“If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is because everything would be what it isn't. And contrary-wise; what it is it wouldn't be, and what it wouldn't be, it would. You see?” –Alice
The quote above is a perfect description of The Bazaar by José Andrés. A restaurant part of the lavish SLS hotel in Beverly Hills. Another way to describe it is “a dining and design wonderland”. But that would be an understatement. So where do I begin?
Let’s start with the hotel. In the signature Philippe Starck look, the lobby is a whimsical mix and match of styles where antique and hyper-modern are curiously rendered together. A deep-red elevator lobby next to a grass-green carpeted hallway in which 2 magic mirrors stand. To make you shrink or make you grow. An actual-size horse sculpture/lamp stands next to it, maybe for scale.
If you wonder what SLS stands for. It stands for nothing, and everything. While a staff member denied a definition for the acronym, next to him a large backlit panel listed countless possibilities like “Soft like silk” and “Some little secrets”. Behind the curtains–the many curtains, is Starwood hotels and a few renowned partners like Moss, Starck, Andrés and Sam Nazarian. This is the first SLS of a few to come, 2 more are in the works, in Las Vegas and Miami.
As you walk in the restaurant, accessible through a separate entrance, the whimsy is on steroids. A surreal feast for the eyes and for the mind. A series of distinct spaces where it’s hard to tell where art ends and commerce begins. Three dining rooms, a bar and a store curiously blend together, despite each one’s unique personality and design.
Blanca and Rojo
The 2 main dining rooms are opposite to each another, in location and character.
Rojo (red) is inspired by the traditional Spanish tapas restaurants. Warm and approachable with a hint of the past. Solid wood tables and chairs, black-and white checkerboard floors and Picasso-inspired drawings on the walls. Open to the bright, ample kitchen where a small army of cooks work at full steam. One in particular is hard to miss, Top Chef runner-up Marcell Vigneron; surrounded by foams (pictured below).
Blanca (white) is the absolute opposite. White marble and light wood tables, comfortable upholstered chairs and lounge sofas. A modern palette designed with Stark’s trademark blend of periods. In between both rooms, a tarot reader, perhaps as a connection between past, present and future.
The Bar Centro works as a social hub. A long diagonal counter backlit with the blue glow of round video monitors installed under the glass contrasts with the bright amber background. Fornasetti faces on the menus blend in with the crowd.
Lastly, the Patisserie. Another whimsical space designed in pastel tones where 2 communal tables stand in total contrast. One at counter height, the other like a kid’s table–only a few inches from the floor. Eat me, drink me.
An appetizing display of candies and chocolates under glass domes, ready to be sampled or taken home. This is where the desserts are made and often where meals come to an end. But more on that later.
Throughout the many spaces, mini lounges that are neither Rojo nor Blanca. Museum glass boxes exhibiting curious design installations, like aquariums of surrealism and commerce. It’s like dining at Moss, the uber-modern design store. Literally.
At the very end of the the 11,500 square-foot space the restaurant blends seamlessly with Moss’ showroom. Carefully curated design objects that entertain the eyes and allow nostalgic diners to take a piece of the experience home.
The wait staff at Bazzar is exceptional. With a level or attention and sincere enthusiasm parallel to some of the best fine dining restaurants. Yet it remains approachable, unfussy. Servers take orders on backlit wireless PDAs strapped to their arms. Everything is automated, efficiency is paramount. But sometimes service feels rushed as the small dishes start to pile up on the table faster than you can eat them. For that reason, I’d recommend ordering homeopathically; 2 or 3 dishes at a time.
Mirroring the 2 main dining rooms, the restaurant offers dual menus; Rojo with traditional tapas, and Blanca with avant garde molecular gastronomy inspired modern tapas. You can order from any one, independently of which room you sit. And there’s no lack of choices. In total both menus offer over 70 tapas you can order à la carte or let the chef pick for you. The Spanish menu also shows influences from other cuisines, mainly Japanese, Mexican and American.
José Andrés is credited for bringing high-end Spanish cuisine to America with his much praised Washington DC restaurants. Bazaar is his first venture in the west coast and the chef seems to have put all his energetic personality into it. You may recognize him for his lively TV persona– in his PBS show “Made in Spain” and a few special guest appearances in other networks. But before being a celebrity chef, José is first and foremost a talented chef. He trained under Ferran Adrià at El Bulli in Spain and that clearly influenced his food in technique, inventiveness and sense of humor.
Dining at Bazaar is a fun, immersive experience. There’s a great level of inventiveness and a witty sense of humor in almost every dish; something that is becoming synonymous with contemporary Spanish cuisine. It’s all about surprises.
Like Alice’s nonsense, things may not taste what they look or look what they sound. White gazpachos and liquid olives come to mind. But when you come to expect surprise after surprise, a perfectly fine dish has the potential to disappoint if wonder doesn’t arise. That’s the downside.
In addition to an inventive cocktail menu, Bazaar serves 2 types of Sangrias. They are mixed at the table with a full bottle of either red wine or cava–the Spanish sparkling wine. I’d recommend the one with cava, no question about it.
From the Blanca menu; Olives, Modern and Traditional. An homage to Andrés’ mentor. Adrià created the liquid olive a few years back and made it a signature dish in his legacy of culinary innovation. The process called “spherification” uses Alginate to create egg-yolk like spheres of liquefied green olives. The spheres are then marinated in olive oil and served on tasting spoons. The delicate contraptions literally explode in your mouth releasing its intensely flavored olive juice. At Bazzar they come accompanied by traditional stuffed olives. This amuse bouche sums up the concept of Andrés cuisine; a contrasting play of traditional and modern with reference points to one another.
Another “little starter”, as described on the menu, is the Sweet potato chips, Yogurt, tamarind, star anise. Paper-thin chips and a Greek yogurt dip. Surprisingly light like whip cream, topped with olive oil and balsamic reduction. The combination is irresistible.
Not your everyday Caprese, Cherry tomatoes, liquid mozzarella. Another awe-inspiring rendition of a simple salad. The blanched tomatoes are compressed in vacuum bags with a Pedro Ximénes reduction to squeeze out their air and absorb in the liquid. In that process their flavor is enhanced. The liquid mozzarella balls are also made with the spherification technique. They should be spooned together with the tomatoes and small air bread croutons for a perfect combination of textures and flavors.
“Philly cheesesteak”, Air bread, cheddar, Wagyu beef. Another great example of an otherwise common dish made into something absolutely outstanding. The delicate air bread shell is filled with a white cheddar cream and topped with lightly seared Wagyu carpaccio. It’s like a savory éclair; luscious and flavorful. I’d say the best thing on the menu.
Ajo blanco, White gazpacho, tomatoes, grapes, raisins. The white gazpacho is actually a savory almond gelatin with the consistency of a panna cotta. The reference to the classic chilled tomato soup comes in its topping–tomato core and tomato granita. Together with the thinly sliced grapes, soaked raisins and Marcona almonds, it results in a beautiful play of flavors, textures and temperatures.
Cotton candy foie gras. A chilled cube of foie gras terrine is wrapped in a bite-sized cotton candy, prepared in one of the restaurant roving carts. Another playful dish based on the classic combination of foie gras and sweet pairings. Although good, the pure white sugar lacks the complexity of, say, sour cherries–making this dish more fun than flavorful.
American Caviar cone. Each paper-thin cone is filled with cauliflower crème fraîche, topped with paddlefish caviar and chives. It’s hard not to draw comparisons to French Laundry’s cornets and when you do so, Bazaar’s ranks a distant second. And where they suffer the most is in the final assembly. Unfortunately the tableside show seems to take precedence over a more skilled kitchen preparation.
Tortilla de patatas “new way”, Potato foam, egg 63, caramelized onions. A reinterpretation of the classic Spanish omelet created in a delicate layering of flavors and textures. The egg 63 on the title refers to a perfectly cooked egg at 63ºF. The dish is served in a faux eggshell.
Tuna toro “Nigiri”, Wasabi, watermelon, red wine, soy, jalapeno. A very successful dish. Thin avocado ribbons wrapped around fresh tuna tartare.
Jicama wrapped guacamole, Micro cilantro, corn chips. Paper thin jicama tortillas and creamy guacamole. Nice but not a favorite.
Japanese taco, Grilled eel, shiso, cucumber, wasabi, chicharrón. Crispy and sweet.
Miso “linguini”, Tomato, lemon, salmon roe. The linguini here is made by jellifying a miso broth into a thin gelatin sheet which is then sliced into fine ribbons. The resulting transparent "pasta" melts in your mouth becoming a broth again. And much like any pasta, their flavors come in the sauce; in this case, the salmon roe.
Oven roasted Cippolini onions, Clementines, passion fruit, pumpkin seed oil. The modern take here being more in the combination of flavors than the technique.
From the Rojo menu; Jamón Ibérico de bellota, Acorn-fed, free-range Ibérico ham. If you never had Pata Negra before, this is something you can’t miss. The kobe beef of cured hams, from pampered black-footed pigs. The delicate glistering fat melts in your mouth adding complexity to its nutty, salty flavor. The 2oz sliced to order portion is accompanied by toasted bread with tomato paste–something I had no problem ignoring in favor of savoring just the jamon.
Papas Canarias salty wrinkled potatoes, mojo verde. The fingerling potatoes in this dish are boiled in salted water until it evaporates. The crystallized sea salt gives them the appearance of sanded pebbles. But bite into it and you’ll find a soft inside, like mashed potatoes. The very salty skin is balanced by the parsley, chives and balsamic sauce.
Norwegian lobster seaweed salad, lobster essence. Perfectly cooked langoustine served with a frothy, flavorful lobster bisque.
Sautéed shrimp garlic, guindilla pepper. This dish came highly recommended by the wait staff, it’s definitely good, but not something I'd order again. There are many other things on the menu that I’d recommend first (start with the top of the list).
Stuffed piquillo peppers goat cheese. Another nice combination of sweetness from the peppers and balsamic with the acidity of the cheese.
Croquetas de pollo, chicken and béchamel fritters. Crispy and creamy croquettes. Simple, straightforward, unsurprising.
Beef hanger steak piquillo pepper confit. Tender cuts of beef, served medium rare with a nice chair broiled flavor.
The restaurant also offers a good selection so Spanish cheeses like Manchego ‘Pasamontes’ (sheep) and Valdeón (cow and goat).
Time for desserts. And this is one of my favorite things about Bazaar. You are invited to eat your sweets at the Patisserie. If you don’t want to move you can stay at your table but the transition to the Patisserie is something you honestly shouldn’t miss. It makes everything more interesting and exploring the different rooms is a big part of the experience. Here are some of the desserts they offer, listed by preference (favorites first).
Greek Yogurt Panna Cotta, with apricots and muscat gelatin. A deliciously creamy panna cotta topped with apricot foam and grated pistachio.
On the playful side, Nitro Coconut Floating Island, with passion fruit and vanilla. With a thin meringue-like crust and a powder snow texture that dissolves into nothing the moment you put it in your mouth, this is almost unnatural. Or simply surprising. The baseball-size floating island is placed over caramelized bananas and a passion fruit coulis.
Chocolate Stick, orange gelatin, fresh citrus segments, chocolate snap and freeze-dried raspberries. My favorite chocolate dessert on the menu.
SLS Tres chocolate mousse. Dark, white and milk chocolate layered and topped with a small plastic eyedropper designed to squirt liquid chocolate directly into your mouth. More fun than flavor.
Creamy Chocolate Heart, With coffee and cardamom. Fluffy and sweet.
On a lighter side, Coconut-Berries-Lemon, Albert Adrià (1998). An homage to Ferran’s brother who run the pastry kitchen at El Bully and is responsible for many of the restaurant’s innovations.
Traditional Spanish Flan, with vanilla and fruit. Surrounded by airy vanilla custard. Not a bad dessert, but lower on my list.
Hot Chocolate Mousse, with pear sorbet and salty hazelnut praline. Although this was the most recommended dessert, it’s the one I was less excited about. It felt sloppy and a somewhat all over the place.
I visited Bazaar 3 times before writing this review. Dined in both rooms and happily had my desserts in the Patisserie. In each visit I found new surprises, things that I hadn’t noticed the times before. Point is, there’s so much energy and depth in the experience that you’ll hardly find it repetitive. I can’t say everything I had was outstanding, but many things were. And that alone is a reason to go back. And as the last surprise, you will probably be pleased with its reasonable prices. No wonder getting a reservation is so hard–first and last seatings may be your only choice; knowing someone definitely helps. This is LA after all.
Bazaar achieves an outstanding blend of food, fashion and fun unlike any other restaurant in LA; arguably in the whole country. Playful yet serious about its food; without ever taking itself too seriously. A whimsical feast for the palate and for the eyes. “Curiouser and curiouser.”
Bazaar is at 465 S. La Cienega Blvd.