Tuesday 13 March, 2012

Eating With Your Eyes: The Ultimate Food Porn at The Bazaar

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2011-04-28_20-55-29_51I’ll be honest. The first time I ate at The Bazaar by Jose Andres, I didn’t get it. It was very soon after the restaurant’s opening, my friends and I knew nothing about the restaurant other than that it was something new and different, and the waitstaff were not only ill-trained, but unable to give much direction insofar as the eclectic approach of the menu. We sat in ‘Blanco,’ and most of what we had was unimpressive.

SKIP TO THE SLIDE SHOW

Because, as they say, life is short, and I’ve never been that interested in following what’s ‘hot’ just for its own sake, I didn’t return to the Bazaar until recently, when I dropped by to visit my friend Erika Kimball (a staffer there) and she basically sat me down and insisted I try all the signature dishes.

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In the intervening time, I’ve come to understand the Bazaar ‘concept’ better. True to the name, Bazaar is not a singular restaurant but a collection of experiences from which, in theory, you may pick and choose to spend your evening:

•Rojo and Blanca are two dining rooms with different moods and levels of formality, including a jamon y queso bar where you can watch chefs at work.

• Saam is a private dining room which serves a $120 prix fixe of 20 small courses, some exclusive to the room.

• Bar Centro is a liquor bar and large communal table. The inventive drinks here are perhaps the most impressive parts of the Bazaar experience, especially those made tableside) as well as an outdoor patio that basically functions as a second bar, overlooking the port o cochere/valet.

• Patisserie: Where you end your evening, with an overloaded table full of whimsical sweets and some intentionally unmatched tea furniture on which to enjoy them.

• Regalo is a retail area within the Bazaar full of quite eclectic curiosities (and some Andres-curated food products) that seems to mostly function as a mini-museum, unless you’re part of that top 1% income bracket that everyone else loves so much these days.

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Andres is basically trying to create a more elegant, artistic version of a food hall or emporium, from which you can tailor a different experience every time you visit (Eataly is another version of this concept in a broad sense). In theory, your server/hosts are supposed to move you through the different experiences to your liking. I’m still not sure this actually works. I’ve talked to many people who have dined here and never heard anyone remark on changing spots through the evening.

The reason it doesn’t work is transactional: if there were some way that patrons could move around the room at will, or pay as they go with a card or ticket system (like an actual food hall, tapas bar or dim sum) I think the idea would fluorish. The Phillipe Starck-designed rooms, while visually beautiful, also don’t have the sense of flow that the concept requires. But hey, they aren't hurting for business.

At any rate, on my second visit, my friend and I sat at the jamon y tapas bar, which I highly recommend: getting to watch the cooks at work is certainly added entertainment. We ate so many dishes that I’ve posted them to a Flickr set HERE.

Certainly everything was high quality, and intriguing, but the overall effect definitely felt like more of a performance than a repast (And, lest I forget to mention, not for a cheap ticket). While jaded critics can wax about such restaurants at length (certainly there’s a lot to talk about), I’m not convinced that a restaurant like Bazaar moves the food world in any kind of positive direction.

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Take for one small example, their offering of eight different bottled waters. While I’m glad to see one of them is Vichy Catalan, a truly different Spanish mineral water, the concept overall seems like a relic of the more decadent/less environmentally-conscious ‘90s, in contrast to a time when more high-end restaurants are offering their own filtered and sparkling water, with zero-carbon-footprint.

On that note, in stark comparison to the cocktail list, wine selection here is somewhat puzzling and frustrating. Relatively few are by the glass, relatively few are Spanish (there seem to actually be more Japanese sakes) and they are randomly selected. As for beer, two of the six offered are Miller Lite and Corona.

But what do I know, Jose Andres is the Jesus of food, apparently, and I’m just a guy who eats.