Thursday, September 12, 2013

Saam - 08/22/2013

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

When The Bazaar first opened in 2008, it was my first opportunity to taste modernist cooking (molecular gastronomy). Though I was disappointed with my first experience, subsequent trips have shown consistent improvement and when Saam opened it took things to another level. My first meal in the secret room came back when it first opened in 2008 and again 8 months later; since then I've been to both of Josè Andrés' other "secret" restaurants minibar and é and I was curious how Saam would hold up against them.

The meal at Saam always starts with a welcoming cocktail. In the past it has been some sort of nitro cocktail which I think makes for a more impressive start. The Kir Royale is enjoyable but the tiny spherifications don't do the technique justice

A whimsical bite, the peanut is a sugar shell around praline and Thai curry. A bit of citrus and spice coupled with the sweetness of coconut are all on top of a the creamy peanut-y base.

Moving on we were presented with "ravioli" of pistachio and pine nut wrapped in rice paper. The plastic looking wrapper dissolves on the tongue releasing the nutty bounty. The yogurt powder adds a contrasting twang to the flavor of the nuts.

Made from rice crackers filled with cream and dotted with basil flowers, the Parmesan pie packs a powerfully cheesy flavor profile in a crisp airy shell.

This was one of the highlights of the early snacks. Chicharrón and hoisin are wrapped in a "dumpling" of cotton candy. After getting past the initial sweetness of the cotton candy there is an equally ephemeral and profound savor tinged with an herbal flourish from the micro-cilantro.

While I can appreciate the complexity needed to transform a oily and fatty slice of Ibèrico into a dry crumbly cracker the loss of the meat's lush mouthfeel and inherent savor was too great a price to pay. Ibèrico is one of the most prized hams in the world so I can't fathom why anyone would want to strip away everything that makes it so beloved.

This was my favorite of the small bites. The dainty looking Luna Oyster packs a hefty saline punch augmented deftly with the concentrated savor of the Jamon cream. A twinge of spice and a toasty morsel of air bread round out this tiny yet powerful dish.

This reminded me of a course I had at my last visit to è in Las Vegas. The sweetness of the honey coupled with the heady black truffle dominate at the start but a growing fishy savor on the finish from the cod espuma.

This was the biggest flop of the night not only was did the combination of carrot and ginger taste disconcertingly artificial; several of them were so poorly constructed my companions couldn't even pick them up to eat, though that might actually have been something of a perverse blessing

I was surprised to see back-to-back carrot dishes though I found this one a big improvement over its predecessor. The fermented carrots bring a bright acidity that contrasts sharply with the weighty sweetness of the coconut-cauliflower. The carrot air brought with it the aroma of fresh carrots which I didn't think added much to the dish.

This dish is Greek for mullet roe, more commonly known by its Italian name bottarga. The salty depth of the mullet roe spreads across the accompanying burrata making for a deliciously creamy salty filling for the doughy bread.

Despite its dainty appearance this tiny morsel packs as much smoky-sweet flavor as any rib you've ever tasted. The kampachi rib has a uniquely gummy texture a fantastically rich and oily base for the teriyaki and red curry with a slight citrus twang on the finish.

Described as a play on nigiri, this featured a sliver of uni over a mango sphere accompanied by yuzu kocho finger lime and cilantro blossoms. Conceptually the spice, citrus and herbs all work well with uni but rupturing the sphere releases a syrup-y rush of florid liquid mango that obliterates everything else

One part toy one part cocktail this palate cleanser played to everyone's inner child. Shaped like a Lego block, this frozen treat was a bracing and bitter mixture of orange and campari. Who says you can't play with your food?

This dish was one of the most impressive in terms of technique for me. The chicken was cured for 8-hours giving it a raw-fish like translucency and a uniquely gellied texture. The figs were a bit heavy handed but they went well with the robust salinity of the chicken as well as the savor of the chicken skin crisp.

I had a similar dish during my previous visit to é. This is what I want when I see Jamòn unabashedly intense umami to the point of being pungent. The cream of ham pairs beautifully with the simple starchy heft of the garbanzo spheres. Garlic blossoms dot the duo of ivory creams bringing a hearty garlicky flavor to the mix.

I initially assumed this was some sort of Thousand Year Egg. Though the dish featured a sous vided egg yolk, the "white" was actually a black truffle gelatin served with a bath of heady carbonara sauce. The result is a combination of creamy smoky wonder tinged with a luxuriously truffled musk.

Beautiful golden chanterelles are paired with equally prized chicken oysters. Despite the rarefied ingredients, the flavor was decidedly familiar; hearty and reminiscent of a Chinese-style stir fried chicken.

I had high hopes for the langoustine and though the rest of the table seemed to enjoy theirs mine was hard to pull out of the shell a sure sign that it wasn't alive when it was cooked. The meat still had a nicely concentrated salinity that worked well with the starchy heft of the potato espuma.

The tentacle was off-putting to some in our group but I quite enjoyed the presentation. The octopus was paired with piquillo pepper corn and nasturtium accompanying the tentacle. When taken with the accompaniments there is a lovely herbal smokiness but there was far too much octopus which resulted in bite after bite of tender-but bland mollusk.

Despite its simplicity, this was still one of the night the dense muscular fish has a buttery savor heightened by the umami of the crispy pancetta wrapping. A dollop of nutty caviar adds even more savor and salinity to the fish.

Our final savory consisted of a savory sous vided lamb shank done up with Mediterranean flair thanks to the eggplant and yogurt. The lamb exhibited a lusty gamy flavor that paired nicely with the twang of the yogurt and smoky heft of the eggplant.

"Philly Cheesesteak" - Air Bread, Cheddar, Wagyu Beef
Though not part of the Saam menu, multiple people in our party insisted that we add it. Beneath the lightly seared beef is a hollow football shaped "bread" that is then filled with cheese. I've ordered this almost every time I've been to Saam or the Bazaar and this was the weakest one yet. The flavor was just as I remembered it but the execution left much to be desired. The cheese wasn't balanced throughout which resulted in the air bread collapsing when I bit into it. The cheese then flowed over my hand and dripped onto the plate, such a waste of good cheese.

Once a staple of the regular menu I've always been a fan of this dish. The intrinsic sweetness of the baby peaches is especially apparent when taken with the mild creamy burrata

Drawn from a smoking bowl of liquid nitrogen, the Dragon's Breath is one of the most iconic dishes at Saam. Basically a flash frozen kettle corn, it isn't so much about the dessert itself but rather the plume of "smoke" that results from eating it

The jammy strawberry potage is coupled with tangy lime which made for a very refreshing and satisfying early dessert.

This dish derived its name from the crunchy phyllo "tumbleweed." Marrying exotic chocolate-cardamom with dehydrated cherries drive this dish a simultaneous melange of bitter-sweet ice cream and tart ripe cherries.

A lovely interpretation of the classic pairing chocolate and orange the dessert had a decadent chocolate cremeaux with a bright citrus flourish. Accents of pistachio and yogurt add extra nuance but aren't really necessary.

The meal ended with a selection of treats from the Bazaar's Patisserie. My favorite was the white chocolate air which started off with a crumbly powdery texture that gelled into a warm sweet creamy treat on the finish.

When I first visited Saam, it was more of a "best of" The Bazaar rather than an independent tasting experience. My latest experience was more akin to minibar or é; dinner theater showcasing a plethora of molecular-inflected culinary techniques. Unfortunately I found this to be the weakest of Josè Andrés' restaurants in a restaurant. While writing the blog I was able to pause and appreciate what the restaurant was trying to accomplish but in the moment I left disappointed and I wasn't the only one in my party to feel that way.


Charlie Fu said...

drank a lot of water :D

Epicuryan said...

Lol yeah most of that 3200 was actually for water

Darin said...

Haha noticed all the water too. It's unfortunate that Saam isn't up to the level of e or minibar...