It had all the forewarnings of a tragically hip new L.A. restaurant.
Its owner is Sam Nazarian, one of the biggest names in Hollywood nightlife and creator of paparazzi-stalked hotspots like
. Philippe Starck designed the space, located within the new SLS Hotel at Beverly Hills, with Spanish-born D.C. uber-chef Jose Andres at the helm of an elaborate new dining and restaurant experience called
Visitors arrive to a sleek all-white valet area and a sidewalk of stalking flashbulbs off bustling La Cienega Boulevard located a Bloomingdale's bag throw from L.A.'s Beverly Center. Not quite Beverly Hills, the street is known locally as Restaurant Row, featuring touristy outposts of The Stinking Rose and Lawry's Prime Rib. A quick-moving valet opens my door without a single hello and advises, "Parking is a flat $15."
Starck's Rio redux:
A small staircase and exceptionally decorated terrace of Colonial canopy chairs and potted topiaries leads to a sublime lobby entrance, where a booth of jovial hostesses inquires about name and reservation. While many of L.A.'s top restaurants are about the cute staff and catchy design, there is something uniquely sexy and fun about Bazaar. The space immediately reminds us of Starck's work at Faena Hotel Buenos Aires and, more recently, the Fasano Hotel Rio. Deconstructed social areas are arranged in bold groupings with warm homey tones interrupted by silver-plated Chippendale chairs and bold leather-tufted furnishings. As the hostess actually offers to seat our incomplete party, a rarity in L.A., we volunteer to hit the bar and scope out the scenery.
New dining concept:
Bazaar isn't just a restaurant, but a cluster of public spaces that includes Bar Centro, a hip and dark bar of mirrored, shoulder-height seating and tables neighboring the Patisserie with its long bar of glass-domed sweets and confection delicacies. The space marries Starck's love of minimalism with a textured decadence that's equal parts "Alice in Wonderland" and "Pan's Labyrinth." Large white sofas and club chairs are arranged in circles, conducive to conversation. There's an in-house accessories boutique called Moss.
Take your seat at Bazaar:
The main dining room of Bazaar is known as Rojo y' Blanca, two rooms lined in pewter-colored velvet drapes dividing them from the lobby. Wood paneled walls offset honed slate flooring with chunky shelving accented in votive candles, Hollywood portraits and old theater scripts. Dining tables are a mix-and-mash of marble and wood tables surrounded in slip-covered sofas and high-back chairs designed by Starck. It's the most dazzling restaurant space to hit L.A. in a generation, and we haven't even seen the menu.
Judging the staff:
A glossy accordion-style menu arrives from our waiter, a polite man who goes on to define tapas as "kinda like Chinese family-style dining." After taking our choice of water, he vanishes to leave us to a lengthy menu divided between traditional and more modern tapas. Around us is a mob of staff straight out of a Disney cartoon, juggling glasses, pouring water and inquiring whether we were done with our meal despite having just been seated. Upon our waiter's return we are treated to a recital of butchered culinary vocabulary.
The magic of Jose Andres:
Even bad service is forgivable in such a playful and grand setting. Around us, diners "ohh and ahh" at the space as a caviar cart passes, followed by a cotton candy trolley that serves the pink sticky treat with foie gras surprises. Like a culinary circus with a James Beard ringleader, Jose Andres brings tapas-style dining to the gourmet level. We decide to begin our meal with a selection of olive-oil toasted bread with candied jelly and manchego slice followed by jicama-wrapped guacamole on a bed of corn nuts. More decadent plates followed: seared tuna rolled in sesame, squid fried in a fluffy tempura batter and Espinacas a la Catalana, which is no more than a circle of spinach topped with apple, pine nuts and raisins.
Great food and good fortune:
Main courses are a medley of larger plate dishes like sautéed shrimp butterflied with garlic and guindilla pepper, fried pasta paella with monkfish and shrimp, and lamb loin served with apples, raisins and sherry. Entrees are followed up with a separate dessert menu of homemade flan, pane cotta or a selection of artisan cheeses and breads. We decided to skip over to the Patisserie and try some chocolates and caramels instead, before making our way to the on-site Tarot card reader who charmed us with a good reading to end a night that was anything but the usual L.A. bazaar.
Michael Martin is the managing editor of JetSetReport.com -- a luxury travel and lifestyle guide based in Los Angeles and London. His work has appeared in In Style, Blackbook, Elle, U.K.'s Red magazine, ITV and BBC.