Wednesday, September 9, 2009

El Bazaar

After a way too short a time having coffee in the adorable town of Pasadena with my old friend Robert Williams, I made my way back to Hollywood, to Ricardo's house, the starting point of my full circuit tour of the "southland". We had 8:45 pm reservations at El Bazaar , and my 8-5 friends were nice enough (and caffeined up) to indulge me with their company for one more night of good food, drinks and conversation. Earlier in the week, Marcelo (my BFF in the Bay Area) had mentioned that I should check this restaurant out. The chef is Jose Andres, apparently the former Sous Chef at El Bulli in Spain, quite possibly the best restaurant in the world. The investors and maybe even the chef himself had recently been to Quintessa (M's place of work) and talked it up. Seeing that I had never heard of it, I checked online, loved the tapas menu, and made a reservation.

Finding rock star parking right away (which some say is impossible in Beverly Hills), was a good omen, as we arrived perfectly on time, to a gracious host/mngr who asked us to wait in the bar, as the previously table had just paid. We took in the modern surroundings: low slung caramel leather couches, wide coffee tables and perfectly dimmed lighting. A 40 foot long, glass- topped bar height table ran at an angle down the room, a deliberate focal point and conversation piece, as encased in the table at every seat was a round portal of fuzzy black and white movie footage, dancing beneath the glass like holograms providing an eerie, otherworldly contrast to the modern, almost gaudy mirror encased booth just beyond.

A quick look at the cocktail list and I decided on a Pisco Sour. I recalled fondly the last time I had this drink at Adesso in Oakland, not too sour, a hint of creaminess (from egg whites) and a dash of bitters. The bartender wasn't surprised by my order, as apparently the LA Times had just crowned El Bazaar's Pisco Sour the Best Drink in LA that very morning! Had I died and suddenly become hip, my finger on the pulse of the LA dining scene? LOL The drink really did turn out to be absolutely the best of its kind. Pisco (that lovely South American liqueur made from grape spirits), fresh lemon juice and an egg white, all shaken together and then strained into a martini glass. A few dashes of peychaud's bitters garnished the top. YUM
Right when I was about to order a second, the maitre'd motioned to us to come along, our table was ready. I made a mental note to check out the rest of the bar area, as their were more tables in a completely different decor of french baroque, in the next room, next to an elaborate patisserie display and an eclectic collection of museum quality objects d'art for sale.

Our table was spacious and the lighting was bright but not glaring, which made for easy reading of the rather large menu: a fold out of 4 pages, two devoted to "traditional tapas" and two to "modern tapas". I was surprised to see the modern tapas had a distinctively japanese twist to them.

Our server was dressed in a cute vintage modern cocktail dress, no aprons or frumpy button downs in the vicinity. She expertly gave us the run down of the menu, 3-4 small plates each, and recommended we choose from both the traditional and modern sides to get the full experience of the place. There were also two chef tasting menus to choose from, one $45 and one $65.

After little discussion we each decided on 3 plates, with room to add more if we liked. Both Joe and I ordered additional items meant for singular eating: He an American Caviar Cone and me a Cotton Candy Foie Gras. Those came out first, his a crispy crepe-like cone stuffed with delicate black eggs, not as firm as I like them, but flavorful. Mine was a puff ball of cotton candy on a stick, meant to be eaten in one bite. I let Joe and Ricardo pull at the sugar before I deftly popped the whole thing in my mouth. The melting whisps gave way to a center of creamy torchon, perfectly cured with a hint of cognac. I was already in heaven, as by now you know I have a soft spot for all things liver-ey.

When the "Linguine with Miso" was placed before us, we had to quickly recap what we had ordered. As these were cellophane noodles with orange Ikura dotting the top. Not what we expected but very flavorful, just the right amount of salt, a hint of miso, and the nice crunch from the roe. It was, however, a little challenging to eat, as everything kept sliding off our forks.
Next up was the cheese course, not a bad price: 3 selections for $15 or 5 for $25. We selected the Idiazabel, a nutty and firm sheeps milk cheese, aged Manchego, and Valdeon, a Spanish Blue. Small, rustic twists of crackers were scattered about the plate as well as an ample amount of membrillo (quince) jam. Cheese plates are simple but mostly always delicious.
Cod fritters arrived next, small balls of creamy goodness, with aioli to dip them in. This turned out to be my favorite dish.

Two sea scallops then arrived on plate of rough cut romesco sauce. The scallops were plump yet lacked the caramelization that would have set them off better against the rich red pepper and almond background.

Ricardo had chosen the "Japanese Tacos": Three "tacos" were neatly arranged on a small taco building stand. Parchment paper held a thin lengthwise cut of cucumber in which was nestled a piece of barbeque eel and a slice of avocado. Popping the whole thing in my mouth at once, flavors were exactly as one would expect (from the Japanese restaurant across the street). R & J loved this dish, I found the flavors nice but common and strangely out of place.

Mid-meal, I made a quick trip to the ladies lounge to refresh, and entered a room full of mirrors with a row of marbeled sinks down the middle. A girl was talking to her boyfriend on speaker phone, and attendants wiped each door, toilet, and mirror down continuously. Very L.A. I really don't like these kind of rooms, as you can see yourself from every angle, and at this point in the trip, I should have just stopped eating right then and there! HA

That was quickly forgotton as I reentered the dining room and slid into my comfortable seat on the leather sofa. We couldn't remember what was coming next until the lamb loin arrived. A small bowl held a smooth puree of mashed potatoes, with a disc of demiglace gelee in the center, beneath which rested a fan of sliced medium rare lamb. The flavors married well and we were all happy with the richness of the demiglace accenting the mild lamb. Meat and potatoes at their best. The potatoes reminded me that we hadn't ordered the patatas bravas, usually fried potato chunks with some sort of dipping sauce. When our server stopped by to check, I threw that order in, as I was certain my companions would appreciate them. When they arrived, however, what was placed before us looked like powdered sugar coated Jordan almonds. They turned out to be small german butterball potatoes, coated with powdered salt. Yes, powdered salt. The dipping sauce, described as a Mole Verde, was pureed cilantro with a little citrus and possibly a small amount of chile. I have to say, I didn't like this dish at all. The salt was very strong, overpowering even the green sauce. Ricardo loved it though, and even dipped the salty nuggets in the leftover demiglace of the lamb dish.
Our server stopped by again, and asked if we had received the spinach yet, a traditional spanish style dish with pine nuts and golden currants. No we had not, and she scooted off to check on it. It finally was placed before us and I immediately was sad we had not had this earlier, along side the lamb course, as the flavors were nice but a strange placement in the procession of dishes. We were close to full when another forgotten dish made it out, skewers of watermelon alternating with plum tomatoes. Although a nice palate cleanser, this dish also felt misplaced.

Starting off strong and ending a little weak, we were still pretty impressed by the flavors, innovative style and freshness of the ingredients. Those last dishes put us over the edge however, and, being that it was now after 11 pm on a school night, we declined even looking at the dessert menu.
In digestive mode, we perused the gallery next to the bar, an eclectic mix of hand blown glass pieces, jewelry, japanese Anime characters, Liberacci (or Michael Jackson) styled crystal what-nots, and leather S & M wear; truly something for everyone. The patisserie bar consisted of artfully arranged glass domed delicacies, making me wish I was making one more trip to my parent's house, as Inge would have been in heaven.

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