Chambar – Vancouver, BC Canada

Civilized debauchery‘ is the catchphrase at Chambar, a sexy restaurant in Vancouver’s Gastown that has been going strong for the last 6 years, and for well deserved reasons.  Chef and owner Nico Schuermans and his wife Kari, who manages the front of house, have created a beautiful setting where diners can enjoy superb Belgian food and scrumptious Belgian ales.  Chef Schuermans was born in Rwanda, Africa, after which he moved back to his native Belgium with his family.  There, after graduating from culinary school, he worked at several Michelin starred restaurants like Comme Chez Soi, and subsequently moved around the world to London, Puerto Rico and Australia to further his culinary career.

It didn’t take a lot of convincing for me to put Chambar on my list of restaurants to visit on a recent trip to Vancouver, as it kept coming up on my searches with excellent reviews.  Exceptional Belgian food with hints of North African influences, a breathtaking cocktail and Belgian beer selection, superb pastries from a rising pastry chef named Eleanor Chow, an inviting dining room and bar area dimly lit by glowing red lamps, attentive service, rotating modern art to adorn the brick exposed walls and a hip Vancouver crowd jiving to sensuous jazz music couldn’t paint a more perfect picture for a Saturday night in the city.  The large L-shaped restaurant with a lounge area in the front was completely packed with the beautiful people of Vancouver dining in this seductive and gorgeous ambiance. There was no pretentiousness though, from the moment we were warmly greeted by the house staff to the attentive and courteous service that we received all throughout the evening.

Chambar is not just a pretty restaurant with good food- they are 100% committed to reducing environmental impact by supporting local suppliers in sourcing regional seasonal ingredients, using Oceanwise-certified sustainable seafood, cleaning and reusing Chambar Ale bottles, and participating in recycling programs with food waste going to community garden composts.  They strive to be a carbon neutral restaurant by using all natural environmentally friendly cleaning products, using biodegradable corn products and cardboard in lieu of plastic for takeout containers and consistently utilizing post consumer recycled paper for menus, cocktail napkins and stationary.

Chambar’s Belgian Beer menu is quite impressive, offering lagers, witbiers, blonde ales, trappistes, lambics and dark ales.  I chose Triple Karmeliet, a smooth and robust blond ale with a sweet fruity finish, that went wonderfully with a starter of grilled green asparagus with sautéed morels, black peppercorns & truffled mayonnaise and crispy parmesan tuiles.  The grilled asparagus had an amazing fresh flavor, accented by the wonderful waft of truffle aroma that enveloped the soft chunks of morel mushrooms.

All of their Les Petit Plats sounded enticing, like seared scallops with smoked Kurobuta pork cheek, a bison carpaccio with truffles and a spiced foie gras terrine with port reduction, but we opted for a plate called ‘Les Tapas’ which came with 3 dishes, each filled with delicious surf and turf offerings.

Smoked sardines with basil, sun dried tomatoes and shaved red onions were tossed in a light vinaigrette that added the perfect amount of acidity to the dish.

My favorite was the pan seared shrimp and calamari tapas with aji vinaigrette, cubed red, yellow and green peppers and caraway seeds. The squid was perfectly cooked to a tender consistency, melting under the luscious aioli as the crunchy peppers imparted a delightful juicy textural contrast.

Generous meaty chunks of king oyster mushrooms were sautéed with smokey chorizo and garlic and garnished with a heap of sunflower sprouts.

La brochette d’autruche, grilled ostrich skewers served with pearl onions pickled in sweet balsamic glaze, marinated prunes, five-herb pesto, capers, pine nuts, sunflower sprouts and crisp potato chips was fantastic.  The tender morsels of ostrich tasted like lean beef and paired superbly with the vincotto sauce and all of the condiments that added differing degrees of texture and acidity to enhance the flavors of the meat.

Les grosses pièces offerings like the BC spot prawn taster, slow roasted pork tenderloin, spice rubbed duck breast and braised lamb shank with figs and honey all sounded tasty, but we decided on the entrecôte grillée d’Argentine, a grilled AAA ribeye steak with chimichurri sauce, charred tomatoes, chorizo, baby arugula, watercress and crispy polenta.  The ribeye was grilled to a perfect medium rare, so tender that we barely needed to use our knives to cut through the fatty piece of delicious meat.  This was one good steak.

Being a Belgian restaurant, the house specialty is moules frites, and they offer 3 types of mussels- Coquotte with white wine cream, smoked bacon lardons and spring onions, Vin Blanc with white wine butter, braised celery and leeks, and the Congolaise which we ordered, with tomato coconut cream, smoked chile, lime and fresh cilantro.  A huge deep pot of mussels came to our table, piled high with juicy briny mussels that tasted amazing with the spicy coconut sauce.

Robert Stelmachuk, Chambar’s sommelier who used to work at Le Crocodile, was particularly helpful and kind to us that evening, and showed us around the restaurant, explaining its history and food with great enthusiasm.  He arranged a dessert tasting menu for us, an incredible array of artistic desserts created by its resident superstar pastry chef, Eleanor Chow.  I had already heard about her desserts from my server at Bluewater Cafe who gushed about her work.  She started our dessert course with an amazing passion fruit parfait, made with lime sponge cake, passion fruit curd, passion fruit seeds, a smooth and silky passion fruit ice cream and crispy tuile on top.  This slightly tart and refreshing dessert was the one that made me swoon with ecstasy.

A light orange vanilla sorbet reminded me of Orange Julius, a drink that I adored as a child, and the vanilla custard cream, garnished with thin pear slices, was one of the most flavorful and decadent custards that I have ever had the pleasure of devouring.  It was a straightforward custard made with simple basic ingredients, yet somehow this pastry chef managed to take it to another level.

Crispy and light mille-feuille with cherry compote and chocolate ganache mousse were excellent as well.

We were so stuffed by the end of our meal that we got the homemade chocolates brownies and white chocolate truffles to go. Needless to say, it was gone before bedtime.

As if Chambar’s amazing food, stellar service and magnificent restaurant wasn’t already enough to keep us happy, Nico Schuermans spreads his love in so many other fruitful ways for us to engage in ‘civilized debauchery’.  Chef Schuermans’ delicious Belgian fare can also be enjoyed at the casual Cafe Medina next door along with Eleanor Chow’s Belgian waffles with accompaniments of compotes, caramels and chocolate sauces that are especially popular for weekend brunch.   In addition, both chefs teach their tricks of the trade at The Dirty Apron Cooking School, another project that they are involved with in the Gastown district of Vancouver.  Here you can learn snout to tail butchering, sinful desserts that come with free panties and even an opportunity to meet your future spouse over fig compote in any of their singles cooking classes.

Chambar Restaurant

562 Beatty Street
Vancouver, BC V6B 2L3, Canada
(604) 879-7119

Cafe Medina

The Dirty Apron Cooking School

Random trivia:  Did you know that most birds do not have a copulatory organ, but the ostrich does?  In fact, the male ostrich has a retractable one that can measure up to 8 inches long.  Civilized….debauchery….?

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Ogasawara Hakushakutei 小笠原伯爵邸ー Tokyo, Japan

In case you haven’t heard me say this enough times in my blog already, Tokyo has surpassed Paris as the most gourmet city in the world, winning the most Michelin stars on the 2010 guide and boasting the most 3-starred Michelin restaurants of any city.   It was only a matter of time, as I know first hand that there is really no city quite like Tokyo where you can walk into any restaurant or hole in the wall and come out satisfied.  Even the 7-Eleven convenience stores serve gourmet rice balls and take away bentos that are to die for.  I’m proud to call this wonderful city my second home, and I was excited to explore more Michelin star restaurants on my annual trip home over the winter holidays.

Some important friends were in town, and I was given the responsibility of choosing the perfect place to celebrate the end of 2009.  As I perused the Michelin guide, a certain restaurant caught my eye.  Ogasawara Hakushakutei (which means Count Ogasawara’s residence) grabbed my attention for a few reasons.  First of all, it was housed in a historic mansion that used to be inhabited by a Japanese count.  Secondly, it offered creative Spanish cuisine by a Spanish chef.  Lastly, I couldn’t believe that it was practically around the corner from our house, the same house that I grew up in.  How did I not know about this place all these years?

Chef Gonzalo Armando Alvarez Melchor, who trained in Barcelona, took over as executive chef at Ogasawaratei in 2009.  They offer set course menus for both lunch and dinner, which reflect traditional Spanish concepts with a touch of contemporary mischief using imported Spanish delicacies and local Japanese vegetables.  I took one look at their sample menu online, and I knew that we were in for a real treat.  I was delighted to see that they also had a café and bar that served classic Spanish tapas like tortilla de patatas and pescaditos fritos.

The Grand Salon

As I walked up to the restaurant on the pebbled pathway, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.  Here in the middle of Shinjuku district, the busiest district of the most densely populated city in the world, was a beautiful mansion built in 1927 that had been left protected and well preserved.  An old iron lamppost, the kind that you see on the cobblestone streets of Paris, cast a soft glow of light onto the tree that shielded the terracotta tiles on the roof of this Spanish style villa.  The grand entrance had a red carpet that led to the reception desk, after which the staff escorted us past the Grand Salon and the fountain courtyard to the waiting lounge.  Stained glass windows, a majestic chandelier and antique wooden furniture adorned the beautiful lounge where a female pianist played classical music all night long.  Creaky wooden floors and marbled pillars in numerous private dining rooms throughout this 2 story residence demonstrated old world charm and integrity.  I felt like a butler in coattails wearing a monocle would show up any minute, and in fact it practically happened.  Perfectly coiffed staff wearing crisp black tuxedos guided me every step of the way through my royal restaurant voyage, treating me like I was the mistress of the house.  The grand dining room, next to the Moorish influenced cigar room with a blue-gold ceiling and mosaic tiles, was pristine, clean and sharp.

The level of professionalism that I observed in the staff was first class, and it simply did not compare to any other restaurant that I have ever been to.  Swift, sharp, intelligent, courteous and calm, every person was at the top of their game.  I felt really comfortable here because I knew that I was in good hands.

La ligera crema de ajo blanco y bastón de Jamón Ibérico de Bellota crujiente con queso de Arzúa-Ulloa

We started our tasting menu with an ajo blanco mousse flavored with olive oil, ham and raw almonds, and garnished with fine bread crumbs and chopped chives.  The mousse had an incredibly light flavor that was enhanced by the subdued saltiness of a layer of tomatoes and anchovies that we were surprised to find at the bottom.   Although this dish had an overall rich velvety texture, there was still a hint of graininess from the ground raw almonds which I really enjoyed.  Our garlic cream mousse came with a crispy baton slathered with Arzua Ulloa cheese, black truffle powder and crusted jamón ibérico de Bellota .  Oh, if they would only package these tantalizing baton chips by the dozens and sell them in supermarkets, this world would be a better place.

Los guisantes bajo un velo de caldo de Ibéricos, erizos de mar y un aceite de piñones ahumados

A warm silky blanket of Iberico broth gelée tucked a family of tender young peas into their porcelain crib along with their jamón ibérico companions.  Each fresh pea burst with flavor in my mouth as it also released a veil of smoky aroma from the pine nut infused olive oil.  The salty bits of chopped ham, the crunchiness of the chopped pine nuts and the creamy ooze of the sea urchin all danced on my tongue in a textural dance off.

El calamar impregnado en Sanpoukan, hilos verdes, tallos de acelgas y canela cassia

I loved the playful presentation of the citrus flavored squid dish where the head and the legs engaged in a private tête-à-tête.  The squid was marinated for 30 minutes in Sanpoukan juice (a Japanese citrus) before it was grilled à la plancha.  The moment this plate was placed in front of me, I could smell the faint aroma of Sanpoukan tickling my olfactory cells as I admired the architecture of the presentation from all angles.  The swirls of sliced green beans had a great crunchy texture as well as the small dices of red and yellow swiss chard stalks that embellished its surface.  The alternating dots of squid ink and cinnamon paprika sauce were the perfect acccompaniment to the exquisite and tender cephalopods.

La Cigala, cubitos de Hino-Na aderezados con un aceite de ajos confitados y salsa de queso de Galicia

We all loved the delicate grilled scampi that lounged on a mattress of white Tetilla cheese sauce and a pillow of Hinona turnips that had been marinated in confited garlic oil.  5 dots of green parsley oil looked lovingly at the majestic piece of succulent and juicy shrimp as they tried to jump on to the swirly mattress of creamy Galician cheese.

El foie à la plancha, salsa de uvas, arena de azúcar moscabado y virutas de macademia

Grilled foie gras is always a crowd pleaser, especially with the crowd that I was dining with on this special evening.  The succulent foie gras was perfectly seared with a coat of dark brown muscovado cane sugar and topped with light snowflakes of shaved macadamia nuts.  Peeled naked grapes and figs escorted this noble monarch of Liverville down the royal carpet of rich red wine and green Swiss chard sauce.  This was one of my favorite dishes of the evening.

The grilled foie gras went especially well with our bottle of house red wine that we ordered for our dinner.  Palacio del Conde de Ogasawara’s 2006 Ramón Bilbao limited edition Tempranillo was exquisite.  I was impressed that this restaurant had a special house wine made by the one of the most famous and reputable bodegas in Spain.  I was even more impressed by the startling high level of service here at Ogasawara.  I keep a collection of wine labels, and have a special wine label kit where I stick a clear adhesive sheet to the label, peel it off and store it in a special folder.  I forgot to bring a sticker, or étiquette de vin, and asked them if I could take the empty bottle home with me.  Within minutes, the sommelier returned with the wine label already placed on an étiquette sheet for me to take home.  I was speechless.

El arroz negro con sofrito de sobrasada, pimientos salteados y flores de nira

This was my other favorite dish of the night that simply blew me away.  The arroz negro, rice cooked with black squid ink, had a dazzling texture that was like mochi rice.  It had fantastic ‘koshi’, a dense texture that became richer and more elastic with each chew.  Small morsels of spear squid mixed in with the arroz negro also added an auxiliary level of ‘koshi’ texture to the dish.  Annular drizzles of yellow saffron sauce added an ethereal aroma that perfumed the dish, while a Majorcan sobrasada sausage sofrito added tang and smokiness.  Sautéed yellow, orange and red bell peppers contrasted the arroz with its crunchy texture while a Japanese garlic chive (nira) flower graced this heavenly plate like a star on a Christmas tree.

La lucerna escalfada en un caldo azafranado, puerros cocidos en las brasas y caviares de colores

I didn’t care much for the fish dish, made with an unusual fish called a gurnard or sea robin (and called houbou in Japanese).  The fish filet, served in a saffron sauce with hearty Incan potatoes, was a tad overcooked and didn’t have much flavor.  Shimonita leeks were prepared in a traditional Catalan style of cooking calçots, which are Spanish scallions.   At a calçotada, a calçot cookout celebration at the end of winter in Spain, the outer layer is charred over an open flame,  then wrapped in newspaper to keep them warm and tender.  Afterward, the blackened skin is carefully peeled off to enjoy the soft and tender flesh.  I loved the touch of  molecular gastronomy in the garnish, with dainty colorful paprika ‘caviar’, made by spherification, brightening up the dish.

La presa Ibérica, pure de navos de Kioto, romero y salsa de turron

The savory portion of our tasting menu ended with a bang with the tender and juicy cut of Iberian pork presa, which is a succulent cut of shoulder meat. The sweetness of the red wine sauce was in perfect balance with the richness of the luscious pork fat, and crunchy sprinkles of sweet turrón nougat rounded out all of these flavors.  I loved the hints of select Japanese vegetables used throughout the course, such as the Shogoin turnips from Kyoto which were puréed into a silky spoonful of delight.  Bright green leaves of sautéed spinach were curled back into a shoulder stand and awaited their turn to strut their stuff down the catwalk on my tongue.

La sopa de mandarina y espuma de vino tinto

Our pre-dessert palate cleanser was a refreshing soup of mandarin orange mikan capped with a baby pink foam made with Spanish red wine.  The fine miniscule espuma bubbles released a rapturous burst of wine and citrus bouquets as they dissolved and disappeared in my mouth.

El mousse de chocolate y café, trufa con sablé de queso y helado de haba tonka

The sleek and velvety coffee-flavored chocolate mousse gave way to a hidden center of Galician tetilla cheese filling that tasted like a firm version of Mascarpone.   Cinnamon cookie crumbles held their own and formed a crunchy foundation for the soft mound of chocolate mousse as a roll of cheese sablé dusted with chocolate powder saluted 2 succulent cherries marinated in eau de vie.  The most amazing scoop of tonka bean ice cream waited next in line on the dessert assembly line, imparting a wondrous flavor reminiscent of vanilla and almond. 

Dulces pequeños

Delightful petit fours of chocolate almond and green tea cookies finished our sensational meal at this historic mansion.

Was this restaurant worthy of 1 Michelin star?  For the spectacular and creative food, the spot-on attentive service and a rare opportunity to dine in an illustrious historic estate?  I say 2 stars.   After dinner we took a walk outside to their beautiful backyard.  As we strolled through the perfectly manicured garden and gazed up at the stars through the wrought iron gazebo, I tried to imagine what it was like here 70 years ago when the Count would have his lavish balls and afternoon tea parties.  I could almost hear the scratchy tunes of Duke Ellington playing through the phonograph as women in flapper dresses and cloche hats pranced about on the lawn while their husbands smoked cigars and talked about Al Capone’s latest misconducts.  Being on the grounds of Count Ogasawara’s mansion was a time trip to a special era, and it seemed far removed from the flashing neon signs and noisy pachinko parlors of Tokyo’s concrete jungle.

Ogasawara Hakushakutei

Palacio del Conde de Ogasawara

10-10 Kawada-cho, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo 162-0054

03-3359-5830

Random trivia: Did you know that tonka beans are illegal in the US?  These black wrinkled seeds have a magical aroma that is reminiscent of vanilla, almonds, cinnamon and cloves.  It’s frequently used in perfumes and tobacco.  The seed and its oils contain coumarin, which is a potent anticoagulant.  For this fact, its import and use in food has been strictly banned by the US Food and Drug Administration.  (Pssst… if you search online, there are places where you can order it on the black market)

Le Meurice-Paris

IMG_5609

For the ultimate luxurious and grand Parisian experience, we had lunch at the famous 3 Michelin star Le Meurice restaurant of Le Meurice Hotel in the chic and beautiful 1st arrondissement.  In the heart of Paris across from the Tuileries Gardens, the upscale hotel that was loved by Salvador Dali is tastefully designed by Philippe Starck in tribute to Dali’s art and life.  The entrance, lobby, Restaurant Le Dali and Bar 228 are all an interesting mix of classic Starck flambouyance and elegance with furniture and artwork reminiscent of Dali’s inspirational vision.

IMG_5633My favorite item was the miroir givré, or frosted mirror, which is a large stainless steel frame with a refrigeration system that stands at the entrance of the hotel.  You can write messages, draw pictures and leave your handprint on this cold frosted surface.  Such a wonderful and fun innovation!

IMG_5610The historical Le Meurice hotel has been a landmark since 1835, and the grand dining room of Le Meurice restaurant has kept the same interior since it opened in 1907 except for the curtains and chandeliers that have been designed by Starck.  The ornate ceiling frescos and elaborate gold trimmed rococo paintings and mirrors on the marbled walls are the same as what the early 20th century boIMG_5504urgeois looked at as they dined in the same room many years ago.  One step into this handsome and luxurious dining room, and you are instantly transported into a different but comfortable space of old world aristocracy.  With perfectly ironed white tablecloths, Hermés leather bag stools, plush silk sofas and well crafted wooden dining chairs, large elegantly draped windows that look out onto the Jardin, elaborate handmade tiled floors, impeccably polished silverware, and flawless fresh dark red roses on each table, the dining experience itself is worthy of more than 3 stars.  The uniformed dining staff are of elite class, executing perfect flow of service down to the millisecond and never allowing so much as a crumb to fall on your lap.IMG_5514

The handsome Yannick Alléno heads the kitchens of this 3 star establishment.  He makes what he calls ‘Parisian cuisine’, incorporating modern global flavors and techniques with seasonal French products.  We had the wonderful privilege of enjoying the Printemps spring menu at Le Meurice.

Delicious glasses of Billecart Salmon champagnIMG_5517e started our meal with 2 canapés- the mackerel, carrot and dijon mustard canapé was light, tart, not fishy at all.  The goat cheese and tomato with chopped black langoustine coral was more creamy and deep flavored.

A refreshing and light amuse of basil and leeks gelée with salmon roe came in a beautiful dainty gold tin.  A nice balance of natural leek sweetness and salmon roe saltiness.

IMG_5525They also served us another complimentary dish of celeriac purée with cubes of carrot and beef, legume gelée, deep fried ravioli, vinegar and mustard seeds. It was nice to get different textures from the crispy ravioli, smooth gelée and tender beef cubes.  The entire dish was nicely tart and acidic.

The first appetizer dish was Langoustines on a melba toast with sliced raw Paris mushrooms and seasoned artichokes. Tender and sweet raw langoustine slices on a crispy thin melba toast, topped with thinly sliced raw mushrooms with a salmon roe in the center, drizzled with aromatic olive oil and citrus juice.  Seasoned thinly sliced artichokes with sautéed oyster and shimeji mushrooms were side accompaniments.  A  dainty feminine dish with wonderfully sweet langoustines.

Langoustines

Langoustines

Crabmeat in a canneloni of squid with pink grapefruit and seaweed chutney, and almond ice cream.  The vibrant colors and shapes made this beautifully plated spring dish come alive.  The slightly slippery texture of the thinly sliced squid canneloni was really wonderful, and the overall balance of flavors was delicate and refined.

Squid and crab

Squid and crab

Blue Lobster with Madras Curry, pincers served in small raviolis with a spicy broth. The lobster meat was fresh and tender, and the madras curry was deep and aromatic, though the pincer ravioli dish (not photographed) was way too salty.

Blue lobster curry

Blue lobster curry

Sliced breast of pigeon with duck foie gras and hazelnuts, with sautéed spring vegetables with jus.  Wow, this was an amazing and delicious dish, and one of my favorites on this Europe trip.  The pigeon was fresh and perfectly cooked medium, so tender and juicy, with very little gameyness.  Although I’m not a fan of nuts, I understood why the chopped hazelnuts were essential to this dish.  Its earthy flavors really rounded out the robust flavors of the pigeon and foie gras.  A spectacular dish from start to finish, and the bright colors of the grilled spring vegetables (radish, turnip, asparagus, baby artichokes) really stood out.

Pigeon breast

Pigeon breast

It came with an extra dish of roasted pigeon leg with spring vegetables and quail egg in pigeon jus, and lardo colonata on melba toast.  The pigeon leg was a bit more gamey, though the Italian lardo toast was crisp and delicate in texture and appearance, yet full-bodied in flavor.

IMG_5566The larded fillet of beef marinated with French seaweed jam, stuffed polenta with soft fresh cream and raw vegetable shavings.  This was cut, plated, garnished and served tableside like an orchestrated symphony by a team of 3 experienced and efficient servers.  It was amazing to see them working in perfect harmony to produce this beautiful and delicious plate.  The beef was cooked to perfection, and extremely juicy, tender and flavorful.

Fillet of beef

Fillet of beef

For dessert we ordered the soft chocolate cream with hazelnut praline, crunchy mousse with frozen lemon dish.  The plating was superb, and the presentation was breathtaking.  A refined and noble dessert dish with gold leaf accents and multiple layers of textures and flavors.

Chocolate cake

Chocolate cake

The last 2 dessert plates were complimentary from the restaurant.  It was a celebration of and tribute to raspberries!  I love raspberries and loved these delicate desserts even more.  The first was an apple ice cream with raspberry coulis, accompanied by a marshmallow with lemon perfume and raspberry powder.  The deep crimson reds were sexy and intoxicating, and the flavors were refined and perfectly tart.

IMG_5592From the top going clockwise: donut with raspberry filling, violette macaroon with whole raspberries, slice of green apple and vanilla bean custard, raspberry financier with a cube of beet root, lemon zest and lemon mousse, and finally a sable with salt perfume, raspberry mousse and green apple jelly heart.  All of these desserts were amazing, each presenting a different yet equally delicious interpretation of the raspberry.  A true feast for the eyes, and an absolute joy for the palate.

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Tea time at Le Meurice Hotel

Tea time at Le Meurice Hotel

Le Meurice…the ultimate Paris experience.  One step into this hotel and you will be instantly whisked away into a special eclectic world of modern Starck fantasy and majestic French aristocracy.  Dine in the elegant Le Meurice restaurant and let the attentive staff treat you like royalty as time and the outside world come to a silent halt. Close your eyes and take a deep relaxing breath, then fully embrace the experience of being at Alléno’s mercy as you take in his cuisine with all of your open senses.  Walk around the hotel and interact with the playful Dali-inspired furniture and artwork.  Leave your handprint on the frosted mirror as you bid farewell to this magical and exclusive world.  Once you step outside of this world, you will be dropped back into the reality of honking taxis, scurrying tourists and pooping pet dogs.  If it’s too much for you to handle, run quickly across the street into the Jardin de Tuileries to enter back into a tranquil and serene dream.  Repeat as necessary.

http://www.meuricehotel.com/restaurants_bars/index.html

Random trivia: Did you know that pigeons are monogamous?

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?