Urasawa- Los Angeles

I straighten my dress, rearrange my scarf and examine my coat for lint in the quiet elevator ride up from the parking garage on Two Rodeo Drive in the heart of Beverly Hills.  As the doors open into the dark hallway, I pause to clear my throat and my mind of the day’s insanity before ducking under the white linen noren inscribed with the restaurant’s name.  It is important that I look and feel my best before entering the sacred grounds of this culinary temple called Urasawa.  Chef Hiroyuki Urasawa, dressed in a sharp navy blue kimono, greets me with a waist low bow as I reciprocate with a longer bow, then settle into the seat directly in front of him.  ‘It’s been a long time,’ he says, and to my pleasant look of surprise he quickly follows with ‘has it been 7 years?  How is everything at the hospital, doctor?’  I’m flabbergasted that he remembers me from so long ago, yet at the same time not, for a true professional like him never forgets a customer.  Especially when that customer is somebody who survived his last meal.

7 years ago on my first visit to Urasawa, I had a delicacy that is known for causing a slow miserable death through asphyxiation and paralysis with no antidote or cure.  Through a day long process of cleaning and draining that only a professional like him knows how to do, he stripped the product of its toxins to produce a beautiful fatty morsel of delight, resulting in a life changing, and luckily not a life ending, moment of culinary inspiration. This exquisite delicacy (which I will not name for fear of getting him into trouble) was frightfully delicious, and I felt happy to be alive, in more ways than one.  It’s not often that I trust my life to somebody, but Chef Hiro is an exception in many ways.

Hiro Urasawa is the very embodiment of a Japanese master- devoted to his craft, constantly in pursuit of excellence and perfection to the point of obsession.  Balancing precision and artistry to create the ultimate form of beauty.  Sacrifice to be the best at his discipline, yet incredibly humble, never considering himself at a status more elevated than a student of life and a pupil of his mentor Masa Takayama whom he inherited this restaurant from.  Most of all, it is his thoughtfulness to create the ultimate dining experience for each and every customer.

Such meticulous attention to detail and consideration is visible in his magnificent flower arrangements that reflect the seasons, palpable on the soft cypress counter that is sanded down every day with 3 types of sandpaper, savored in the beer that is served at the perfect temperature down to the millidegree and appreciated in every glance and smile that he casts my way.  With one silent nod, he summons his server to lay a white napkin on the counter upon which to lay my camera, not because he is afraid that my camera will damage the pristine cypress, but because he doesn’t want the cypress to somehow damage my pristine camera.  In the presence of this master, my posture naturally straightens while my eyes and shoulders soften, and I prepare myself for an exceptional kaiseki experience.

Elegance

Horsehair crab from Hokkaido, known as kegani in Japanese, is shredded and tossed with mitsuba leaves and yellow chrysanthemum petals (kikka)Each ribbon of flower petal and green mitsuba leaf is cut to the same size as the shreds of crab meat to create symmetry and balance of flavors, colors and textures in this simple sakizuke appetizer that is elegantly presented in a gold and black lacquer bowl. 

Decadence

Decadence when done poorly is debauchery, but decadence when done tastefully and for the pursuit of excellence and beauty is divinity, like the seared toro wrapped around monkfish liver (ankimo) and myoga ginger, neatly tied in the center with a strip of Kyoto turnip and tressed with a caviar updo.  Little yellow flecks of yuzu rind add a refreshing aroma to the ponzu sauce, and like social débutantes, these aristocratic ocean delights, immaculately groomed, fitted, brushed and powdered, are presented on a brightly shining golden pedestal. 

Beauty

While the Japanese hold an appreciation for beauty in things that are skewed, imperfect or incomplete through the aesthetic values of wabi-sabi, we also strive for creating and maintaining beauty through perfection and symmetry, especially that of nature.  Perfectly round glistening balls of soy marinated ikura salmon roe, each an exact clone of the other, are worthy of stringing into a Mikimoto necklace, its fresh taut membranes succumbing to my bite with audible pops.  What lies underneath these miracles of the sea are succulent shiraebi white shrimp from Toyama prefecture and a pleasantly sweet and creamy edamame tofu.  A 24K gold leaf embellishes this dainty bowl of jewels, and while I hesitate to disturb the perfection of this culinary masterpiece, I indulge with full force, for an empty bowl and a clean spoon, in the end, is the perfection that Hiro is seeking. 

Craft

If water could have feelings and dreams, it would aspire to become the ice block that Hiro personally chisels and sculpts by hand for his sashimi tsukuri.  Perfectly cut in a fanned out pattern of a blossoming flower, the ice block proudly displays the fresh offerings of the evening- buttery uni, tender toro and savory aji with intricately prepared garnishes of carrots, seaweed, chrysanthemum petals and freshly grated wasabi.  The ice dutifully keeps the sashimi at its optimal temperature and doesn’t think twice about being thrown away after one use, for it is exactly that fleeting yet deeply intimate moment with Hiro for which it was born- and it, and I, are both content.

Balance

Hiro makes an interesting version of ‘Wagyu beef tartare’ by simmering the meat for 6 hours in soy sauce, sake and mirin, resulting in an intensely sweet mouthful of what reminds me of tsukudani.  The beef is balanced on a black lacquer spoon with a generous heap of caviar and a garnish of takuan pickled radish for an interplay of sweet and salty flavors, a contrast that is heightened with a concluding bite of pickled red bell pepper on the side.

Artistry

Shark fin chawanmushi arrives warm in a hand-painted Japanese ceramic cup, the luscious collagenous fins layered in gentle loving curves around a gold leaf like a flower bud hiding a secret.  The bonito broth releases an inviting aroma while adding glimmer and shine to the glorious shark fins from Kesennuma.  I slowly slip each fin into my mouth, closing my eyes as I appreciate the texture of the fine gelatinous fibers against my tongue.  Thereafter my archaeological excavation begins as I dig my spoon deeper into the light egg custard to discover and devour embedded shiitake mushrooms, shrimp, ginger, yuba, gingko nuts and ultimately uni, prompting a gasp of delight. 

Devotion

After proudly showing off a hot stone and a plate of marbled kama toro to me, Hiro begins preparing the ishiyaki course behind the counter.  The moment of contact between kama toro and hot stone creates a dynamic sizzle and a magnificent puff of aromatic smoke that perfumes the restaurant.  A white paper screen partially blocks this process from my view, but also protects me from the random splattering of melting tuna fat ricocheting off the stone, a gesture of kindness that I appreciate.  The heat of the smooth flat stone, no doubt chosen as the stone for this task from thousands of others, liquifies the marbled fat into a decadence augmented by ponzu that sinks well into my taste buds. 


Comfort

Kensaki ika, squid from southern Japan, is served as a tempura with a squirt of sudachi and a plate of vivid green matcha salt for dipping.  I forget that the tempura is fresh out of hot oil, and the first scorching bite makes me open and close my mouth like a fish out of water.  Once the heat dissipates, I find my teeth effortlessly biting into a warm thick cut of squid the texture of room temperature butter.  The hint of Japanese citrus and aroma of Japanese green tea bring a sense of familiarity and comfort to me, and along with it the most genuine smile. 

Innovation

Foie gras shabu shabu is a signature Urasawa dish, the additional ingredients constantly alternating to reflect the seasons. A warm simmering pot of water with a dish of thinly sliced goose foie gras, lobster and scallops are placed in front of me.  Before I can even think of moving my hands, a server slides up next to my seat to do the dipping and cooking for me.  ‘Swish, swish’ she goes with the foie gras, its melting fat forming canary yellow droplets of savor that float to the top.  Just shy of its complete melting point, she carefully removes the sliver of foie into the dipping bowl of ponzu, and I relish the union of these two contrasting flavors.  The scallop and lobster, briefly cooked in the foie dashi, also leave me speechless.

Discipline

Hiro’s answer to the traditional gari pickled ginger is a sweet pickle of shinshoga young ginger, thickly cut and pickled in honey, sugar, salt and yuzu.  The rustic pickles cleanse my palate in preparation for the climax of the meal, his nigiri sushi that in its simplicity and bareness demonstrate his true skills and expertise.  His hands are swift and nimble, moving with the precision of a robot, yet executing each maneuver with the tenderness and care of a newborn’s mother.  He starts bold with a fatty cut of toro, then a seared aburi kama toro, the same exquisite cut of collar toro that made its debut on the hot stone.  A silky shima aji that lingers on my palate, followed by a lighter Kumamoto snapper with sprinklings of grated sudachi zest.

My salivary glands release its juices at the mere site of the wooden boxes of sweet Santa Barbara sea urchin, as he carefully spoons them onto the shari sans nori, just the way I like it.  Seki aji at its winter peak of fattiness melts in my mouth, maguro zuke lightly marinated in soy sauce creates an explosion of flavors and kensaki ika from Kyushu dressed with home made seaweed salt delights with a butteriness that is distinctly unlike regular squid.

Slice, squeeze, drape, cradle, pinch and caress Hiro does for each beautifully prepared specimen of fish, and I take a long second to revere the elegant sushi before savoring it with closed eyes and deafened ears, concentrating every sensory nerve in my body on the glorious bite that I am blessed to have.  Chutoro, its perfect balance of meat and fat, ends in a sigh of pleasure while kohada, dainty, fatty and optimally marinated in vinegar makes me wonder why I go anywhere else for sushi.  Shiraebi is juicy and sayori evokes a young rosebud.

Kuro awabi, abalone from Chiba prefecture, has been steamed to exquisite tenderness and served with a gentle brush of concentrated soy, and seki saba is a shining example of why the line caught mackerel from the Seto Inland Sea is considered the best.  Iwashi, winter sardines plumped full of fat, makes me swoon with excitement with its piquant kick of grated ginger on top.  En fin, I find the fluffy sweet tamago to be much lighter than I expect, and it practically floats up to the ceiling as I pick it up with my chopsticks.

Simplicity

The first of 2 desserts is a Japanese hachiya persimmon that stands alone in its perfect state of ripeness.  So ripe, in fact, that the flesh has morphed into a gelatin-like consistency and appearance that almost seems unreal.  It has the sweetness, tenderness and softness of a first kiss and I fully succumb to its innocent allure.

A second dessert of black sesame ice cream with black truffle, red azuki beans and 23K gold leaves holds up to its reputation with grace and poise, so much so that in my utter infatuation my paralyzed hands fail to grab the camera. 

Tradition

This beautiful meal, flowing from course to course like a Mozart symphony, drawing me in with each successive plate into a state of admiration and ultimately bliss, concludes with Chef Hiro preparing a perfect bowl of matcha green tea.  He commands the chasen bamboo whisk with confidence and whisks the liquid into a uniform consistency, the surface a bright green sea of perfectly symmetrical fine bubbles.  I show my respect by carefully rotating the ceramic bowl in both hands and sipping the bitter tea in 3 audible slurps in Japanese tea ceremony tradition.  A long sigh of satisfaction and serenity…we lock eyes…we both smile.  An epic meal. 

Urasawa
218 N Rodeo Drive
Beverly Hills, CA 90210

t. 310-247-8939

Random trivia: Did you know that soluble tannins in unripened Hachiya persimmons are what cause that astringent unpleasant furry mouth?

Bar 210- Los Angeles

Imagine yourself in the middle of the vast landscapes of Burgundy where rows and rows of lush green grape vines in the middle of summer extend far beyond your visual field, interrupted only by quaint farm houses and rolling hills.  You pop open a 1971 Romanée-Conti, swirl it around in your glass, and savor it in your mouth as you bask in the warm sunlight.  You make love to every molecule of this elegant vintage wine with your palate and appreciate life for getting you to this moment.  Now imagine dumping that same bottle of wine into a styrofoam cup and drinking it at a rowdy state fair where screaming kids in overdrive terrorize their parents.  Does it still taste as good?

High quality ingredients, excellent seasoning, exciting flavor combinations and proper preparation define good food, but ambiance and atmosphere can make or break it.  Oceanfront views, romantic candlelight, crackling fireplaces, water fountains, perfectly dressed servers and gorgeous interior decor attract diners who want a relaxing and pleasant dining experience.  Patrons are more likely to revisit a restaurant with mediocre food but beautiful atmosphere and professional service, than one with the opposite combination.  When your sense of sound, sight and smell are pleasantly stimulated, your food will naturally taste that much better.

Chef Marcel Vigneron is no newcomer to the culinary scene- we know and lovingly hate him from his notorious Top Chef days when he shined on screen as the nation’s new villain with knives.  He seemed to have found the perfect home in The Bazaar where his molecular gastronomy skills were given an extra coat of polish.  His solo venture at the Hatchi Breadbar dinner sold out to satisfied diners who swooned over his adventurous and delicious creations.  This classically trained chef’s latest gig comes as a surprise to me, a rowdy and pretentious bar called Bar 210 in the former Trader Vic’s space in the Beverly Hilton Hotel.  The 7,000 square foot space also houses Plush lounge where young party-goers can dance the night away in stilettos and boots.  Hanging gold chains against a background of more gold add extra bling to the dimly lit Bar 210 space where the scantily clad (but beautiful) waitresses in one shoulder minis try their best to hear your order over the loud music.  It’s a sexy establishment, but hardly the right venue for Vigneron’s innovative culinary art.

Marcel, as always, was a gracious host, welcoming us to his new crib and coming out to present each plate to us.  But even this bigger-than-life chef seemed painfully out of place at Bar 210 where the other patrons in flashy garb and here-to-be-seen attitude were more interested in the overpriced cocktails.  The Global Tastings concept that we saw in his Hatchi dinner back in December 2009 where he married international spices with modern interpretations is continued in the small bites menu at the bar.  We settled into our uncomfortable bar stools for our tasting dinner that kicked off with a momochan amuse with mint and saffron yogurt powder.

The Ahi tuna tartare plate was a breathtaking bouquet of vibrant colors and sensational flavors.  Tender chunks of meaty tuna over crunchy biscuits topped with an artistic palette of ponzu gel, pineapple, jicama, nasturtium flowers, avocado cream and wasabi tobiko excited my palate with each successive bite that introduced a new medley of textures and flavors.  As I desperately tried to block out the annoying music from my aching head, I couldn’t help but wonder how much better the tartare would have tasted in a proper restaurant environment.

Compact but meaty Kusshi oysters were served on a salt bed with grains of paradise seasoning and citrus dashi air.  As always,  Chef Marcel’s presentation demonstrated elegant beauty with a touch of playfulness- these pearls of the sea looked like they had been swept up by the ocean breeze and miraculously washed up onto a white sandy beach.

Speared tails of plump succulent shrimp with Thai tom kha flavoring were curled up over a carpet of white coconut milk powder and covered with a blanket of basil seeds, crispy ginger and Thai herbs.  It was a wonderful dish of tantalizing textures and fragrant aromas, but I much preferred the more intricate version of langoustine ravioli with tom kha foam and avocado wrapped mango that he presented at the Hatchi dinner- but the theme at Bar 210 wasn’t elegant cuisine, it was simplified bar food.

Yogurt, caramelized walnuts, celery and microgreens stayed afloat in Wally boats of purple endive while a walnut shipmate shouted ahoy from an apple raft nearby.

Leave it to Vigneron to interpret and twist classic concepts, like the Cobb 2010 which offered a modern presentation on a traditional salad dish.  Cobb salad ingredients were mixed together in bite-sized rolls and topped with small portions of the individual ingredients- bacon bits, avocado cream, tomato caviar, quail egg and blue cheese.  Just picturing the mischievous look on his face as he invented this dish made me smile, and it left me longing to see how far he could stretch the potential of this concept.

A familiar face from The Bazaar came by to say hello- boneless chicken wings brined for 24 hours, then confited, deboned, breaded and fried.  Only this time, instead of a green olive purée, they got a face lift with micro celery and a butt job with blue cheese injection.  Although the cheese was a bit overpowering, the incredibly tender chicken, barely able to contain its savory and rich juices, was electrifying.  Knowing the unbelievable amount of painstaking preparation and thought that went into this chicken, it bothered me even more to see it underappreciated in this bar environment.

Tuscan style potato cubes were deep fried to a perfect crisp exterior and steamy moist interior, going well with the creamy chlorophyll mayo.

In an unexpected potato stand-off, I preferred the velvety wrinkled skin of the Canary island potatoes with chlorophyll mayo, a joyous encore dish from The Bazaar.

Yogurt seems to be his thing right now, as it appeared in numerous dishes including the gravlax on toasted bread with kalamata olive dust, pickled ramps and dill.  The fatty and luscious cut of salmon practically melted in my mouth, but a boost of acidity or salt to counteract the mellow yogurt would have perfected this dish.

Modernized banh mi sandwiches came in the form of pork belly sliders with red onion, shaved carrots, green beans and daikon slivers.  This was the perfect bar food that made you want to reach for a glass of ice cold beer.

There were too many salty components in the short rib sliders with tomato confit, arugula, black olive aioli, brie cheese and caramelized onion purée but the meat was juicy and tender, making for a satisfying bite.

I was ecstatic to see another encore from his fantastic Hatchi dinner which also happened to be my favorite dish from that event, Vadouvan lamb with tzatziki, lavosh, za’atar, mint, cucumbers and preserved lemon.  It’s obvious that sliced meat would never taste as good as meat served on the bone, but given that the original lamb chop made such an impression on me, I was even more saddened to see this less inspiring rendition at Bar 210.

The chef finished our tasting with a dessert plate of liquid brownie sticks, chocolate covered strawberries, blueberry tarts and macaroons.  The cold ice cream brownie sticks with crunchy rice puffs made me feel like a kid again.

Although I appreciated the beauty of each dish and how much preparation went into them, it was difficult to live in the moment and savor each bite with the loud music and atmosphere obstructing my dinner.  It also bothered me that no matter how good the food was, the crowd that this bar attracted would never fully appreciate it, as they were less likely to be interested in his work and more likely to be keen on their waitress’ hourglass figure.  But it’s a bar, after all, and people don’t come here for the food- they come here for the scene and the scenery.  Considering that Chef Vigneron had to simplify his dishes from fine cuisine to finger food in order to cater to this younger bar crowd, he maintained his style and flair as best as he could.  Still, the usual explosion of creativity and vivacity that I’m used to seeing in this chef’s work was regretfully muffled.   Just like a good bottle of wine deserves to fall upon the lips of an appreciative gourmand, Chef Vigneron’s food deserves an environment which is more fitting and worthy.  It’s a good thing that he’s pursuing his passion in his upcoming SyFy network show, as his personality and stage presence is too perfect for TV, but the real next step is to open his own restaurant where we can see, smell and taste the true soul of this outstanding chef.

Bar 210

9876 Wilshire Blvd

Beverly Hills, CA 90210

(310) 887-6060

Random trivia: Did you know that chlorophyll, a green pigment found in plants that aids in photosynthesis, acts as a deodorizer that eliminates bad odor, and is therefore routinely added to chewing gum?


Bouchon- Los Angeles

Welcome to Bouchon, the most anticipated restaurant opening in Los Angeles this past year.  Los Angeles is fast becoming the dining capital of the US, and the best chefs in the world have all got their eyes on this City of Angels.  Wolfgang Puck got his start here and José Andrés descended upon our land with mucha energía; Robuchon got rejected but Rick Bayless came through.  When Thomas Keller came up to bat, we all welcomed him with open arms with the grand opening of Bouchon in the heart of Beverly Hills.

As always, I waited a few months to check out the new restaurant, as it takes a while for restaurants to work out their kinks and find their rhythm.  Many of my chef friends have always advised me on this golden rule of a minimum 3 months wait before dining at a new restaurant.  I almost broke the rule with Bouchon, as this wasn’t Keller’s first restaurant, or even his first Bouchon, but the perfect opportunity came this past spring when I found myself at this beautiful and majestic venue with 4 handsome French men in the food and beverage industry.  A chef, a sommelier, a mixologist and a vodka rep, wining and dining me at this lovely bistro that might as well be in the 1er arrondissement overlooking the Jardin de Tuileries.

Bouchon Beverly Hills follows a similar menu to its other restaurants in Yountville and Las Vegas.  Hearty and classic French bistro fare abound on the trademark printed paper menu that comes neatly folded around each napkin, like steak frites, croque madame, soupe à l’oignon and confit de canard.  A raw bar offers freshly shucked oysters, mussels, shrimp, clams, crab and lobster.  Domestic and French cheeses can be had individually or as a tasting plate.  The dessert menu has classic French sweets like profiteroles, pot de crème, mousse au chocolat noir and ile flottante.  Charcuteries and patés made by chef de cuisine Rory Herrmann are there for your ultimate pleasure, bien sur.  So what sets this French bistro apart from the others that have been feeding LA residents with good old comfort food?  Other than the Keller name, it’s the distinctly un-bistro price tag (for $135, you can indulge in a 50 gram sampling of Californian caviar and your croque madame will set you back $17.95) and the astonishing interior of this grand establishment.

There’s a casual café downstairs called Bar Bouchon which is perfect for al fresco terrace dining by the beautiful green park with water fountains, but Bouchon’s allure and beauty rests upstairs in the fine dining area designed by Adam Tihany.  Tile mosaics lay the groundwork of the grand hall where hand-painted murals decorate the walls and classic globe sconces cast soft illumination on the crowded tables.   Stunning high ceilings barely contain the lively sounds of clinking wine glasses, silverware on plates and engaging conversation.  With French speaking dining companions at my table, I sometimes had to remind myself that I wasn’t in Paris, and that it wasn’t a lovely Parisian dream.

What better way to celebrate a bistro dinner than with a terrine de foie gras de canard served with toasted baguette. Bouchon’s version is light and delicate due to a labor intensive process of curing, poaching and whipping, but it’s almost too delicate and fine, as it can’t hold its form for more than a few seconds on the toasted baguette, and melts into liquid.  It’s organ meat after all, and it’s meant to be robust and hearty.  5 oz of fragile and unstable foie gras served in a glass canning jar goes for an unbelievable $48.50, making me appreciate Chef Nyesha Arrington‘s amazing foie gras mason jar with port wine gelée for $12, perhaps the best in LA, even more.

Moules au safran came with a basket of delicious frites with crispy potato skin and a generous sprinkling of salt to pucker my lips.  Maine bouchot mussels steamed in a heavy cast iron dutch oven with white wine, mustard and saffron was good, but a smidgen too watery and diluted in flavor.

Have you ever dreamed of the day when you could have the perfect excuse and enough courage to order a Grand Plateau de fruits de mer at a restaurant, that luxurious and grandiose tower of mollusks and crustaceans at the center of every diner’s desire?  Have you ever wondered what it would even be like to order a miniature version in a Petit Plateau?  French men know how to enjoy life without so much as a grain of guilt, and I was happy to oblige to their order of Bouchon’s Grand Plateau de Mer, a 2 tiered seafood extravaganza for $110- 1 whole lobster, 16 oysters, 8 shrimp, 8 clams, 9 mussels and Dungeness crab came with all of the appropriate fixings for the highlight event of the evening.  Life can be grand, n’est-ce pas?

Truite aux Amandes, a pan-roasted trout fillet with haricots verts, almonds & beurre noisette was perfectly cooked and elegantly flavored.  The brown butter, lemon and parsley sauce was surprisingly light, making it easy to enjoy and digest this delicate dish that was saturated with a lovely toasted almond fragrance.

Gigot d’Agneau, roasted leg of lamb with Swiss chard, pommes boulangère & lamb jus was a textbook meat dish with perfect execution and delivery although I was hoping for something more exciting.

Boudin noir, blood sausage with potato purée and caramelized apples, was sensational.  This is the type of food that defines bistro fare- hearty, rustic and loud but comforting and flavorful.  The blood sausage was packed with dense savor with a hint of pleasant iron finish unique to this type of charcuterie.  The classic pairing of boudin noir and sweet apples, as always, hit the spot.

There are many accompagnements to choose from at Bouchon, like butternut squash with poached prunes, sautéed spinach, potato purée and brussel sprouts, but we opted for a champignons des bois of fragrant and earthy sautéed forest mushrooms that were plump and fully saturated with French butter.

Bouchon in Beverly Hills is truly a magical and enchanting restaurant, one with the allure and power to make any who step through their entrance believe that they are in Paris.  It’s easy to forget the passage of time in this elegant vortex, especially when you’re engrossed in your glass of champagne with fruits de mer over laughter and engaging conversation with beautiful friends.  Still, many of their dishes can use some tweaking to be worthy of the Keller label, and bistro-friendly prices would entice me to visit more frequently.

If you haven’t had a chance to visit Bouchon yet, it’s a must-go for its sophisticated ambiance and charm.  Many may agree that it’s the most beautiful dining room in Los Angeles, set on a pristine block of the infamous Beverly Hills zip code.  Their kitchen, unlike any other, is quite epic too, with floors so clean that you can eat off of it and cookware meticulously and impeccably polished to where it looks like it’s never been used before.  Large heavy doors line a rear hallway, each an entryway into a different Bouchon world of ‘jardin’, ‘poisson’, ‘dairy’ or ‘viande’ with every container clearly labeled and signed.  There’s a separate kitchen just for chocolate and ice cream, and of course a busy boulangerie to churn out his signature epi bread.  A large plasma screen TV in the middle of the busy kitchen broadcasts live stream with Keller’s numerous other Michelin-starred restaurants on both coasts. If they started charging admission for kitchen tours, I would gladly pay to relive the experience of walking through that impressive and mind blowing factory that belongs in the Smithsonian.

Bouchon Beverly Hills

235 N Canon Dr
Beverly Hills, California 90210
(310) 271-9910

Random trivia: Did you know that almonds are not nuts, but are in fact stone fruits- like peaches, plums and cherries?

Bond Street at the Thompson- Beverly Hills

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At the Beverly Hills Thompson Hotel, Chef Brian Redzikowski mans the helm of the kitchen at Bond Street restaurant.  The restaurant and hotel, just like the original in New York’s SoHo, is beautifully designed in true Dodd Mitchell style.  Sleek dark brown suede banquettes and checkered patterns encompass the dimly lit dining room.  The classy bar is an ideal place for incognito lovers to whisper sweet nothings by flickering candlelight. A quaint sushi bar sits by the open kitchen,  a traditional Japanese haven almost hidden from the otherwise contemporary space.  The large wooden communal table by the bar decorated with bonsai plants almost took my breath away.  My goodness, is that a George Nakashima table?  After close inspection, I could tell that it wasn’t, but it was still a beauty.  Japanese artistry juxtaposed with lustrous modern design compose the perfect background for the innovative food here at Bond St.

IMG_0004Chef Brian Redzikowski is almost too perfect of a fit for this restaurant known for sushi and Japanese fusion cuisine.  Only a chef who has the mastery of classical French techniques and an eye for Japanese aesthetics can competently operate and actualize this menu.  His impressive bio reflects how his path was naturally bound for the executive chef title at Bond St.  Le Cirque, Alain Ducasse, Le Bernardin and Joel Robuchon at the Mansion have refined his culinary skills.  His position as executive chef at Matsuhisa in Colorado and executive sous-chef at Yellowtail in Las Vegas prove his competence with Japanese cuisine.

He started off our special tasting menu with a prosecco sangria jello and foam.  The flavors were sweet, fruity and seductive.  The foam layer fizzled away like fine prosecco bubbles.  As we examined the chiffon lace decoration on this dish and toasted with Bruno Paillard Brut Rosé champagne (a signature Robuchon bubbly), the two former Robuchon chefs that I was dining with both chuckled as they simultaneously exclaimed “This is SO Robuchon!”

My favorite dish of the evening was the big eye tuna tartare with truffle oil, thinly sliced red onions and microshiso.  It was stunningly plated on a thin wooden plank that was reminiscent of the Nakashima-esque wooden table by the bar.  Served on a light and airy crisp, this dainty appetizer saturated the air with its ethereal truffle aroma.

 

A ‘sashimi’ plate of king crab and hamachi.  The intense aroma of the bacon foam on top of the king crab with vinegar gelée opened the flood gates of my salivary glands.  This foam can easily be marketed to become a basic tabletop condiment right next to salt and pepper.  I felt like the vinegar gelée was unnecessary and took away from the excitement of the bacon essence, but the hamachi belly with soy strip was delightful.  The soy flavors kicked in after a few seconds, as the strip slowly dissolved in my mouth and transfused through the wonderful fattiness of the fish.

The Skeena river salmon sushi went back to the basics.  After all, this is a sushi restaurant (well, sort of).  But of course, Brian put a little twist to it.  It was served with soy pearls, small round jelly-like pearls that were probably made with either alginate or agar.  Although it was a fun concept, I would have preferred to keep this simple and a little more traditional with soy-marinated salmon roe.

By this time we were knee deep in the most insanely delicious bottle of 2005 Domaine Etienne Defaix Chablis Vielle Vignes from Burgundy- a perfect balance of dry and sweet, and went well with all of the seafood dishes.

Foie gras with spicy rice krispy treat, yogurt powder and yogurt chip was interesting.  The best part for me was the actual foie gras which I only got to enjoy for a nanosecond before it disappeared under the overwhelming sweetness and chewiness of the rice krispy treat.  I didn’t quite understand the role of the yogurt, as it did nothing for me, and the yogurt powder reminded me of infant formula.

The next dish was a corn flan with carrot marshmallow, sweet pea foam and spot prawns that I unfortunately forgot to photograph.  You can see a photo of it on Chef Redzikowski’s site.  A deep white bowl with a layer of yellow corn flan at the bottom was colorfully dotted with orange and green and a side of light green pea foam.  The flan was incredibly smooth and silky, and the sweet pea foam was beautifully aromatic.  The crunchy texture of the croutons mixed with the succulent meatiness of the prawns and melty marshmallows was brilliant.  We all loved this dish.

The Alaskan black cod with miso dengaku and potato miso foam was nice.  The cod was perfectly cooked and flavorful, motivating me to eat carefully with the precision of a plastic surgeon so as not to leave behind even a small flake on the plate.  I was a bit surprised to see a red miso dengaku paste on this fatty fish, as cod is usually marinated with white miso which has a lighter taste.  The warm potato foam was good enough for me to want to bathe in.  Bravo to the bottle of 2004 Chenin blanc ‘Les Genêts’ from Savennières by Damien Laureau for enhancing this portion of our dinner with its fruit and honey undertones.

 

The sous vide Snake River Farm Kurobuta pork belly dish was interesting.  It was served with artichoke foam and olive oil powder.  Our server gave us strict instructions to incorporate the foam and powder in each bite.   I applaud the chef’s creativity and determination in incorporating molecular gastronomy elements in his dishes, but I was deeply perplexed with the elements.  The powders and foams were too frail and muted to do their part in enhancing the fatty pork belly.

The sous vide Kobe beef on a bed of applewood smoked bacon was presented beautifully.  The beef slices were nicely marbled and fatty as Kobe beef always is, although I question the presence of the bacon.  I’m assuming it was for consumption and not just for visual and olfactory foreplay, as these were some of the toughest slices of bacon I’ve ever had.

 

The beef was accompanied with a side of veggies.  Similar to the carrot marshmallows in the corn flan dish, it came with a round carrot sphere served on a bed of cippolini onion purée with microvegetables and honey teriyaki sauce.  The cippolini purée was exquisite, teeming with that unique sweetness that only an onion can produce.

Sous vide meat round 3 was Sonoma lamb with carrot purée and powder, gingerbread, lamb jus and mint paper.  The meat was tender and delicate, and beautifully done.  The arrangement of dots, cubes and powder was like a Japanese rock garden.

 

The meats were beautifully paired with a flawless 2006 Vosne Romanée by Domaine Forey Pere et Fils.  Luckily we still had a little left to enjoy with the first of 6 desserts which couldn’t be more perfect with this wine.  As a tribute to the Vosne Romanée, these pinot noir and strawberry liquid-filled chocolate spheres were chaperoned by pinot noir reduction dots, micro shiso and strawberries.  Upon first glance, this brown sphere seemed timid and nervous, sweating fine beads of perspiration under the ravenous stares of its predators.  Once consumed, its surprisingly thin and delicate crust ruptured between tongue and palate in a torrent of seductive poison, rendering its predator paralyzed in a fervent state of ecstasy.

 

The warm cherry clafoutis with vanilla ice cream was next up in this sinful dessert carnage.  It was nice to get a classic French dish made simply and splendidly.  It was an amazing dessert that almost caused a war when it came down to the last bite.

 

The lemongrass and espresso ice creams with cappuccino foam was sharp and refreshing.

 

The caramel flan with popcorn foam was interesting to say the least.  Not my cup of tea, but a bold experiment in unique flavor and texture combinations.

 

Mochi donuts with coconut ice cream and rhubarb was something I could easily do without.  The mochi balls had a caustic chewy texture that made it distinctly un-mochi like.

 

The grand dessert finale was fittingly carried out by the caramel chocolate ball filled with liquid vanilla ice cream on a bed of caramel powder.  We were instructed to eat this in one bite.  Mind you, they were the size of golf balls, so we all initially hesitated, not wanting to look silly trying to do this.  But we were among good friends, and happy tipsy friends at that, so we all took the plunge together.  Just like the pinot noir chocolate ball, this heavenly sphere instantly collapsed in our mouths, resulting in a tsunami of rich vanilla decadence.  See this YouTube video of Brian making these opulent orbs.  Avoid the somewhat cheesy music by viewing it on mute.

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FoeeC5ABgZU

 

 

The decadent feast concluded with colorful origami boxes containing chocolates.  The flowing progression of our meal narrated a beautiful story and each dish allured us with mythical charm.  Like traditional Japanese kaiseki, the aesthetics of each plate demonstrated the esteem and discernment of understated beauty.

The exorbitance of powders, foams, strips, dots and sous vide meats left me yearning for a simple plate of meat and potatoes, but I appreciated Redzikowski’s creative and daring adventure into new culinary frontiers.  Like the restaurant decor,  his food represented a flirtatious blend of sexy modernism and traditional elegance.

Bond Street

9360 Wilshire Boulevard
Beverly Hills, CA 90212-3134
(310) 601-2255

 

Click here for more beautiful photos of Chef Redzikowski’s culinary creations.

 

 

Random trivia:  Careful where you pop…

Jan 2, 2009 12:31 pm US/Pacific

Popcorn Trail Leads Police To Suspected Thief

NATOMAS (CBS13) ―

A messy thief has been arrested after a trail of popcorn led police directly from a crime scene to the suspect’s living room.

Sacramento police say they responded to an alarm at the Food Stop store in Natomas early in the morning on New Year’s day.  When officers arrived they found that the business had been broken into and several items taken.

That’s also when they noticed a trail of popcorn.  Officers followed the trail of clues to an apartment complex behind the store and to the door of one unit.  When officers knocked, they noticed the popcorn kernels continued inside the apartment.  Officers found the stolen property inside.

Officers arrested Tyree Brown for a theft warrant and possession of stolen property.  He may be charged with burlgary at a later time.

(© MMIX, CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved.)

LudoBites 2.0 at The Breadbar

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Chef Ludo writing a message for me. Merci!

Temporary culinary installations seem to be popular these days- limited time only restaurants and events that drive Los Angeles foodies crazy with excitement.  The Tasting Kitchen, for one, has picked up quite a buzz.  There’s also the ongoing Hachi Series at The Breadbar in Century City.  But before all of these was the one and only Ludo Bites.  A ‘guerilla style pop-up restaurant’ created by the handsome and charming Chef Ludo Lefebvre of the late L’Orangerie and Bastide.  The original Ludo Bites event came and went like the wind in the fall of 2007, and sadly enough, this 2009 3-month stint at the Breadbar in Beverly Hills just ended as well.  I was lucky enough to partake in this fantastic experience on a recent warm summer evening, dining al fresco on the open sidewalk terrace on West 3rd street.

Chef Ludo told us that evening that he wanted to cut out all the bulls#*t of restaurant bureaucracy.  Ludo Bites was a way for him to present his vision in a casual setting where it was all about the food and the people.  A place where even he can sit back and enjoy a chat with the diners, where he can be present to answer any questions people may have, where he can have the complete freedom to express his creativity and imagination.  His creativity exploded in the form of a million flavors, aromas and colors that never ceased to surprise us throughout the evening.

From the get-go, the first dish floored me.  The menu only said ‘chorizo, cantaloupe, cornichon’ and I was expecting an ordinary tapas dish of grilled sausage with whole cornichons and bits of cantaloupe speared with toothpicks.  Even when I was presented with the bowl of orange soup, I assumed it was some type of sweet cantaloupe gazpacho and waited for the side of chorizo to arrive shortly after.

Well, this was one of the tastiest surprises that I have encountered in a very long time.  A slightly tart but smokey soup that really tastes like chorizo.  I mean, I could really taste the spices, the meat, even the fattiness!  It was so bizarre to be sipping on liquid sausage and have it taste exactly like the real thing.  And then came the real surprise- there were bite-sized chunks of tender succulent cantaloupe inside.  The juicy sweetness of the fruit with the vinegar tartness of the cornichon sorbet, all enveloped within the silky texture and intense smokiness of the chorizo soup, was a climactic explosion of flavors. This dish still has me bubbling with excitement.

The Hawaiian tuna, red beets marshmallow and watermelon dish was less exciting.  Although the different shades of crimson and the geometric display of food were a feast for the eyes, the tuna was a bit short on flavor although the cryovaced watermelon with shredded mint was refreshing.  The beet marshmallows had a wonderful soft and airy texture and the overall dish was a visual delight.

The Salmon rillette with smoked eggplant dish was my friend Guillaume’s favorite.  The salmon had a wonderful salty and smokey flavor, and the eggplants were perfectly cooked.

The Porcini velouté with porcini ice cream, egg, crispy sage and tobacco powder was fantastic.  The soup had an intense and concentrated earthy porcini mushroom flavor, and the crispy sage added a wonderful texture and bite to the dish.  There was a whole egg inside which I think was supposed to be soft boiled with a runny yolk, but it was overcooked and solid.  Thick yellow egg yolk would have surely added a whole new level of richness and creaminess to the soup.

The yellow and green wax beans salad with shaved coconut, peach, apple, lemongrass and horseradish cream was wonderful.  The salad was fruity, tart and refreshing all at once, and the horseradish cream in the foreground was whipped to a feathery light smooth consistency.

One of my favorite dishes of the evening was the escargot with spinach and brown butter in a yellow ginger curry, garnished with parsley and purple borage flowers.  The snails were succulent and meaty, and the curry left a pleasant tingling ginger finish on my tongue.  It was a delightfully aromatic dish that was beautiful to look at, smell and taste.

The heirloom tomato salad with red onions, feta mousse, oregano and niçoise olives was refreshing and sweet.  It was a perfect summer evening plate full of freshness and flavor.  The lemon zest added a nice tartness and acidity to the dish, and the feta mousse was creamy and luscious.

The grilled Santa Barbara prawns were kept alive until the moment they were placed on the grill.  These fresh prawns were perfectly grilled and perfectly sweet.  Some of them had orange eggs, an added bonus that brought more savory essence to the already wonderful thyme and yuzu-lime chantilly flavors.

The lobster medallions with honey-sherry vinaigrette, daikon and rosemary were okay.  The lobster pieces were succulent and sweet, and the rosemary gave it a nice herbal kick.  However the vinaigrette was too sweet for me and almost overpowered the lobster.

My other favorite dish of the evening was the foie gras black croque monsieur.  Savory delicious foie gras, cheese and ham folded between slices of crunchy black toast with the most amazing cherry amaretto sauce.  This sauce just blew me away.  I could taste the distinct tartness of cherries, and combined with the amaretto almond undertone it created an incredible deep richness reminiscent of 2o year aged port wine.  I could see myself enjoying this sauce with many things- duck, pork, pancakes, yogurt, pannacotta, zabaglione….

The creamy polenta with cantal cheese, oxtail beef and black truffle was marvelous.  The polenta had an amazing texture- it was perfectly coarse and grainy, yet it was altogether creamy.  The distinct earthy aroma of black truffle was wonderfully present, and the bottom of the cup had tender chunks of oxtail meat.

The cod dish was beautiful.  The cod, flown in from France, was fresh, tender and delightfully flakey.  Crispy chanterelles, melon, black pepper butter and passion fruit seeds provided an array of textures and flavors to complement the fish.

The pork belly with mustard ice cream, frisée and vadouvan was okay.  The asian marinade of the pork belly was too sweet, though the mustard ice cream provided an amusing contrast of temperatures, and the Indian vadouvan spices added a nice spicy finish to each bite.

I was very excited to try the chicken fried in duck fat with fingerling potatoes, tapenade and red bell pepper ketchup, but it fell a tad short of my bubbling expectations.  There are some of the philosophy that duck fat is better than butter, but in this dish I didn’t taste the benefits of deep frying in duck fat as the meat wasn’t as juicy as I wanted it to be.

The grilled hanger steak with black sesame miso, shallots, beer foam, white anchovies and potato chips with charcoal oil astounded me with its novel flavor concepts and use of unique components.  This plate looked better than it tasted, but I felt like I was getting more of a glimpse into the creativity and artistry of this talented chef.

For dessert we started off with the chocolate cupcake with foie gras chantilly, candied bacon almonds and maple syrup.  I know Angelenos are crazy for cupcakes, but a foie gras cupcake?  The reaction was split at our table.  Most detested it, while I loved it.  I thought it was quite good, with the cupcake being moist and tender, and the foie gras chantilly nicely sweet and subdued in foie gras flavor.  The bacon brought too much savory meaty flavor to the dish, but it was a fun dish that livened up our table conversation.

The strawberries with heavy cream and pop rocks was a joy to eat.  It’s something that people of all ages will enjoy with a smile.  Sweet seasonal strawberries in syrup with good old fashioned cream with that distinct texture and sound of pop rocks brought me back to happy childhood memories.

I hate to have to say this, but the vanilla panna cotta with caramel and caviar was…quite appalling.  I didn’t understand this dish, and I still don’t understand this dish.   The caramel was way too sweet and overpowering, and the caviar made everything taste unpleasantly fishy.  I was genuinely confused, especially as this was our very last dish of the evening.

Although our meal ended on a bad note, I was surprised that the majority of dishes impressed, surprised and pleased all of us.  There were some that truly blew me away with its innovative style, creativity and gusto.  I love when a dining experience not only exceeds my expectations but well surpasses it beyond my imagination.  To this day, I still think about the chorizo soup, the escargot curry and the foie gras croque monsieur, and the way they made my pupils dilate with excitement.  It was difficult for all of us at the table to contain our enthusiasm with the whole dining experience.  This was what it was like to be in the presence of a great chef.

At times Ludo would disappear into the kitchen to cook and prepare the food.  Moments later he would emerge with a few plates and bring it directly to the tables.  In between this he would visit the customers, asking them if they needed anything and posing for photos from time to time.  Occasionally he would wipe the tabletops and clear the plates.  Toward the end of the night he pulled up a chair and chatted with us.  All the while, I could tell that he was genuinely happy.  This was his vision, his restaurant, and his passion.  LudoBites was a true labor of love.

LudoBites

Random trivia:  Did you know that the largest land snail (escargot) ever found was 15 inches long and weighed 2 pounds?!  Imagine eating that…

Petrossian Caviar

Petrossian Caviar in Beverly Hills recently re-opened under the creative direction of executive chef Benjamin Bailly, a distinguished and talented chef.  Benjamin, having recently worked at Ortolan and L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon in Las Vegas, has worked side by side and traveled with Joel Robuchon in his many restaurants around the world.  It was an absolute treat and privilege to have him prepare an extravagant tasting menu for my friend’s birthday party recently.

Chef Benjamin Bailly

Chef Benjamin Bailly

If you know the old Petrossian Caviar space, you’ll be amazed by the transformation.  The expanded space feels even larger and brighter with the floor to ceiling glass walls that look out onto Robertson Boulevard.  The dining room has plush comfortable black leather banquettes, tall ceilings, and riveting black and white photos of Marilyn Monroe, Grace Kelly and Marlon Brando on the walls that are simply irresistible. What a grand feeling to be sipping on champagne and nibbling on caviar with these Hollywood stars!

Gorgeous dining room

Gorgeous dining room

The other section of the restaurant houses the open kitchen, a large communal table and display cases in a similar contemporary layout.  The communal table is a warm and inviting place for people to gather, and you can get a perfect view of the bustle of the kitchen.

Communal table and open kitchen at night

Communal table and open kitchen at night

Communal table and café by day

Communal table and café by day

Petrossian Caviar has been a leading purveyor of caviar since 1920 when it first opened shop in Paris.  You can find an amazing and complete selection of precious caviar here, from the local Californian farm-raised Royal Transmontanus Caviar, to well-known Ossetras and Sevrugas, to the ultimate indulgence Imperial Special Reserve Stellattus for $617/ 1 ounce.  They also sell a wonderful array of smoked fish (salmon, sturgeon, cod), foie gras, truffles, chocolates, jams, wines and champagnes.

Display case of delightful delicacies

Display case of delightful delicacies

Our wonderful dinner commenced with a new Petrossian signature drink- hibiscus champagne.  Each glass contains a whole organic wild hibiscus flower in syrup with champagne.  The hibiscus flower gives this drink a beautiful crimson color and a delicious sweet fruity flavor.  This was one of the most surprising discoveries and delightful drinks that I have had in a long time.  The best part of this drink was eating the champagne-soaked hibiscus at the end. 

Hibiscus champagne

Hibiscus champagne

One cannot leave Petrossian without eating their signature caviar blinis.  The sharp and robust Transmontanus caviar on soft tender warm blinis and dill crème fraîche is simply divine.  These small black pearls have fierce powerful flavors that permeate into the depths of my taste buds with supreme force.  The salmon roe blinis were also a joy, but oh, the sturgeon caviar!

Caviar and salmon roe blinis

Caviar and salmon roe blinis

Next we had shots of their classic cold borscht and cantaloupe gazpacho.  I loved the bright pink borscht- the sweet dense earthiness of red beets with a tart cherry vinegar finish.  A lovely and refreshing soup that can instantly rejuvenate and energize- this would be perfect after a long day at work.  The cantaloupe gazpacho had a wonderful balance of fruity sweetness and a tart ginger kick.  This is the perfect complement to a hot summer day.

Borscht and gazpacho

Borscht and gazpacho

My favorite dish of the evening was the foie gras and black truffle paté with fleur de sel on toast.  How can you go wrong with foie gras and black truffle?  Well, actually it is an art to prepare these delicacies, and Benjamin was impeccable in his execution.  The foie gras melted like butter in my mouth, and each additional bite awakened more of the energetic earthy aroma of black truffle. 

Foie gras and black truffle canapés

Foie gras and black truffle canapés

The Petrossian Jell-o was a refreshing contrast to the savory foie gras.  Yuzu marinated baby scallop ceviche with caviar, diced green apples, ginger and chives on a bed of green apple jell-o topped with apple foam.  It was a delightful and pleasing play of textures, with the airy light apple foam, super crisp diced apples, tender scallops and soft jiggly jell-o.  Dig your spoon all the way down to the bottom of the glass to get all of the layers of textures and flavors.  The combination of yuzu, ginger and apples give this dish a fun tart citrus kick.

Petrossian Jell-o

Petrossian Jell-o

The green asparagus risotto with parmesan and pinenuts topped with salmon roe and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar reduction  was scrumptious.  The green asparagus slices were cooked perfectly, still maintaining a slight crunch.  The creamy parmesan risotto, salty salmon roe and mellow acidity and sweetness of the balsamic reduction was a winning combination.

Asparagus risotto

Asparagus risotto

The Scallops ‘a la plancha’ finished the savory portion of our meal.  The black pepper-seasoned seared scallops were cooked perfectly, maintaining a tender, plump and meaty texture.  They were presented on a bed of carrot purée, topped with orange foam and plated with balsamic reduction.  The sweetness of the soft carrot purée, the intense acidity of the orange foam and the dark richness of the balsamic reduction made for an interesting and complex combination of flavors.

Scallops a la plancha

Scallops a la plancha

We had 2 absolutely wonderful desserts.  The Sicilian pistachio crème brulée was superbly nutty, earthy and aromatic, and the caramel crust was perfectly crispy.

Sicilian pistachio crème brulée

Sicilian pistachio crème brulée

The vanilla panna cotta with white peach confit and white peach espuma was dazzling.  There are 2 variations to this divine dessert- one with oven roasted organic granola in the center peach confit layer, and another with caviar on top.  This was a very delicate and sophisticated dessert that wasn’t too sweet.  Just like the scallop ceviche dish, it was fun to dig my spoon all the way to the bottom of the glass to get all of the different layers of textures and flavors in each heavenly bite. 

White peach dessert with vanilla panna cotta

White peach dessert with vanilla panna cotta

Petrossian also sells a large assortment of delicate Parisian chocolates.  IMG_8965Other dishes that were delicious on a previous visit to Petrossian were the Tzar Cut Trio (a trio of classic, black sea spice and dill marinated smoked salmon) and the succulent burger.  The smoked salmon slices were served with toast points, crème fraîche and caper berries.  A must try- I really loved the black sea spice salmon.  The burger I had with caramelized onions and sun dried tomatoes was nice, but now they have revised it to a juicy Kobe beef burger with truffle cheese, onion marmalade and arugula. 

Tzar cut trio

Tzar cut trio

Petrossian burger

Petrossian burger

Petrossian Caviar is now doing Happy Hour every day from 5-8pm.  You can enjoy wonderful champagnes and delicious food in an inviting and open environment with friendly staff who will take good care of you.  Whether you are looking for a casual lunch, after work drinks, Sunday brunch al fresco, or a formal elegant dinner, Petrossian Cafe and Chef Benjamin Bailly will please your senses.

Petrossian Paris Boutique and Restaurant

321 North Robertson Boulevard
West Hollywood, CA 90048-2415
(310) 271-6300

Random trivia: Did you know that the only thing that genetically separates a peach from a nectarine is a recessive gene that expresses ‘fuzz’?

The Bazaar

The Bazaar in the SLS Hotel is a magical carnival of sensory stimulation, a multi-circus act of vibrant colors, outrageous artistic concepts and powerful flavors that saturate every cell in your body.  It’s an exciting world that takes you away to a wonderland mesh of design and taste.  From the moment I entered the swank Bar Centro until my last sip of herbal tea in the rococo Patisserie, I felt like I was sleepwalking through a multitude of wild and fantastic dreams.  Every section of the Bazaar has a different design concept, but all are theatrical masterpieces of Phillip Starck.

Bar Centro

Bar Centro

Bar Centro, with its flourescent yellow background, is dark and mysterious.  It’s furnished with leather couches lined with expensive suede throws, velvet pillows, tall banquettes that hide whispering lovers from the crowd, and a large communal table with spinning movie projection discs glowing softly in the darkness.

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The bar gets creative with their cocktails, using liquid nitrogen and organic emulsifiers to create an original spin on traditional drinks.  We toasted the commencement of our bizarre Bazaar journey at the Bar Centro with a bottle of Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve champagne.  A bold fruity richness with a zesty citrus finish.  C’est magnifique!

Moss vitrines

Moss vitrines

To the right of the bar are tall glass vitrines showcasing select objects for sale by Manhattan design shop Moss.  Each case houses a unique array of fun toys and household items, from squished up teddy bears to enamel combs to porcelain birds to decorative silver plates.  Also for sale are enlarged candid paparazzi photos of famous celebrities at their best and worst (Brad Pitt with Zahara in the park to Gwyneth Paltrow dodging the lens with an outstretched hand).  Each item makes you wonder…why, what, when, where, who, and how???

Famed Spanish chef José Andrés, who trained with Ferran Adrià of El Bulli, has 2 sections in his restaurant.  The contemporary Blanca side, where we sat, has pristine white and pink armchairs and glowing lampshades.

Entrance to the Blanca

Entrance to the Blanca

There are large wonderful photos of bodies in motion, playfully displayed throughout the restaurant.

Blanca counter

Blanca counter

The traditional Rojo side, set behind large grey draping curtains, plays on black and red, with bold chalk drawings of animals and vintage photos of Spanish matadors.  This is the side where you can see the busy open kitchen busting out the wild creations on the extensive menu.

Rojo

Rojo

We ordered the chef’s tasting menu along with a beautiful bottle of 2004 Chateauneuf du Pape, Tardieu-Laurent from Rhone, France.  I embarked on this mesmerizing molecular gastronomy tour with 2 professional chefs and a refined foodie friend.  It was the perfect set up for a perfect evening.

For starters, my favorite creation of the evening, the Philly Cheesesteak.

Seared tender slices of Wagyu beef on oval shaped air bread with melted cheddar cheese.  The air bread is a hollow light thin crust of bread that contains dripping melted cheese.  This was one of the most sensational dishes that I have ever tasted in my life.  The delicate lightness of the air bread coupled with the wagyu beef that melted just as fast as the warm cheese penetrated deep into my taste buds, making me purr with delight.

Next we had one of my absolute favorite foods in the whole world.  I have dreamt of this day when I would finally be reunited with Jamon Ibérico de Bellota.  This is the most prized cured Spanish ham in the world, made from free range black Iberico pigs raised on acorns.  Due to import regulations, The Bazaar is one of the few places in the United States where you can eat this.  The woodsy aroma and deep sweet flavor of the glistening marble fat that melts on your tongue is indescribable.

Pa’amb tomaquet, a traditional Catalan tapas of ripe tomato, Manchego cheese and garlic rub on toasted bread, was the perfect complement to the jamon.

Next we had a signature Ferran Adrià dish, the traditional and modern olives.  First we sampled traditional olives stuffed with roasted piquillo pepper and anchovies.  It was nicely briny and salty, and the green olive flesh was meaty and succulent.

The modern olives, made by spherification, were served tableside by our server.  He came over with a glass jar containing perfectly round green blobs floating in olive oil.  He scooped them out with a small ladle and very carefully placed them on white porcelain serving spoons.  It’s pure olive essence packed inside a thin delicate membrane that bursts inside your mouth with only a slight amount of pressure.

Papas Canarias, salty wrinkled potatoes prepared Canary Island style with mojo verde sauce.  I loved the soft velvety texture of the potato skins.  The potatoes were perfectly cooked inside, and the green parsley, cilantro, garlic and olive oil sauce was light and fresh.

Next was a playful presentation of soy marinated salmon roe cones with crème fraîche and dill.  The crepe cones were thin and delicate, and the roe was both sweet and salty.  A delightful bite of bursting roe bubbles and sour creaminess!

The following dish was a very bizarre take on the shrimp cocktail.  Plastic pipettes containing cocktail sauce pierced through the shrimp flesh garnished with chive flowers, dill and sesame seeds.  Our server instructed us to take small bites of the shrimp while squeezing some of the cocktail sauce into our mouth at the same time through the pipette.  I wasn’t a big fan of this dish.  It was too much work for too little taste.

I really enjoyed this next modern Caprese dish.  Liquified mozzarella balls (same concept as the modern olive spheres) with roasted peeled cherry tomatoes in a basil sauce.  We were instructed to eat the mozzarella balls, cherry tomato, basil sauce and crackers all in one bite, and boy was it a superb and delightful bite.  The cherry tomatoes had a slight vinegary acidic tone, going well with the dark earthy genovese, crunchy crackers and soft liquid texture of the intense mozzarella balls.

Tuna ceviche and avocado roll with cornflower chips and micro cilantro.  A classic combination of avocado and tuna that can never go wrong.  It’s rich, creamy, and flavorful.  The cornflower chips added a wonderful crunchy texture to the dish.

Japanese tacos with grilled eel, shiso leaves, cucumber, wasabi and chicharron.  I didn’t care much for this dish, it was very predictable.

Miso linguine with tomato, salmon roe and lemon.  The dashi flavor of the noodles was very strong, maybe a bit too strong for me.  The textures of this dish were delightful though, with the slurpiness of the slippery noodles and the bursting salmon roe. It served as a nice refreshing palate cleanser before the heartier meat dishes.

A signature fun Bazaar dish of cotton candy foie gras.  They have a gigantic stainless steel cotton candy machine next to the Patisserie where they make these.  Our server instructed us to shove this massive piece of fluffy vanilla scented cotton candy containing chilled salted foie gras into our mouth in one bite.  We put our inhibitions aside and did exactly so, and what a sensational play of flavors it was!  The whispy texture of the cotton candy that collapsed down onto the succulent cube of foie gras coated with crunchy sea salt was sensational.  A genius that Andrés is…

I loved the boneless chicken wings with green olive purée.  First of all, how can you go wrong with fried chicken?  They were crispy and flavorful on the outside and juicy on the inside.

One of the best executed dishes of the evening where we could really appreciate the true flavor of the food was the oven roasted cippolini onions with clementines, passion fruit and pumpkin seed oil.  The onions were wonderfully caramelized, and their dense sweetness paired nicely with the tart clementines.

The braised veal cheeks with California oranges was another delightful savory dish with that perfect balance of citrus tartness and rich veal jus.  The braised meat was extremely tender and melted in my mouth.

To finish off the dinner, sautéed cauliflower ‘couscous‘ with quinoa, pomegranate, dried raisins, pine nuts, cauliflower purée, harissa and lemon.  The ‘couscous‘ here is actually made from finely chopped cauliflower florets.  The sweet and smokey Moroccan flavors of this dish went well with the braised veal cheeks.

Wow, we ate a lot of fine dishes.  And we still had room for dessert!  After a quick kitchen tour we went to the charming Patisserie for sweets.  The pink and white dessert counter is lined with beautiful glass jars and containers filled with delightful colorful treats that are visually pleasing.  A true Alice in Wonderland experience.

Candy jars in the Patisserie

Candy jars in the Patisserie

Beautiful pastries

Beautiful pastries

The patisserie offers exciting sweets such as passion fruit marshmallow, white chocolate lollipop with black olive and sea salt, pineapple gum drops, and lemon ginger bonbons.  We had 2 wonderful desserts.  The hot chocolate mousse with pear sorbet and salty hazelnut praline was beautiful.  The contrast of warm and cold, smooth liquid and juicy solid fruit was delightful.

But my big surprise for the evening was the floating nitro coconut island with passion fruit, banana and vanilla.  WOW, amazing.  The external shell of the white coconut sphere that is hard frozen with nitrous instantly collapses into the molten center with the spoon.  The textures of the external shell and the internal goo is wondrous, and the passion fruit seeds explode with tart crunchiness.  This dessert was really fun to eat, and I had a big smile on my face as I approached it from all angles with my spoon.

Our evening at The Bazaar was fantastic, superb, delightful and fun.  The service was impeccable, the wine selection thorough, the Starck interior design genius, and the food amazing.  It was a thrilling and inspiring adventure into a magical culinary world, and a wonderful sampling of traditional versus modern gastronomy.

The Bazaar at the SLS Hotel

465 S La Cienega Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90048

Random trivia:  Did you know that couscous has twice as much fiber as an equal portion of oatmeal?