A short time ago, I discussed the importance of remembering the old timers, the stalwarts of the food world who have been executing their traditional specialties for decades. Well today, I’m serving up the antithesis, the cutting edge, the new. I had the incredible fortune to make a new friend, in the accomplished and well-traveled food fanatic, Mr. Todd Sturtz. He happened to be visiting South Florida for a few days and needed some company for his supper time jaunt. To my delight, he had chosen The Bazaar by José Andrés, a place that has been on mine and Logan’s list for years.
For those of you who don’t know him, José Andrés is one of the most well-known practitioners of molecular gastronomy. Todd gave the waiter and I a quick schooling on the subject, the trend was started by Ferran Adria, and made famous here in the states by Wylie Dufresne. I’ve eaten at Wylie’s, now famous, WD-50, and while The Bazaar shares some techniques, I found the meals to be on two different ends of the spectrum that is molecular gastronomy.
Neither of us were planning on drinking, a useful trick for anyone who wants to try as many edible items as possible without throwing money at alcohol. However, when we spotted the $7 liquid nitrogen caipirinha, (yes it was really $7, we asked) we couldn’t resist. It may be a cliché, but I’m a fan of tableside service. Our man arrived with a bowl, a bottle of caipirinha solution, pre-mixed and a bottle of liquid N². If you’ve ever seen Terminator 2, you know what liquid nitrogen can do. In this case, it freezes the sugar, lime juice and cachaça into a sorbet. The best part is, when it starts melting it doesn’t water down your drink. The result is an extra stiff cocktail that delivers that refreshing caipirinha flavor, with a slight liquid nitrogen burn to the tongue.
Both Todd and I had a pretty good idea of what we wanted to have before we arrived. The menu is split into two, one side focusing on new school molecular gastronomy, the other offering up traditional Spanish dishes. As we read our choices aloud, we both let out “oh definitely”, or “yup, uh huh”. The first of nine courses in our seafood-centric feast arrived, the Japanese tacos. Three dainty cucumber skins filled with grilled eel, shiso, wasabi and crispy pork chicharrones lay in a section of corrugated aluminum. The grilled eel was the star, savory and tender with a slight ocean twinge.
Following close behind was the liquid mango nigiri. Normally, seeing fruit and sushi pairings on a menu will scare me off right away, but this is José, I knew I could trust him. A translucent block was set before us with three sheets of nori, topped with a tongue of uni a little bubble of liquid mango, shiso and pickled sansho peppers. The briny uni was perfectly paired against the slightly acidic sweetness of the mango liquid. The untreated nori kept the flavors distinctly Japanese, and gave the uni some context, delicious.
We swerved off Ocean Ave. for a moment with the wild mushroom soup with Idiazábal cheese and egg yolk. We both agreed, if you wanted to make the perfect rendition of the traditional mushroom soup, this was it. The soup was gently poured over the cheese, egg yolk and wild mushrooms, and we were instructed to mix the ingredients. It was nice to see a dish with seemingly no fancy science behind it. This was mushroom soup, expertly crafted, and it held its own against its more techno savvy menu mates.
The next dish was reminiscent of one Logan and I shared at Joël Robuchon a few years back. Playfully named “Not Your Everyday Caprese”. It appeared to be a simple arrangement of cherry tomatoes and mozzarella on a bed of walnut pesto. We were advised to handle the mozz gently as it was actually liquid in a very thin membrane. The ideal bite included a cherry tomato, liquid mozz ball and a slathering of pesto. As it entered my mouth, the mozzarella immediately burst and coated the other components in a rich and creamy coating. This was quickly cut by a tomato flavor, so intense, it made my eyes widen.
Like Madison in Splash, we returned to the sea with the arrival of the sea urchin cream. It was described to us as more of a yogurt, paired simply with a light ponzu and seaweed foam. This dish was Japan in a cup, wonderfully sweet uni swathed in almost literal sea foam. I imagine José dreamt this one up after a day spent downing uni on the shores of Hokkaido.
The second in a flurry of dishes landed, the bao con lechón, Chinese buns with pork belly. These were unreal, fatty pork belly with a slice of what may have been daikon. They were simple and packed with flavor.
Our last seafood dish was smoked oysters with an apple mignonette. A smoke-filled dome was lifted to reveal five perfect little oysters. The mignonette came in the form of a foam dabbed on each bivalve. The first flavor was one of intense applewood smoke, I had flashbacks of sitting by a campfire. The sour foam seemed to expand in my mouth as the sweet oyster coated the tongue.
Next up was one of my most anticipated plates of the night, the foie gras PB&J sandwiches. They arrived with a warning that they tended to explode, not unlike Kramer’s Dominican crêpes. Sure enough, the first bite caused the bread to rupture in a fountain of foie. No issue there. It was a delightfully informal dish, the perfect thing for a big kid with grown up taste. A lot of restaurants would skimp on the foie to PB&J ratio in an item like this, not here, I was completely satisfied as foie was easily the dominant flavor.
To finish off the night, bone marrow with Caribbean white truffles, Florida citrus and fried capers. If I’m honest, this was the disappointment of the night. Of course that’s all relative, at another restaurant this may have been the best thing. Here though, after that parade of wonderful flavors, this fell flat. First, the bone marrow was lost among the other more pungent ingredients like the citrus and caper (which for me was the star here). Second, the server shaved an insane amount of hearts of palm over the dish. It added a crunchy texture but not much else. Bone marrow is a very delicate protein and needs to be treated simply for it to stand out.
Even though we ended on a slightly bitter note, it didn’t diminish the amazing meal we’d enjoyed. The most profound thing I took from the dinner was how markedly different José’s take on molecular gastronomy is from Wylie’s. While WD-50 strives to disconnect your eyes from your tongue by using clever disguises and pairing seemingly incompatible ingredients to create completely new and delicious flavors, The Bazaar uses new techniques to re-imagine classic dishes in totally new ways. I have to say, I’m a big fan of both.