totally unnecessary. Biting into the crisp air bread causes warm cheese to gush forth, coating the palate and leaving little room for the truffles.

Dragon's Breath Popcorn
Notable for the plumes of smoke that one breathes this has easily become one of the most talked about dishes at Bazaar. The Dragon's Breath is simply popcorn dipped in liquid nitrogen which evaporates forming the "smoke" that is exhaled when eaten. Despite the straightforward mechanics behind this course, I have yet to have a truly satisfying burst. One recent change to this course was the addition of a mirror so diners could see themselves breathe smoke.

Thai Dessert
Consisting of of coconut sorbet, peanut powder seasoned with Thai spices and curry, and fruit gelée, this course wildly exceeded our expectations. The fruit and coconut provide a tropical counterpoint to the sweet peanut while the spices provide periodic flashes of heat. The core of this dessert is the peanut powder which starts out dry but becomes sticky upon contact with moisture similar to a dehydrated caramel providing an intriguing textural element as well as a satisfying sweet flavor.

Hot Chocolate Pear
The hazlenut and thick chocolate spread reminded me of Nutella, spread over the warm cooked fruit while the pear sorbet cut through all the heft of the chocolate with a resounding note of pure light fruit.

Petit Fours
The meal finished with some chocolate tablets and lollipops from the Patisserie.

Despite the capacity crowd outside, Saam was only moderately full the night we went. I wonder what it says about people in LA when miniBar, Saam's older East Coast sibling is booked solid for a month yet Saam struggling to fill seats lowered its price to $95. Without a doubt, Saam is a special experience, but there is something truly magical about the first visit that just can't be recreated. Still the food was just as strong as it was eight months ago and a steal at $95 compared to the original price of $120.


sygyzy said...

Do you feel that Andres intended Saam to be the west coast version of minibar? I ask because besides sharing MG and Andres, they are not similar. Minibar has 2 services a night, with 6 guests each. You must make reservations 1 month ahead (30 days), to the day. It's never not booked, except for truly last minute cancellations.

I have not been to Saam but I was at Minibar over Christmas and the experience was nothing like Minibar and I felt ripped off. The $120 for ~25 courses at Minibar, over a 3+ hour meal was a way different experience than brunch at Bazaar.

Epicuryan said...

I agree the experience in Rojo y Blanca, or Bar Centro will be nothing like miniBar. However I do think Saam was modeled off miniBar to some extent. Both offer similarly lengthy tasting menus in a intimate environment though Saam accommodates more guests than miniBar.

Saam has a 20 course menu and it seems minibar's is slightly longer from your account. Prices were originally the same as well.

One major difference, and perhaps the one that accounts for the varying levels of demand, is that the food at Saam is the same as the rest of the Bazaar while miniBar's menu is different from that of Cafe Atlantico's.

mindzeye said...

You can find spherical ice cube molds at the MOMA website here - they work really well and are cheap:

Cynthia Beattie Mcgill said...

Liquid nitro is certainly cool to play with, however complete precaution must be administered while using it. Hospitals, medical labs and physicists take the help of dewars to store it. May be its time that chefs also start doing that.

Rich said...

$95 is such as steal for this caliber and amount of food! I do think that Saam would gain more traction if it offers a menu different from that of Bazaar.

Epicuryan said...

Thanks for the link, thats a heck of a lot more affordable than the one made by Taisan.

Actually I believe the liquid nitrogen was poured from a dewar into a bowl then mixed with the Caipirinha.

Couldn't agree more about both points. Although given the prevalence of conspicuous consumerism in LA I would have thought the cachet of the "secret" dining room would be a bigger draw.

JJ said...

Here's another sphere ice-maker. The silicon should aid in removing the ice from the mold.

Epicuryan said...

Thanks for the tip. I ordered the one from the MOMA but I may have to pick one of those up when its available in February to see how well it works.