My wife Nadia’s 30th birthday is today and we were lucky enough to celebrate with our many of our friends over the weekend. Our group of five—myself, Nadia, middle school friend Neil, his wife Gina, and high school friend Matt (known nerdily to ourselves as the Pentapod)—have made it tradition to celebrate our milestone birthdays together. I’ve blogged about those epic trips before, like when we ate through San Francisco, Coachella, Solvang and Las Vegas (twice).
This weekend the Pentapod was in L.A. and Orange County so we found places near home to enjoy together. Neil and Gina are fans of molecular gastronomist and chef José Andrés, having been to two of his restaurants—é in Las Vegas and SAAM at the Bazaar. They wanted to share the experience with us and I’m glad they did because the 3 1/2-hour meal we had at SAAM turned out to be one of the best dining experiences of my life.
Bazaar is the main restaurant at the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills, and it’s separated into two parts: a dimly-lit main dining room to the left when you enter, or the sparkling faux-marketplace “bazaar” to the right that has dessert-only tables placed throughout.
SAAM is tucked into a small dining room behind a heavy wooden door in the back of the restaurant, hidden in a back alleyway of the restaurant where servers shuffle speedily between sections. This is our before picture … before we were blown away by an onslaught of 22 unique dishes. (Note: I scrapped the “after picture” because our faces had melted off).
Here we go:
The wine pairing started off with a not-wine. This coconut cocktail “soup” was a strong kick to start the meal and the coconut meat, soaked with the alcohol, was a delectable bonus.
I won’t go into detail about every wine, but the full list of pairings is at the bottom of this post. Aside from one glass toward the end of the meal, each wine served was the perfect compliment to each dish, often tasting as though it completed the full flavor profile meant for each plate. Someone give an award to sommelier Ronaldo Duharte because he knows what he’s doing here.
Crispy parmesan breadsticks in the shape of tree branches. Garnished with flowers and basil leaves, and served as a trio with the following “Parmesan Pie” and “Nasturium” dishes.
A crispy cheese cracker topped with parmesan creme. A perfect play with the previous dish.
Edible flower with sturgeon puree in the middle of each.
A pungent seaweed cracker studded with black truffle puree. Salt, earth, umami.
Spherified mango hidden under a silky-smooth slice of sea urchin. Down the hatch in one bite, the smoothness of the uni coats the tongue and once you pop the mango, an explosion of acid and sweetness round out the flavors of the dish.
One of my personal favorites: thin slices of porcini mushroom coated in oil and topped with crushed hazelnuts and microchives. Matt didn’t like this one, so I ate his portion too.
Light & Shadow
Clam with black truffle in one shell and a slightly salty foam in the other. First you eat what’s in the dark shells followed by the light ones.
Another favorite of the night, these weird spheres of carrot puree with condensed milk and perfectly-tender scallops came off like Thai food for spacemen.
Maybe these are all favorites? This one’s another killer. The egg yolk in the middle is spherified and surrounded by bacon cream (not egg white). Break the yolk with the provided toast, mix in the bacon cream and use it all to coat the roasted mushrooms and dehydrated red peppers that create the perimeter of the dish. Writing about it has me craving it all over again.
Brussels Sprout with Lemon Air
Nadia’s off the pork. so when we at the 5-Star Breakfast, she received this plate of Brussels sprouts. The fresh flavor of the sprouts and the zippy lemon air worked perfectly together and was a solid substitute for the bacon dish.
Who knows what was in these perfect little pasta pillows, except that it was creamy and smothered in rich brown butter. Another winner.
Palette cleanser of gin, vermouth, campari, and who knows what else. Shaped like a Lego, cause why not?
Impossibly tender sous vide tilefish in a puree of artichoke, topped with crispy artichoke and served with a briny crumble of squid ink and asparagus jelly. A fish dish to remember.
We all felt bad eating this coffee-rubbed veal, but our guilt was eventually assuaged with each bite of the milky meat and piquillo-pepper “caviar.”
Alright, we still felt a little guilty, but on to the next one …
Philly Cheese Steak
José Andrés’ signature cheese steak is a puffed up air bread filled with gooey orange cheese and topped with slices of Wagyu beef.
Everything I wanted it to be, and more. I could have eaten an entire plate of these for dessert they were so good.
Mixed with cotton candy and hazelnut “fideo,” this creamy sheep’s milk cheese took on a sweeter flavor and started off the dessert courses right.
A bite of popcorn, frozen in nitrogen that lets the eater blow smoke out of their nose like a dragon …
… Nadia said, “Don’t make me mad, okay!”
Nadia’s “Birthday Cake”
They followed up that show with another: Nadia’s “Birthday Cake.” A single raspberry with a lit candle, encased in spun sugar. Totally rad.
Almond cookie, coconut ice cream, pistachio and compressed pear hidden below everything else. Fruity and intense, delectable to the last bite.
Blonde on Blonde
My favorite of the desserts, flavored with lots of creamy caramel.
Hazelnut Chocolate Truffle
One perfect little bite of chocolate toward the end of the meal.
Bergamot & Domori, Peanut Macaron, Exotic Caramel
The final plate of the tasting was a trio of deserts: Bergamot & Domori (chocolate flavored with orange), peanut macaron (perfect chewiness), and exotic caramel (a citrusy-sweet caramel rolled into an edible wrapper).
We left SAAM and went back to Bazaar to enjoy some after-dinner Sangria (go with the white) and decompress after such an intense experience. So many dishes, all executed perfectly with precision and panache.
Crazy, but classic. My kind of place.