Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Saam at the Bazaar: Small Room, Wild Ride, High Price

The Saam Room at the Bazaar by Jose Andres is a restaurant within a restaurant, the grown-up version of the Bazaar.  It seats 40 people and has none of the deafening noise of the main rooms within the restaurant.  It is hidden away in the back, in a manner reminiscent of The Varnish within Coles, although Saam requires a reservation.

The only option is a 20 course menu of little bites.  It was perhaps inspired by Andres's restaurant Minibar in Washington DC, although that restaurant only seats six and diners are seated in front of the chefs.  You access the room by walking through the restaurant and entering an unmarked door, where once you enter you are welcomed by your captain.  Dinner is priced at $120 per person, excluding tax, tip and beverage.

The Golden Boy cocktail (behind) with Lotus Root Chips (front)
I recently had dinner at Saam with two friends.  The meal began with The Golden Boy cocktail, which is Cava with amontillado sherry with a dash of orange bitters, lemon and gold dust.  The cocktail is served with lotus root chips, small crispy chips made from slices of lotus root, served on a stone square.

Tuna Handroll
The next amuse/course was a tuna handroll which included liquified nori (seaweed) and had a pleasantly crunchy exterior,

Black Olives Ferran Adria
What would a meal by Jose Andres be without spheres?  Our first spherified element was Black Olives Ferran Adria, which are liquid black olives held together in a sphere and served on a spoon.  They pop in your mouth and have an intense briny flavor.

Ottoman Carrot Fritter (Substitute Course)

Jicama Wrapped Guacamole (Substitute Course)

Patatas Bravas
The Patatas Bravas was a fun play on the traditional Spanish dish.  Like several other dishes on the menu, Andres takes a dish that is very rooted in Spanish cuisine and reinvents it, often by reconstituting it and changing the texture.

Chicken Wing

The Chicken Wing was good but a boneless chicken wing can only be so delicious.  The traditional buffalo sauce, ranch dressing and celery are all present on top of the wing, in a nod to the classic American bar food dish.

Not Your Everyday Caprese
The return of the spheres, or Not Your Everyday Caprese, was the next course.  The mozzarella has been spherified and the tomatoes have had their skin removed.  The cheese ball bursts in your mouth.  I had eaten this dish on a prior visit to the Bazaar and enjoyed it on both occasions.  The pesto is well made and it is a fun take on a dish that can be overdone, making it new and fresh.

Crispy Nigiri
Raw fish was the star of the nigiri course, although the crispy element added a texture that isn't in traditional sushi.

Spring Foie Gras Soup (pre broth)
Spring Foie Gras Soup was one of the visual standouts of the evening.  The bowl arrived with three small pieces of foie gras and then a broth was poured into the bowl tableside, in a dramatic fashion.

Substitute Course
Banh Mi
By far the best course of the evening was the Banh Mi, which was an amazing little sandwich.  The bread had been fried (not the whole sandwich) and the filling included wagyu beef, tofu, carrots and cilantro.  I would have happily ate a dozen of these sandwiches as they were simply outstanding.  Full of flavor.  They did not feel gimmicky at all but a playful take on the Vietnamese dish.

Carrot "Gnocchi"
Just when you thought it was safe to go in the water, they're back.  Spheres that is.  This time carrot spheres join the party.  Not as good as the traditional potato kind.

Cippolini Onions (Substitute Course)

Caviar Steamed Bun
Having missed the Jamon from Spain paired with caviar due to my not eating pork, I asked for and received a taste of the caviar, which they presented in the form of a steamed bun with a dollop of caviar on top.  The bun had a bit of sweetness, which contrasted with the salty roe.  It was fine but my companions let me know it did not hold a candle to the jamon dish.

Cauliflower "Couscous" (Substitute Course)
Mushroom Risotto with Black Truffles ($35 Supplement)
When we sat down and perused the menu and drink list, the waiter informed us that we had the option of adding a truffle course for a $35 supplement.  That is not an overly large supplement for truffles but in a setting where they are supposedly providing you the best the restaurant has to offer with dishes from minibar, the Bazaar and Saam and ingredients from Japan, Spain etc., it feels chintzy to have a supplement to add such a dish to a 20 course meal.  It would have been more gracious to serve a spoon size version as one of the courses.

Philly Cheesesteak

Jose Andres has a way with wagyu beef sandwiches as his Philly Cheesesteak was my second favorite dish of the evening after the Banh Mi.  I had also eaten this dish on my prior visit, but this version was even better.  The liquid cheese inside and the airy "bread" and the savory beef made it a memorable combination.

Foie Gras Cotton Candy
I enjoy foie gras as much as the next food enthusiast, perhaps more, but I found the Foie Gras Cotton Candy to be a gimmicky dish rather one that improved upon the ingredients.  Foie is already a sweet ingredient, so adding the cotton candy was playful, but did not enhance the deliciousness quotient of the dish.  It looks and sounds better than it is.

Japanese Baby Peaches
The Japanese Baby Peaches were served with burrata and hazelnuts.  I had never eaten green peaches before.

The Dragon's Breath Popcorn (not pictured) was the transition to dessert.  It is popcorn dipped in liquid nitrogen and when you eat it, smoke comes out of your nostrils, like a dragon.  It is fun to watch your dining companions and the waiter even brought over a mirror so we could see ourselves.

Desserts below:
Sambuca gelee with strawberry, fennel.

Chocolate Rock

Sexy Little Sweets
Sexy Little Sweets is the Saam's take on petit four.

The Saam room is certainly an experience unlike any other in LA.  Whether it is for you depends on how you feel about molecular gastronomy and the price value equation.  The three us of shared two bottles of wine, each on the less expensive end of the spectrum and the total cost including the truffle supplement, tax, tip and beverages was about $270 per person.  The only other restaurant where you would have a "tasting menu" with so many different tastes is Urusawa, and that could cost double.  However, I thought the meal was good, just not good enough to be worth it.

I advised them in advance about not eating pork or shellfish and they said it would not be a problem.  One of my dining companions informed them when we arrived he is allergic to oysters and they said they could accommodate that as well.  I found it disappointing and frankly lazy that every substitution was a vegetarian one.  The dishes I received for numerous courses were not as interesting as many of the meat/fish ones I missed.  In May I had dinner with a friend at Alinea in Chicago, and knowing of my dietary restrictions, they were able to offer comparable dishes for every course.  That set a high bar.  I did appreciate them being willing to adjust to my dietary restrictions, but with several weeks notice and a menu of dozens of dishes to avail themselves of in the Saam and Bazaar kitchens, offering a vegetarian substitution for every dietary course makes it easy on the kitchen but removes some of the illusion that the meal is especially for you.

They also brought me the Jamon and Caviar dish, not realizing that jamon was pork and brought one of my fellow diners a dish with an oyster broth, after he mentioned being very allergic to oysters.  Just not a smooth evening and when the dining room only accommodates 40 guests, the service did not live up to the level that it aspires to.

The meal was fun as were many of the dishes and the room's privacy and relatively low noise level make it an attractive option, but overall it disappointed.  If the other dishes had been as wonderful as the banh mi, I'd be rushing back.  Perhaps the best way to experience the Bazaar is to get a couple of the greatest hits as an appetizer with a cocktail before heading elsewhere for dinner.

Saam at the Bazaar: 465 S. La Cienega Blvd. (in the SLS Hotel).  Phone: (310) 246-5545.  Website:

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