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?


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?