Sunday, April 12, 2009
Until this year, the Los Angeles Times hadn't awarded any local restaurant its highest rating since 2005. It took a Washington chef, José Andrés, of Jaleo and Minibar acclaim, to change that. On a recent dining tour of the City of Angels, I checked out Andrés's four-star extravaganza, returned to a favorite sushi den and was reminded that not all tortillas are created equal. The scoop:
BAZAAR BY JOSÉ ANDRÉS (465 S. La Cienega Blvd., 310-246-5555, http://www.thebazaar.com): There's lemon "air" decorating the Brussels sprouts salad and a spin on a Philly cheesesteak that finds shaved Wagyu beef and cheddar cheese foam on a crisp piece of pita so delicate it practically floats. Such fanciful combinations are par for the course for José Andrés, the kitchen magician responsible for these and other contemporary and classic Spanish tapas at what immediately became the hottest reservation in the city when it launched late last year. Andrés's bag of delicious tricks includes guacamole tucked inside tiny purses of sheer jicama, and popcorn clusters filled with liquid nitrogen. (Spoiler alert: Smoke streams through your nostrils after you bite into the snack.) Meanwhile, small plates of silky Iberico ham and romesco-draped scallops transport diners to the Spain of old. As its name suggests, Bazaar embraces two dining areas (aim for the lively Rojo with its view of the kitchen), a wacky gift shop that pretends there's no recession, a lounge and a patisserie whose confections suggest a merger between Willy Wonka and a Parisian sweets shop. You won't be bored by any of it. Tapas $5-$36.
NISHIMURA (8684 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood, 310-659-4770): Hidden behind an unmarked wall and preceded by a serene little garden, the intimate Nishimura feels like a secret. Raw-fish fanciers know the minimalist restaurant, watched over by veteran chef Hiro Nishimura, as a blissful antidote to all the high-energy sushi bars around town. Tap the server for what's best and she might return with sweet kumamoto oysters, octopus spritzed with lemon juice, fluke tricked out with ginger, cilantro and velvety mushrooms, and possibly live shrimp. One pays dearly for the privilege of eating exquisite seafood here in the shadow of the Pacific Design Center (five kinds of sashimi selected by the chef will set a diner back $80), but even the non-edible details are rich: The slender sake cup fits the hand like a glove and the bowls and plates come from the studio of respected potter Mineo Mizuno. Small plates $25-$38.
RIVERA (1050 S. Flower St., Los Angeles, 213-749-1460, http://www.riverarestaurant.com): Here's your chance to sip a knockout margarita in a chunky bronze-and-leather tequila-tasting chair and acquaint yourself with one of the city's most exciting talents, chef John Rivera Sedlar, 54. Foodies of a certain vintage will recognize the name; Sedlar put himself on the map over the years with such L.A. places as the late, great Saint Estephe and Abiquiu. Now he's seducing diners anew with Latin food -- plump quail with sweet black beans, pillowy tamales with fleshy mushrooms, a fan of mussels jazzed up with chorizo strips -- that's as vibrant and refined as any I've tasted. Tortillas are made with house-ground corn and flowers or herbs that have been pressed into their centers. They arrive warm in the folds of a napkin and look like prehistoric fossils, except for the rich guacamole on the side. The chef inserts sly social messages into his food: A chili relleno, for instance, comes with the word "Caution" stenciled in paprika on the plate, a reference to the highway signs alerting drivers to (human) border traffic. The knockout dessert is a riff on the classic baba au rhum: a delicate and boozy yeast cake enriched with whipped cream and lightened with citrus segments. Rivera looks almost as intoxicating as it tastes. Behind the long banquette is an epic six-screen electronic mural that throughout the night fades from lizards to ruins to close-ups of chilies. Entrees $21-$29.