Monday, September 14, 2009
On my birthday I have a tradition of going to fabulous overpriced restaurants, all due in part to my sister who insists I eat something better then a cheeseburger and fries. LA is a fusion of international cuisine, there is practically nothing you cannot find here.
It's just not affordable. If great food was reasonable then that would take away the fun of being a snob and being able to tell your friends to "suck it" as you devour $20 rainbow rolls at Katsuya or the drunken crab doused in chardonnay garlic and scallions at Crustacean.
My sister is a walking Zagat's guide, she and her husband have traveled the world and eaten probably everywhere there is worth eating. So when Dana raves about a restaurant, one should wake up and pay attention.
This year I make an insane demand - I want reservations at Bazaar, currently one of the hottest, trendiest, and most expensive restaurants in all of Los Angeles. It's become a watering hole for Hollywood power players - agents, managers, and talent all hob knob there as women in tight skirts and bursting cleavage vie for attention.
Bazaar is the restaurant people imagine of what it must be like to dine out in a LA.
Going there in itself is not impossible, but I want the reservation on Saturday night.
People book months in advance for a Saturday reservation.
My sister does it with a week's notice.
She knows the chef - Marcel who was the runner up on the reality show Top Chef. Part cook, part chemist, part wild haired mad scientist, Marcel runs Bazaar's kitchen. Marcel's second in command to Jose Andres, who owns and runs the entire restaurant.
I invite Phil who himself is a bit of a foodie, perhaps more so then myself. The restaurant is only about a mile from where I live, but with traffic it takes 20 minutes. Bazaar takes up almost the entire bottom floor of the swank SLS hotel, a line of cars wait patiently for the valet, but Phil spins around a corner and finds street parking.
Inside there are three rooms, in the middle is "Bar Centro", a cocktail lounge with mix matched chairs, stools, and thrones. Paintings of royalty adorn the floors and wall, subtly shifting into were-people before turning back into human form. Old films play beneath the counter tops, the entire effect is one of disconcerting bewilderment.
To the right is a shop that looks like a museum: lamp posts carved into the likeness of M-16's, corsets illuminated on display next to $125 vibrators. There is an architecture of destruction collection, where one can buy model likenesses of the Titanic, the Twin Towers, and the City of New Orleans before they were destroyed. There are gold hand gun lighters, three foot long miniature speed boats, carvings of animals and cakes, it is a menagerie of the misfit toys.
To the left is the actual restaurant itself, divided into two sub restaurants: Blanca, decorated in white, and Rojo, decorated in black and red. My sister insists that one must eat in the Rojo, closer to the kitchen, eating in the Blanca is simply an inferior experience.
We sit down and order drinks. I order a rum and coke, and my sister fires me a look that can be charitably described as bemusedly exasperated. She orders me a specialty drink, rum mixed with liquid nitrogen. A woman pushes up a cart and begins to mix the concoction in front of us, steam hisses and pours forth, blanketing the table as she pours and stirs various liquids to create this magical elixir.
I end up with a glass of yellow colored sherbet.
It's bitter and strong, it tastes like rum and knocks me on my ass.
From there we head to the Rojo. Marcel has set up a special table for us, where we can see him working in the kitchen. He has wild, unruffled hair and does not look up, focused on whatever is in front of him.
Christos pulls out a couple of bottles of wine from his personal collection. (It's larger then that of some restaurants.) I smile appreciatively, I admit that wine is lost on me, but Phil whistles. A second later he bends over and texts Varga on his iPhone.
"Who are you texting?" I ask.
"Varga." Phil responds. "I'm telling him I'm eating at Bazaar. That and that he can "suck it."
Upon the chef's orders, the waiters automatically bring us dishes. In the tradition of Spanish cuisine, Bazaar is a tapas restaurant, meaning all the dishes are bite size entree's. One, possibly two bites, and the dish is gone.
Normally I would turn up my nose at such an absurd idea. Fifteen dollars for an entree that you can swallow almost instantly? That's the kind of crap that gives LA an elitist bad name. Give me a good 'ol steak any day.
The waiter brings out a set of watermelon tomato heart skewers. I eat it and it's a gastronomic explosion of deliciousness. Watermelon and tomatoes - mixed together? Are you kidding me? It's amazing.
My skepticism evaporates.
From there it is the jicama wrapped guacamole, which looks like small tiny little gift bags, miniature green purses that can be swallowed in one bite. Except when you bite into them, they don't so much melt as POP, overwhelming the senses with corn chips and cilantro. It's like eating an entire Mexican meal in a single taste.
Dana orders a set of caviar cones, tiny ice cream cones filled with delectable caviar, I almost swoon and we are just getting started.
Then come the olives. The waiter brings out a set of traditional "stuffed" olives, then a series of large white spoons each with its own Bazaar created olive, a soft gel like pod broken down and reconstructed from a regular olive.
"Be careful with these," Dana warns. "They explode in your mouth." A second later she bites into it, and olive juice erupts and dribbles down her chin.
"You didn't over sell it." Phil replies laconically.
I put one olive in my mouth and slowly bite into it. The olive blows apart, creating a wild sensation that encapsulates the flavor and essence of an olive more then an actual olive could ever hope to emulate. Just as fiction can be more revealing then truth, so the artificial olive is more pure in olive taste then any natural olive.
Christos orders a beet salad. Normally I hate beets, but at this point I'm willing to bet just about anything on this menu is amazing. Surprisingly, the beets are merely good, but I guess that making beets taste good is an amazing feat in and of itself.
There is a mini salad that you can eat in one bite, scooped up with a chip that gives the sensation of having eaten a full salad.
Then comes the mini Philly cheese steaks, bite sized morsels twice the size of a pizza roll, but twenty times as good. I devour it, the cheese and steak combines into a culinary party that showers the tongue, teeth and tonsils more completely then a foot long philly sub.
Then comes the foie gras, wrapped in cotton candy. Foie gras is a fancy name for goose liver, a delicacy in France, but like escargot considered disgusting nearly everywhere else.
Not quite knowing what it is, I pick it up and put it in my mouth.
A moment later I am in heaven, the foie gras melts in a chewy carmel orgy of pure unadulterated flavor, buttressed by the cotton candy it turns into an olfactory orgasm. If foods had a rating, the foie gras would be XXX.
It is divine.
(Khazani, for the record, you are crazy not to like this.)
It is the coup de grace of the evening. Nothing can top the foie gras wrapped in cotton candy. Not the delectable lamb in white sauce, not the mouth watering baby corn on the cob mixed with corn nuts and popcorn shoots, not the mussels or crab meat in cherry sauce, or sweet potato chips mixed with yogurt and tamarind. I am not eating one meal, I am eating twenty meals, each dish a perfect culinary delight that dovetails perfectly into the next ideal bite.
It is a culinary waterloo.
I have never in my entire life eaten a better meal.
Dana and Christos pay for everything. As always, I am amazed by their generosity.
I even got an iPod touch as a gift.
I thank them profusely. Christos shakes his head. "Too bad you aren't forty, you would have gotten more."
Dana introduces us to Marcel. He comes out from behind the counter and gives Dana a hug, then shakes our hands. He is quiet and smiles. On Top Chef he had the reputation for being an egotistical maniac, but then you can't really believe anything you see on TV.
"I expect a blog out of this."
"Don't worry, Dana, you'll get one."