I love to sample. There is hardly a meal that I do not trade dishes or suggest sharing. I just want to experience as much as possible when it comes to food: many flavors, textures, colors, aromas and unexpected ingredient combinations. I have had my eye on José Andrés’ The Bazaar at the SLS Beverly Hills
ever since it opened back in 2008, but I just now got around to visiting personally. The Bazaar is a tapas-style dining experience with an ultra-chic atmosphere courtesy of Phillip Starck. A little Starck mixed with a handful of shared dishes? Count me in.
What is either gimmicky or perhaps neat about The Bazaar is that the restaurant is actually comprised of several parts. The Patisserie is a separate dessert section from the dining rooms that guests “retire” to should they choose to order sweets after a meal. Another way of looking at it would perhaps be that this is a clever attempt to turn over tables, but personally I like the idea of moving into a space with a full buffet of sweets and indulgences. There was not only a robust menu of both aperitifs and coffee, but also classic and exotics teas, which appeal to me as an enormous fan of the stuff.
The Patisserie is adjacent to the Regalo, which by definition is a gift, present, comfort or treat according Merriam-Webster, however in this case serves as the section that is a “shop without walls” within the restaurant. Actually perhaps more fitting would be the restaurant name itself, Bazaar, which is described by the dictionary as a market (as in the Middle East) consisting of rows of shops or stalls selling miscellaneous goods; the Regalo contains interesting items for sale, glass cabinets full of curios to inspect while sipping your after-dinner cocktail, or in my case, a cup of pricey tea.
On the food front, I should first tell you that The Bazaar is known for serving avant-garde fare. This is the place to come if you are on the hunt for a different twist on tapas or have a hankering for the unique dishes courtesy of the molecular gastronomy movement.
We sampled several dishes, all of them very good… depending on who you asked. To be straightforward there were only two dishes over which we debated. I found the Grilled Squid to be delicious, while my dining partner thought it overly chewy. A texture thing, and I get it, but I love squid, eat it all the time and did not feel the same. On the other hand, I did not particularly care for the Chicken Fritter, which I described at the time as a chicken fish stick; however, that was enjoyed at the opposite side of the table. Fair enough, I had the grilled squid, they had the chicken. Everything else was solid. Altogether we ordered yellow tail, shrimp with a gorgeous parsley puree, flank steak and goat cheese-stuffed Poblano peppers. (A word of caution: these were fabulous, should you like goat cheese, if not, stay away.)
In retrospect I lament some of the dishes that we should have tried, but did not. Frankly when you are staring at a menu that showcases well over 40-odd dishes (with the potential to come out nothing like you envision), it would have been nice to see things more prominently described. What’s more, the absence of the Foie Gras Cotton Candy was a bit of a let-down as the dish sounded innovative and certainly different, albeit controversial.
While the surplus of tapas The Bazaar offers may seem overwhelming, the truth is that the menu really just gives diners an excuse to come back and mix it up. If you happen to go here, make it a point to order a combination of both the molecular-gastronomic dishes as well as some of the more classic stuff; be adventurous and daring with your food choices. Try a new cocktail (I highly recommend the Pisco Sour), sample something new, (Nitro Coconut Floating Island anyone?) or ask your server to make some recommendations. More than anything share, investigate and explore the unique culinary riches that you will be hard-pressed find elsewhere.