ADVENTURES IN LALA LAND – JOSE ANDRES’ BAZAAR

A young girl was wandering around the restrooms, pushing every stall door open, with a look of wonder in her eyes. Other patrons were walking from room to room snapping pictures with their phones, looking a bit like kids in a candy store, unsure where to start. Whimsical is the best way to describe the experience of dining at Jose Andres’ Bazaar. From the Philippe Starck’s decor that has a slight Alice in Wonderland feel, with the mismatched furniture in all shapes and sizes and textures, to the actual dishes, the whole experience is wondrous and certainly different from any other more conventional restaurant.

The whole ground floor of the former Meridian (and even former Nikko) Hotel has been gutted to make room for Mr. Andres’ idea of a night out. It’s a quote by Paul Eluard that welcomes you through the door, where we were whisked to the lounge while waiting for the rest of our party. That would be the bar whose cocktail menu is extensive and interesting. Finally escorted to Rojo y Blanco, the main dining room, we were sat amid long communal tables, private corners for larger parties, all in plain view of a beautiful kitchen seemingly manned by 7 or 8 cooks.

Tapas have come a long way from their humble origins and what Mr. Andres offers is an extensive mix of traditional tapas and his interpretation of others, using some molecular gastronomy or Asian influences. The key is to let yourself go because, by ordering small portions, you will get to taste an array of flavours and ideas that are worth every bite, and, for some dishes, even double orders.  As with everything a bit experimental, not every dish succeeds – although nothing is downright offensive, the eggplant with honey foam ends up being way too sweet and the oxtail sandwich with tiny slices of watermelon in a mini bao bun could use more seasoning. But when it excels, it’s a delight for the senses.

A classical Spanish tortilla is deconstructed and served in a tiny glass  comprising a barely poached egg (actually, soft-boiled sous vide at 63 degrees for an hour), topped with potato foam and a few flecks of caramelized onions. Mix it all together and, in the mouth, it perfectly recreates the taste of a Spanish tortilla, just with an unexpected texture. The cod croquettes  with honey aioli are also spectacular – they reminded me of the best fish and chips I ever ate in London, wrapped in newspaper, but, under the crunchy crust, the cod melted in my mouth with a “creaminess” previously unexperienced in fish (had to order that twice). The sashimi of yellow tail, served with capers, grapes and creme fraiche, is also outstanding. The mussels were served, off the shell, in a sardine tin, covered in a liquid that, at first bite, had a bizarre medicinal taste (vinegar was the base) but then gave way to a full-bodied and satisfying taste of mussel.

We couldn’t pass up on the excellent and more traditional jamon serrano, served with a tomato bread or the intriguing Japanese tacos with chicharrones (trust me, they were great).The wine list is lengthy and their signature cocktail, a crazy Mojito poured table side over a ball of freshly spun cotton candy, opened the meal with a light note and a smile.

Once ready for dessert, we were taken to the Patisserie, a corner of the grounds decked in baby pink, where even the tiles of the open kitchen are pink. Under glass cloches, bon bons, square cupcakes, gelees, cookies, tiny pain au chocolat, danish and other sweet concoctions beckon, and can be boxed up to be taken home (and they were. I am still delighting in the saffron bon-bon, the chocolate cookies with fleur de sel and, my absolute favourite, a grown up version of hazelnut Kit Kat I simply MUST have again). The plated dessert selection is also wide and extravagant. We tried the olive oil ice-cream with candied clementines, the Nitro coconut floating island and all manners of confections. Delightful!

Mr. Andres knows how to appeal to this inner child (especially the one who used to eat raw eggs) – his food is not only well executed  and inventive but also an incredible amount of fun. The steep check was worth it – the whole experience was truly a night out. A note on the service: unobtrusive, prompt and extremely knowledgeable.

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Filed under food, Los Angeles, restaurants

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