Miss Eydie has hit Tinseltown for The Playboy Jazz Festival, a huge outdoor event at the iconic Hollywood Bowl. It’s an intense all day affair –each group gets only 50 minutes to play, and if one band goes over they are immediately removed from the stage by a rotation of the circular platform, much like the proverbial “hook” from the days of vaudeville.The Bowl is packed with revelers; both music lovers and people just out for the social scene and an al fresco lunch.
My closest friend, who made the drive in from the Yucca Valley to check out the jazz festival and indulge in her foodie proclivities, was excited about checking out a restaurant called The Bazaar by José Andres. The concept is tapas…small plates of food with a Spanish accent. But there is a twist. One half of the menu is “traditional” tapas and the other half is governed by the principles of molecular gastronomy,the art of bringing the instruments and experimental techniques of the laboratory, into the kitchen. Food is chemistry, after all. This really appeals to me…both as an aware,enthusiastic eater, and a performer. I know there will be thought, theatre, and provocation involved in this meal. I know I will want to eat, drink, sniff and smoke this food! As a fan of the surrealists, the deconstructionists, the dadaists, I see this kind of cooking as art, pure and simple-and as valid as the realists and the traditionalists.
The only thing I know in advance about José Andres, is that early in his career, he trained under Ferran Adria at El Bulli. As in singing, one must know the structure and rules before one can improvise on,bend,or even discard rules. So it is in cooking…”It is not enough to know the principles,one needs to know how to manipulate.” (Michael Faraday-Chemical Manipulation 1827) Our dining group this evening is delightfully diverse – my dearest friend who is an acupuncturist and a doctor of Chinese medicine, an interior designer and her husband, a musician who travels the world and has played with David Lindley, Sheryl Crow, Timbuk 3, Crowded House, (yeah!!) Bruce Hornsby, and many others, their adorable 4 year old girl, my partner in love and supporter of culinary adventure, and yours truly, Miss Eydie Gourmet.The restaurant itself, designed by Philippe Starck, is romantic and gorgeous to behold, and at the same time full of fun and visual trickery-its ambiance is conducive for culinary experimentation and we are totally ready for anything.The hotel lobby ( this restaurant is in the new SLS hotel, which used to be Le Méridien , near the Beverly Center) features unique Starck-designed display cases presenting rotating design items,curated by Murray Moss, (who owns the most fabulous design store in NYC )which if you are in the least inebriated or otherwise intoxicated can be disarming.
Waiters pass by with fixings for what I will soon learn is the signature “magic mojito.” Served in a shaker and poured over a martini glass of cotton candy,this magical elixir provides a small amount of theatre along with your rum and mint,as the house-made cotton candy disappears into the drink. There are tableside presentations of both Rojo and Blanca Sangria and also, those intoxicating Brazilian treats, caipirinhas. Other temptations abound, like the “liquid cherry” Manhattan and the “New Way” Dirty martini with its “olive spherification “(more about that later) and olive brine air. To my mind though, the only quaff for this meal is Spanish wine, so we start off with some cold Albariño from Rias Baixas. Lydia confidently orders a Shirley Temple….when my son was little this was also his beverage of choice when we went out…he would order that and I would stage whisper to the waiter…”And Ill have a Shirley Temple’s mother.” ( meaning a vodka tonic!)
We try and order a balance of both traditional and deconstructed items. First things to arrive: a plate of sautéed wild mushrooms infused with hazelnut oil and a hazelnut praline. I’m transported momentarily to the Oregon woods as opposed to Barcelona. Sweet
potato chips are not so unusual these days, but the dip is an airy, whipped Greek yogurt with a swirl of tart tamarind paste, and a sprinkling of star anise. Next to arrive are some traditional tapas, that really cant be missed Sweet piquillos peppers are stuffed with goat cheese and next to them, a plate
of small codfish fritters or “buñuelos” with a honey aioli. We also have , in the more modern style, a serving of Ottoman carrot fritters. These are a delightful surprise ,tasting a bit like a tzimmes one might have for Rosh Hashanah dinner. …except better. Much better. They have small bits of apricot in them and lie on top of a bed of pistachio sauce. What I love about these small bites, is the concentration and explosion of flavor, of essence. One of the simplest dishes we tried was something called watermelon/tomato skewers with a sherry reduction- very much resonant of a watermelon gazpacho on a stick.
Umm…Ok..speaking of “explosion” -back to the olive spherification. Are you with me? I’m pretty sure that José learned this technique while under Ferran Adria’s tutelage. This dish is a reworking of a familiar, age-old concept- the serving of olives to accompany a cocktail or aperitif. The waiter patiently explains the process to us… the olives are first pressed hard to completely release their juice, then reassembled in a bath of sodium alginate ,which is the sodium salt of alginic acid and calcium chloride ,which is used in cheese making. This develops a
“curd” around the olive jus so when it is put in the mouth it literally explodes with a burst of olive flavor- the liquid in contact with the alginate produces these tiny spheres of texture. This sounds horrifying to many at my table, but we all dig in. The small spheres of “olive” are artfully laid out, each on its own white porcelain soup spoon. As they enter our waiting culinary cavities, the taste of the Mediterranean washes over us like a wave of nostalgic embrace. BAM!! For real.
Moving on, our 4 year old guest Lydia astounds everyone by going for the American caviar cone, the sautéed shrimp with garlic and guindilla pepper, and the sea urchin buns, which are mini versions of the Chinese char siu bao,without the barbecued pork. Instead, inside the steamed bun lies a glistening, coral tongue, a single raw sea urchin, layered with green avocado. She chows down on these,
as opposed to more age appropriate choices such as the “Philly” cheesesteak which is composed of something called “air bread,” cheddar and Wagyu beef or the papas Canarias: salty,wrinkled fingerling potatoes with/or without a mojo verdé (just cilantro, sherry vinegar, garlic and oil) or even chicken and bechamel fritters. Just goes to show you that many children will respond to an opening of their palates, if they are just given the opportunity.My son had a wide range of taste when he was little, and I ascribe that to the fact that after breast milk, I gave him goat’s milk. That opened his taste palate to the range of sour and bitter flavors that he enjoys to this day. I’ll never forget a chef running out from the kitchen to watch a 3 year old devour a goat cheese and eggplant terrine! Our 4 year old , Lydia has finally noticed the martini glasses of cotton candy going by, and calmly,but firmly asks the waiter for a plateful. Little genius that she is, she lets her head drop completely into the plate, which she says feels like “stuffing.”
It’s time to switch to red. How I love those words.
We order Alvaro Palacios’ 2007 “Camins del Priorat,” a masterful blend of Cariñena/Garnacha/Cabernet/and Syrah grapes from the Priorat region of Spain. Perfumed and sweet in the mouth, with a spicy, sexy overtone, we all fall in love with it…and quickly order another bottle to go with the cheese platter we are bound to order before dessert. The gentleman who brings our dishes to the table and announces them, reminds us of James Earl Jones playing “Othello.” With a resonant baritone and a theatrical air, he announces,”Desdemona…Had it pleased heaven to try me with affliction,had they rained all kinds of sores and shames upon my bare head, Still ….would I lie before you
this platter of baby Japanese peaches with burrata,hazlenuts and arugula.” More dishes arrive..that’s the cool thing about small plates -you can share and try a bit of everything. (of course when the bill arrives, that’s a different story) Sautéed cauliflower “couscous, a mixture of fried quinoa,lemon, harissa and cauliflower purée arrives, and is ravished. Japanese eggplant with yogurt comes sprinkled with bonito flakes,which add a depth and resonance of aroma and flavor.
A final plate before cheese of refreshing jicama wraps filled with mint,cucumbers, pickled ginger and an insane coconut dressing.
Cheese arrives with a platter of Pa’amb tomaquet…toasted bread rubbed with raw tomato and garlic-it’s raw baby-Catalan style! 3 sheep and a goat. Manchego , La Serena, Idiazabal and the goaty one: a semi-soft Murcia al vino. We drain the bottle dry…in the meantime, Lydia is bored with us and has wandered over to the next table where she sees another small person.
Dessert is as creative and crazy as the rest of the menu. There is a whole confectionery section with bon-bons,chocolates tablettes, cookies and lollipops. I must have them all…but settle for a Maldon salt dark chocolate square, an olive lollipop, a white chocolate /red peppercorn lollipop and a Earl Grey bon-bon. Someone else must have the mini-cheese Danish (wha??)a few
different ice creams and sorbets,and something called a “creamy chocolate heart” We’re out of control. Where did that port come from?? Why does the ladies room feel like I have been suddenly transported to The
Matrix?? Will Keanu Reeves pick up the bill? Lydia has made friends with Stevie Wonder’s family ,who are sitting at the next table. As for me, I am under the influence of some kind of ambrosial coconut concoction I ordered, that has a crunchy, cold shell and inside, a creamy core. (a lot of “c” words I know) There may have been espresso ordered,or The Iron Goddess Of Mercy,the greatest of all the oolong teas…. I frankly don’t remember. But I do remember happily being squeezed into a cab, and seeing the familiar lights and glitter of L.A. stream by, as I revisited all the flavors, textures and sights of the evening. Molecular Gastronomy-LA style… I’m inspried to get out my old chemistry set, order up some sodium alginate and start cooking.
To all you hipster dipsters out there who love good food and drink.Live long.Love well.Be Real . And be real gone!!