The Bazaar at SLS Hotel (7-31-2010)

In honor of my good friend Catheter taking (and passing) the Bar exam, a few of us decided to have dinner at the Bazaar at the SLS Hotel.  Since it was our first time and we had a vegetarian in our party, we thought it best to try a la carte and opted out of the Saam Room option. 
I had come here for drinks before and was aware of the overwhelming bar scene but what I didn’t expect was the dinner area in the same kind of setting.  It was a little off-putting to me since I prefer to enjoy my dinner in a more quiet environment so there are minimal distractions from the food, the company and the intended ambiance, but I did not quite get this feeling from the dining area.  We were seated outside on the “patio” but it was overlooking the front of the hotel/valet area so we would ocassionally hear loud car noises over dinner. 
"Magic" Mojito - Served in a shaker and strained over cotton candy

"Magic" Mojito - Served in a shaker and strained over cotton candy

We started out with drinks while browsing the comprehensive menu.  I started with a “Magic” Mojito since I had heard such great things about it.  The “Magic” in the drink is just the “disappearance” of the cotton candy when the drink is poured over it. 

"Magic" Mojito - Served in a shaker and strained over cotton candy

 I’m usually just partial to cotton candy anything because it’s always so sweet and this drink was no exception.  Definitely sweet but surprisingly, I enjoyed this drink. I don’t know if the alcohol balanced out the sugars but it came out quite yummy and was very easy to drink.

Tableside “Nitro” Caipirinha Frozen liquid nitrogen cachaça and lime

Tableside “Nitro” Caipirinha Frozen liquid nitrogen cachaça and lime

Next, we thought we should try the signature tableside frozen Caipirinha, if for nothing else than to watch the cart demonstration.

Tableside “Nitro” Caipirinha Frozen liquid nitrogen cachaça and lime

We weren’t disappointed with this one.  We got a nice little show as the liquid nitrogen causes a foggy, “Halloween-y” effect and the drink was even better!  The liquid nitrogen had created a wonderfully smooth, not icy, frozen texture and we thought it comparable to the consistency of frozen yogurt.  The drink was definitely on the stronger side, but for $20, we were hoping we’d get what we paid for.  As with any frozen drink, we had to consume it quickly so it would not lose it’s original form, but that was no problem for us.

Papas Canarias - Salty Wrinkled Potatoes, Mojo Verde

This dish was a great start to our meal.  As we popped the potatoes into our mouths, we all exclaimed how salty the potatoes were and were then promptly reminded of what the dish was called.  Nevertheless, the accompanying mojo verde sauce was a delicious blend of green cilantro-y goodness and with every dip of green sauce, I forgot just how salty these potatoes were.

Jamón Serrano Fermin served with Jamones Y Embutidos - Dry Cured Ham served with Catalan style toasted bread, tomato

Jamón Serrano Fermin served with Jamones Y Embutidos - Dry Cured Ham served with Catalan style toasted bread, tomato

Jamón Serrano Fermin served with Jamones Y Embutidos - Dry Cured Ham served with Catalan style toasted bread, tomato

Next, we wanted to try one of the cured hams and since none of us really cared to dish out too much extra money to try the much pricier and elusive Jamon Iberico, we were happy with the Jamon Serrano.  The ham came with bread with tomatoes and all of us agreed that the bread was delicious all on its own.  It was not overly salted and tasted organically like tomatoes, in the most natural way. 

Selection of Five Cheeses

Since there were 4 of us and an option of 5 cheeses, we tried them all. 

Served with Picos, quince jam, almond

Manchego Pasamontes (Sheep) – Firm, piquant and buttery, DO Manchego
Valdeón (Cow and Goat) – Creamy, sharp blue, DO Valdeón
Murcia al vino (Goat) – Semi-soft, sweet and smooth, wine cured rind, DO Murcia
La Serena (Sheep) – Creamy, lightly bitter, DO Extremadura
Idiazábal (Sheep) – Firm, sharp and wood-smoked, DO Idiazábal

My favorite here was the quince jam with the soft cheese.  I very much enjoyed the quince flavor and was happy to find it again later in another dish (Foie Gras Buns).

Stuffed Piquillo Peppers - Goat Cheese

I thought this next dish was pretty good, but not extremely unique.  There was a very subtle balance of flavors with the slight bitterness of the peppers and the slight sourness of the cheese.  But again, I feel like I may have had this dish many times before – there just wasn’t anything very different about it.

Jicama Wrapped Guacamole - Micro Cilantro, Corn Chips

We felt similarly about the jicama wrapped guacamole.  When all was said and done, the whole package just tasted like chips and guacamole.  The presentation was nice and I have never come across guacamole I did not like, but there was not much more to this dish.

Tuna Ceviche and Avocado Roll - Jicama, Micro Cilantro, Coconut Dressing

Things started turning around for the better with this next dish.  The tuna ceviche had great flavors and I enjoyed the interplay with the crunchy textures in the jicama and the crumbs on top.   

Lamb Tenderloin - Jaques Maximin, Pisto, Black Trumpe

We all looked twice at this dish when it came out, as the lamb meat looked extremely rare.  However, we all decided that this did not bother us one bit and as we tasted the lamb, we were grateful we did.  The meat was tender and juicy and there was a light brown sauce that lended tons of flavor.  Underneath, the vegetable medley was a nice addition and the two were yummy on their own and even better together.

Rossejat - Paella-style pasta, Shrimp

Rossejat - Paella-style pasta, Shrimp

This next dish came out completely not as expected.  There was a subtle paella flavor in the noodles but I think I had something very different in mind.  The noodles were reminiscent of Chinese stir-fry noodles and I think that is probably the reason I didn’t love this dish as they seemed a bit greasy.  I also didn’t care for the white sauce that came with the noodles, which just reminded me a little too much of mayonnaise. 

Japanese Taco - Grilled Eel, Shiso, Cucumber, Wasabi, Chiccarron

This Japanese taco had great textures and the cucumber shell was a refreshing touch.  However, there was a very intense ginger flavor in here that was overwhelming and I don’t recall tasting the eel at all. 

"Philly Cheesesteak" - Air Bread, Cheddar, Wagyu Beef/"Hilly Cheesesteak" - Air Bread, Cheddar, Mushrooms

I had very high hopes for this next dish.   I had heard such great things and I was very excited to try it.  I’m not sure if there is a “right way” to eat this “sandwich” but I took a small bite into it as I knew there was a cheese filling and I didn’t want it to explode.  I looked up to talk to someone and when I looked down again a second later, all my filling had poured out onto my plate and my sandwich had effectively deflated.  See evidence below.

My Deflated Philly Cheesesteak

This sandwich on my plate was described as “the saddest thing I’ve ever seen.”  Regardless of the failed logistics of the dish, everything was so yummy that I enjoyed it anyway.  And it was actually a little fun attempting to consume this deconstructed mess.  I wish there had been a little more meat as the cheese was so cheesy and I felt I needed a little more to eat with it since the bread was so thin. 

"Not Your Everyday Caprese" - Cherry Tomatoes, Liquid Mozzarella

This dish looked delicious.  However, at this point, our vegetarian companion was just not getting as much food as we were so she happily consumed this dish and claimed, “It was so good that I didn’t have any leftover for you to try.”  We took her word for it.  🙂

Foie Gras Buns - Quince, Toasted Brioche Sandwiches

This was a tasty little sammie.  The brioche was the perfect companion to the light foie gras pâté and I was very excited by the quince and the wide variety of  things it seemed to go with in this meal.  This could have been very heavy but managed to stay light, as we were nearing the end of our meal and were approaching full.  I did wish it had been seared foie gras, rather than the pâté, but that’s likely because I enjoy seared foie gras over pâté in general. 

Ottoman Carrot Fritters - Apricots, Pistachio Sauce

Our last savory item of the night were these carrot fritters.  These weren’t my favorite item of the night but in the way of carrot fritters, these were quite tasty.  There seemed to be a heavy cardamom flavor which added a nice kick. 

The Patisserie Area

After dinner, we proceeded to the patisserie area and wondered if we could fit anything else in.  However, we all mutually decided that we always have room for dessert no matter how full we are so we decided to try the hot chocolate mousse. 

Hot chocolate mousse with Pear Sorbet and Salted Hazelnut Praline

This was nothing like the consistency of mousse at all, but more resembled pudding.  We switched out the pear sorbet for vanilla ice cream and were glad we did – you really can’t go wrong with a classic chocolate/vanilla pairing.  This was just absolutely delicious.  There were crunchy little chocolate balls that intensified the already dense chocolate flavor. 

Sweet Like Sweets

All in all, I very much enjoyed this meal.  Although it seems that a majority of the dishes I had a negative reaction to, there were so many items on the menu that I figure I couldn’t possibly enjoy all of them.  And the ones that were good, were just really good. 

I will definitely be back to try the Saam Room!

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LudoBites 5.0 (part 1) (7-26-10)

I had been dying to go to LudoBites after reading about the last several installments over the past year or two.  I hadn’t gone since LudoBites 2.0 which felt like ages ago and I hadn’t been fully appreciative of Ludo in all his glory back then.  So you can imagine that I was thrilled when I scored a reservation to the first week of LudoBites 5.0.  My birthday was right around this time so I thought it would be an excellent way to gather up some friends and have a little quarter century celebration dinner.  But then again, I guess I’m always looking for excuses to have a nice dinner.  🙂
The LudoBites 5.0 Menu

The Menu

A Look Around

Between the 6 of us, we were pretty sure we wanted the full menu, at least.  Our plan was to start with the full gamut and choose doubles of our favorites after.   Somehow, after receiving all of the items on the menu the first time, we were all insanely full (I attribute it to the beer and wine pairings – a little heavier on the beer) and we ended up going through the menu just once, surprisingly.

Cheese Cupcake, Chicken Liver & Ham Mousse, Kumquats, Cornichon

Being neither a huge fan of cupcakes nor chicken liver, I wasn’t so sure about this dish.  But I was pleasantly surprised with the lightness of the cheese that somehow balanced the flavor of the chicken liver really well.  My only complaint was that the cupcake seemed a bit dry.

Vadouvan Naan Bread, Salted Coconut Butter

This was just a tasty, tasty piece of carb.  I almost never, ever eat butter with bread – I find butter in its natural form really repulsive although I use it liberally when I cook.  But I tried it!  I was hoping for an overwhelming coconut flavor that would mask the buttery-ness but alas, no luck.  However, if I were a natural-form-butter-lover, this would top the charts, I’m sure.

Raw Wagyu Beef, Dried Miso, Somen Noodle, Peanut Vinaigrette, Candied Watermelon, Mint

This definitely made my top three of the night.  Top two.  Ok, it was probably my favorite dish of the night.  I felt like I could have eaten 3 or 5 or 10 of these.  It was surprisingly refreshing and the cold noodle with the watermelon and raw wagyu just made it a wonderful summer night dish.

Grilled Octopus, Oregano, Grilled Hazelnut Polenta, Pineapple Aioli, Piment D'Espelette Gelée

This dish was probably second on my list.  The octopus was grilled to perfection and had a great meaty texture.  And you really can’t go wrong with hazelnut anything, let alone hazelnut polenta.  And what can I say, I’m a sucker for tentacles on a plate.  I just get really excited.  I definitely claimed the end piece on this one.

Grilled Squid, Heirloom Tomato Salad, Black Rice, Yuzu Red Onions, Umami Broth & Seaweed Tartar

Again, more tentacles on a plate – I was in heaven.  And again, great texture on the squid.

Poached Egg, Potato Mousseline, Santa Barbara Prawn, Chorizo Condiment

I know I already claimed a number two, but this probably ties with the Octopus.  The potato and the egg created the most heavenly creamy texture, with the chorizo adding just the perfect amount of kick.  I am a new lover of poached eggs, or any kind of runny eggs, for that matter.  Previous to this year, they made me gag, but I was thrilled when that changed one day.  Somehow, I now appreciate the texture and taste of a runny egg and this one, with the potato mousseline, took it to a whole new level for me.

Goat Cheese Soup, Bacon, Lardo, Tofu, Green Apple Frisée Salad

Goat Cheese Soup, Bacon, Lardo, Tofu, Green Apple Frisée Salad

This was probably the one dish of the night that I just could not enjoy.  I decently enjoy goat cheese but this was a little overwhelming in creaminess.  However, my dining companions all loved this one (even he with serious lactose intolerance) so I’m convinced something just went wrong with my palate at the time.

Hot Foie Gras, Chinese Barbeque Sauce, Miso Eggplant Terrine

The foie gras here was delicious and I really enjoyed the cucumber couscous it came with.  Eggplant is one of my favorite vegetables so I found it thoroughly yummy, but I didn’t think it was absolutely necessary for this dish.

Confit Pork Belly, Raw Choucroute Thai Style, Guinness Emulsion

We were all excited for the pork belly and we were not disappointed.  The mustard ice cream accompaniment was shocking, in the best way possible.  There were such intense flavors in it and it was probably the most memorable piece of this dish.  The pork belly was definitely wonderful, with the perfect ratio of meat to fat.

Wild Striped Bass, Cauliflower, Black Garlic, Yellow Panna Cotta

Ok, so I’m going to be honest here.  For whatever reason, I remember this dish was good but for the life of me, I can’t remember anything beyond that.  I apologize.  I realize I’m probably going to be the worst blogger because of my awful memory and other things but if the dish is still here when I go again in a month, I’ll be sure to document it then.

Steamed Duck, Lemon Verbena, Crispy Skin Puree, White Peach, Radish, Balsamic

I was surprised to see a duck steamed, and I’m not sure I’ve ever had this preparation before but it came out really juicy and tender and the duck flavors really showed.  The crispy duck skin prepared separately made it all the more enjoyable.

Cheese Plate

Cheese Plate

Goat Gouda with Pear Kimchi Chutney, Epoisse (Cow) with Whole Grain Mustard and Honey Comb, and Bleu des Causses (Cow) with Apricots – Lavender.  I’m not a fan of bleu cheese so I really can’t speak to that but I loved the soft cheese.  All of the pairings really went well with their respective cheese, with the Pear Kimchi Chutney being a personal favorite.  I would have enjoyed that one with any of the cheeses, really.

Campfire Smoked S'mores, Guacamole Sorbet

Campfire Smoked S'mores, Guacamole Sorbet

This was a delightful dessert, mostly because I enjoyed the guacamole sorbet with the melted marshmallow.  For some reason, this odd combination worked really well for me although I may have to rethink a DIY version at home.

Caramel Soufflé, Blanco Grapefruit, Fleur De Sel Ice Cream

Caramel Soufflé, Blanco Grapefruit, Fleur De Sel Ice Cream

This caramel souffle was one of the best souffles I’ve had.  I had heard great things about the chocolate souffle at 4.0 and I was really excited to see souffle on the menu again.  I was a little wary because I don’t usually enjoy heavy caramel flavors but this was not too sweet and the warm caramel and the ice cream really hit the spot.

Robert, Me and Mirabel with Chef Ludo

Chef Ludo was quite gracious with the picture taking and offered to take several pictures post-meal.  He suggested a shot behind the kitchen, which excited me since – well, being in any type of professional kitchen really excites me and being in the kitchen with Ludo made it 10x more exciting.

Me with Krissy and Ludo

Thank you, Chef Ludo, for a wonderful birthday meal!  This was truly one of the best meals I’ve had in a while and I can’t wait to come back closing week!

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