smoke.oil.salt (Los Angeles, CA)

smoke.oil.salt
7274 Melrose Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90046
Dining date: 4/27/14

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Spanish cuisine has gotten a lot of attention on the global scene in recent years; as diverse as Los Angeles is, we haven’t seen a lot of new Spanish eateries open up. Except for, of course, the megahit Bazaar; opened almost six years ago, it’s still one of the go-to spots for tapas in the city. smoke.oil.salt aims be another premiere Spanish option in LA.

Opened by Adam Fleischman/AdVantage Partners in the old Angeli Caffe location, the food is tapas-style focused on a lot of traditional flavors. Perfecto Rocher is the chef here, who most recently brought his Spanish influences (and resume including stops at El Bulli and Martin Berasategui) to Lazy Ox Canteen. I visited Lazy Ox a couple of years ago when Rocher was cooking and enjoyed it, so was excited to check out his next stop.

interior

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Jaleo (Las Vegas, NV)

Jaleo
The Cosmopolitan
3708 Las Vegas Blvd S
Las Vegas, NV 89109
Dining date: 5/9/13

jaleo1

Jose Andres is probably known best for his whimsical, molecular gastronomy creations at The Bazaar (including Saam Room) and Minibar, but he does cook a lot of more traditional fare as well – Jaleo is his version of the Spanish tapas restaurant of his homeland.

There are four Jaleo restaurants across the country, though this Las Vegas branch is the only one not in the Washington D.C. area. Located in The Cosmopolitan Hotel, it sits on the same floor as Scarpetta, STK, Estiatorio Milos, Blue Ribbon Sushi, Comme Ca, and the “secret” pizza place.

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jaleo2

The menu is vast, covering over 75 items across meat and cheese plates, land, sea, fried items and paella. Paella are made in a separate paella pit within the main dining room, allowing all diners to watch an impressive display while the paellas cook. Apparently the ventilation system alone cost $1 million, preventing all of the smoke from suffocating diners. Clearly, paella is serious business.

paella area

cooking paella

I’ve dined at restauarant-within-the-restaurant é by Jose Andres and left impressed. This would be my first visit to Jaleo proper.

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Lazy Ox Canteen (Los Angeles, CA)

Lazy Ox Canteen
241 S San Pedro St
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Dining date: 4/1/12

lazy ox exterior

I’ve been to Lazy Ox Canteen a number of times and have always had a fairly positive experience (except for the time they ran out of fried chicken at 6:30). However, for me it’s been stuck in the “pretty good, not great” category and it’s been a while since I’ve returned even though I live a block away. The restaurant has undergone some dramatic changes in recent months, leading me to this latest visit.

lazy ox interior

Opening chef Josef Centeno has now moved on to focus more on his own concept a few blocks away, Baco Mercat. In his place is Perfecto Rocher, a Spanish-born chef who has spent time in a number of renowned kitchens around the world (Gary Danko, Picasso, Manresa, Martin Berasategui, El Bulli). He’s been remodeling the menu and, given his background, I’m expecting it to be drastically different from what Lazy Ox patrons have been accustomed to. As of tonight, just under half of the dishes were Rocher’s creations (and growing), with the rest being legacy Centeno plates. From Rocher’s resume, what really intrigued me was that he’s a third-generation paella maker – I love the dish and always look forward to having it.

Tuesday (3/27) was National Paella Day (yes, this is the first time I’ve heard of it too), and the the restaurant celebrated by preparing a full week’s worth of paella, presenting a different paella each day. Tonight was the final day; Rocher served up a country style paella with rabbit, escargot, chicken, artichoke and lima beans. Of course we’d order that, but we started with a few small plates.

grilled octopus tomato confit, fennel, olives, white balsamic vinaigrette

octopus

The grilled octopus, with a smoky charred flavor, was slightly chewy with a cool, crunchy asparagus and fennel salad and light acidity from the vinaigrette. A slice of tomato added some juicy sweetness as well.

roasted japanese eggplant bonito flakes, yuzu kosho creme fraiche

eggplant

I really liked these. The eggplant was roasted down to a creamy consistency, while the bonito provided a lot of the depth of flavor. There was a tart yuzu flavor that was almost too acidic, but I thought these were still delicious bites.

huevo ‘arzak’ french fry purée, chorizo oil

arzak egg

arzak egg poked

Given Rocher’s experience, I was very intrigued by this dish inspired by Juan Mari Arzak and his eponymous 3-star restaurant in San Sebastian, Spain. One of Arzak’s signatures is a poached egg resembling a pouch or a flower. This one didn’t have as much of a ‘pouchy’ resemblance as other examples I’ve seen, but it did the trick. A starchy yet creamy potato purée tasted just like French fries (without the texture) and acted as the base for the oozing egg and chorizo oil.  Simple but rich and satisfying.

crispy rabbit livers hearts of palm, anchovy vinaigrette

rabbit liver

The breading was pretty crispy, but I found the liver to be overly dry. The salad of hearts of palm and celery did a nice job of countering the richness of the organ.

country style paella rabbit, escargot, chicken, artichoke, lima beans

paella pan

paella scooping

paella plated

Finally we had the paella. We were told the paella filling was kept pretty shallow in order to maximize the amount of crispy rice on the bottom. Indeed, the charred bits added texture and flavor to the al dente rice which I really enjoyed. I found the chicken legs to be dry though, but the rabbit and escargot were more moist in what amounted to a pretty meaty dish. Shiitake mushrooms, artichokes and lima beans rounded out the fillings. The saffron flavor here was more subtle than other paellas I’ve had, but I didn’t really mind.

rice pudding caramel, pine nut crumb

rice pudding

This might be one of my favorite desserts in the city, and I’m glad it’s still on the menu (for now?). The rice pudding itself was pretty good, with a subtle vanilla flavor and just a little bit of texture in the rice. With the added richness from the whipped cream and sweet depth of flavor from the caramel, I savored each bite.

Lazy Ox Canteen appears headed in a very different direction under Rocher with a lot of interesting Mediterranean (particularly Spanish) based dishes. Overall though I like it – the downtown area doesn’t have anything with such a strong base of Spanish influences, one of the most exciting food regions in the world right now. I found the flavors to be clean and bright and execution to be mostly strong, so I’m curious to see what the restaurant will be like once the transformation is complete.

The Bazaar (Los Angeles, CA)

The Bazaar
SLS Hotel at Beverly Hills
465 S La Cienega Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90048
Dining date: 10/7/11

exterior

Since opening in late 2008, The Bazaar has probably garnered more accolades than any other restaurant in the city. It’s still a very popular restaurant that continues to garner national attention, propelled by the rise in both Spanish cuisine and chef Jose Andres’ popularity. From previous visits, my overall impression is that the entertainment factor of the food is unmatched in LA, but taste-wise it can be hit-or-miss. Sometimes I’ve felt that dishes are more of a ‘show,’ and that the flavors get lost (particularly dishes served in the Saam Room).

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I can’t remember how many times I’ve been to The Bazaar, but it’s been a while. DineLA was the impetus behind a return, and I think the DineLA deal was a pretty good one. An extensive list of options from the regular menu were available, and each diner picked one small plate, three medium plates, and one dessert.

menu

“Philly Cheesesteak” Air bread, cheddar, Wagyu beef

philly cheesesteak

There are a number of well-known, “signature” items at The Bazaar (liquid olives, cotton candy foie gras and dragon’s breath come to mind), but this might be my favorite. I’ve gotten this each time I’ve been, and it has never disappointed. The air bread was a hollowed out, crisp “loaf” filled with a light and creamy cheddar cheese. Delicious seared wagyu beef topped  it off. All of the flavors of a typical Philly cheesesteak were present, but it’s done in such a playful manner here.

Japanese Taco Grilled eel, shiso, cucumber, wasabi, chicharron

japanese taco

A unique creation to the restaurant, the eel was rich and tasty, complemented by textures from the cucumber and chicharron. The shiso added a little bit of an almost minty flavor, rounding out the bites.

Mussels Olive oil, vinegar, pimentón

mussels

Served cold in a tin can, the mussels were doused with olive oil and vinegar. I liked the smoky, peppery pimenton with the mussels, but thought the vinegar’s acidity was overwhelming.

Embutidos platter Chorizo, lomo, salchichon

embutidos

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Embutidos, or Spanish sausages, were served with toasted bread, which was topped with a tomato spread. Nothing particularly special, but it was tasty.

Wild mushroom rice Idiazabal cheese

mushroom rice

Surprisingly good, I found the rice to be perfectly cooked, and the dish exhibited a bold, upfront mushroom flavor. Very rich and creamy (basically a risotto), and done well.

Butifarra Senator Moynihan Catalan pork sausage, white beans, mushrooms

sausage

The juicy and flavorful sausage was at the center of this dish and it didn’t disappoint. The beans added some extra body – not the most interesting thing on the menu, but the flavors were there.

Boneless chicken wings Green olive purée

boneless chicken wings

A favorite from past visits, I thought the meat was slightly mealy this time. However I liked the breading, light and very crispy, making for a couple of perfect crunchy bites. I didn’t think the green olive puree added too much, but I still enjoyed this.

Sea scallops Romesco sauce

scallops

Loved that the scallops were huge; temperature-wise I thought they were cooked well but there could’ve been a better sear. Tasty scallops for sure, but the Spanish flavors of the romesco was what stepped up the flavor a few notches.

Beef hanger steak Piquillo pepper confit

steak

Like the scallops, this dish was another well-cooked protein heightened with some Spanish accents. The piquillos added a welcome sweetness and depth to the beefy flavors of the steak.

Greek Yogurt Panna Cotta Apricots and muscat gelatin

panna cotta

Traditional Spanish Flan Vanilla and fruit

flan

Expectantly, the flan was done well. Subtle caramel and vanilla flavors came through in the silky smooth custard with a little bit of a citrus complement from the orange.

I thought this was a good meal and one of the more satisfying meals I’ve had here (maybe due to expectation-management). Not sure if it was just coincidence, but we stuck to dishes that were simpler Spanish flavors and less towards the molecular gastronomy flair. What resulted were more focused flavors and strong execution.

The private Saam Room focuses in on more of the molecular gastronomy in its 20-course tasting. My opinion is to save the dough and bring it to Jose Andres’ Vegas outpost (é by Jose Andres), which is superior in just about every way.

é by Jose Andres (Las Vegas, NV)

é by Jose Andres
The Cosmopolitan Las Vegas
3708 Las Vegas Boulevard South
Las Vegas, NV 89109
Dining date: 3/26/11

exterior

é is Jose Andres’ single-table, eight-person restaurant within a restaurant (Jaleo), serving a 19-course menu similar in format to that of the Saam Room at the Bazaar and Minibar. The menu is strictly product-driven and showcases Andres’ flair for molecular gastronomy.

It’s been on my (and my parents’) radar since word first broke in December – my father’s been wanting to try the Saam Room for a while and hasn’t had the chance; knowing that we’d be in LV, this was a perfect opportunity to try some of Andres’ cuisine.

I’ve never been congratulated by a restaurant for managing to get a reservation. So when the first words I got from é confirming my reservation were “Congratulations, you’ve made it!” I found it a little weird. The email even referred to the meal as a “show,” something I’d typically find off-putting. However, knowing Andres’ flair for the dramatic, I was definitely intrigued. Tickets (literally) to the show are $250 inclusive of alcohol, tax and gratuity.

ticket

The eight seats at the counter circle where the food is prepared, granting the opportunity to see how everything comes together, as well as inviting dialogue about each plate.

Frozen Sangria with Grilled Strawberries

frozen sangria

We started off with this “cocktail” of sorts – sangria frozen with liquid nitrogen. Cool, fruity, refreshing…it was a nice way to start off. The grill really brought out the sweetness of the strawberries, which I thought were very good.

Spanish “Clavel”

spanish clavel

An unusual presentation here – this was a mold of Jose Andres’ hand. Since he wasn’t able to serve us in person, he thought this was the next best thing. A clavel means a carnation (the flower), so it made sense when I saw the flower-looking creation in the hand. A little bit sweet, a little bit floral, and very crispy.

Beet Jewelry

beet jewelry

Designed to look like rings, the natural crimson color of the beet was perfect topped with some gold dust. It was a really crispy, subtly sweet and a little salty. Kind of like a rolled up potato chip, but beets.

Caramelized Pork Rinds

caramelized pork rinds

I thought these were really well-executed, having a texture kind of like puffed rice. Perfectly crispy with a hint of sweetness.

Membrillo and La Serena Cone

membrillo and la serena

Membrillo is a quince paste, here topped with a sheep’s milk cheese in this cone. The cheese was slightly bitter and contrasted well with the sweetness of the quince.

Apple “Brazo de Gitano”

apple brazo de gitano

Brazo de Gitano is a Spanish dessert consisting of rolled layers of sponge cake and cream. Andres’ interpretation was a really light, dried meringue rolled around a bleu cheese cream. It reminded me of a French macaron – the meringue had the chewy, yielding texture of a macaron shell. A little bit of sweetness from the apple went well with the cheese.

Jose’s Combination: Jose’s Taco and Artichoke with Caviar

jose taco

artichoke caviar

This is actually my third time having Jose’s rendition of the taco (American Wine & Food Festival and Saam Room were the others). It’s so simple – just jamon iberico and caviar. The salty sea flavor of the caviar works so well with the rich ham. The artichoke-caviar combo was a new one for me. I didn’t enjoy it as much as the ham, but it was still good.

Bocata de “Calamares”

bocata de calamares

This next dish was inspired by one of Andres’ childhood favorites – a fried squid sandwich. No squid here; instead fried uni (what!) was combined with cucumber, aioli and scallions. I thought this was delicious. The uni was the focal flavor, with a nice crunch from fresh cucumber.

Ajo Blanco

ajo blanco1

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Ajoblanco is a cold Spanish soup with bread and almonds as key ingredients. Here, a deconstructed version – we were advised to try each component separately then mix and taste. This was my first time having this type of soup, and I found it to be refreshing, with an almond milk type of consistency.

Santa Barbara Spot Prawns with Roses

prawn with roses

The spot prawns were perfectly cooked – sweet, juicy…so good. The rose foam was very subtle and wasn’t quite strong enough to add much in flavor.

Smoky Oysters in Escabeche

smoky oysers

The oysters were encapsulated in a spherification of their own juice and were accompanied with onions and a sweet foam. The dish wasn’t quite as smoky as I thought it would be, but the oysters were a nice burst of flavor, while the onions complemented them well.

Catch of the Day (Turbot)

turbot

Turbot here was topped with citrus juice pearls (kind of like tapioca balls) and accompanied by fermented black garlic. I’ve never had this garlic before – it tasted like raw garlic, though much more subtle. The fish was nicely cooked, and the citrus was key in adding some acidity.

Whole Lobe of Foie Gras Baked in Salt

foie gras salt

foie gras

Impressive presentation! I often see whole fish cooked in this way, but not foie gras. A whole lobe was cooked encrusted in salt, then topped with sea salt and some type of melon and juice. The foie gras was fantastic – melt-in-mouth tender, rich and buttery. I liked the sweetness of the fruits as well to pair.

Secreto of Iberico Pork

secreto

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One of the best pieces of pork I have ever had. The pork here was so well-marbled, it really resembled a sort of toro or wagyu beef. Add to it some black truffles, and this was quite a delicious dish.

Orange Pith Puree La Serena

orange pith puree

This dish had the return of the La Serena cheese, served over orange puree. The creamy, salty cheese worked well with the fresh, vibrant orange flavor.

Frozen Apricot Coulant

apricot coulant

apricot coulant2

This was an interesting one – I liked the apricot, along with caramel flavors. Upon breaking the shell, an apricot liquid poured out, mixing with the tangy yogurt.

Apples & Red Wine “Fredy Giradet”

apples red wine

Here we had vanilla ice cream in tandem with apples and red wine spherifications. I thought the flavors really meshed here – the creamy and sweet vanilla ice cream was balanced well with apples and red wine flavors.

25 Second Bizcocho

bizcocho

This would be the last dish, looking like a miniature version of the Matterhorn. Light and airy, kind of like a sweet sponge cake.

Chocolates

chocolates

We finished with a duo of chocolates: a saffron milk chocolate and an aerated dark chocolate. Both were good, but I especially liked the complexity of the saffron chocolate.

Lobster Paella

paella1

paella2

Seeing the impressive wood-burning paella pit in the restaurant, we had to try it. Graciously, the restaurant obliged and included a taste of this dish at the end. The rice was cooked very well – al dente with a rich saffron-infused flavor. Generous chunks of lobster were spread throughout, but I found them to be borderline overcooked. Still, a very solid rendition of the dish.

Spanish wines were poured throughout the meal and included 1+1=3 Cava Brut NV, Gutierrez Colosia “Sangre y Trabajadero” Oloroso El Puerto de Santa Maria, Estrella Damm Inedit (Ferran Adria’s beer), Lopez de Heredia “Viña Gravonia” Crianza Blanco Rioja, Guimaro and one other.

In all, I thought this was an excellent meal. I preferred this meal over my two visits to the Saam Room; in terms of the food, the playfulness and excitement was still there, but I thought the food tasted much better at é.

The setting was much more intimate and personal. Being able to see how each dish was put together and to get the story behind each dish was integral to the ‘show.’ Service was top-notch and very accommodating – truly, the goal was to make this as complete and enjoyable of an experience as possible.