The Bazaar by José Andrés

Embutidos Platter: Pan Con Tomate, Iberico Ham, Iberico Loin, Chorizo
I've seen José Andrés on tv, in magazines, and all over the internet. His food not only looks delicious, but a sincere attempt to capture the essence of Spanish cuisine. So when I spent a mini-vacation in Miami, I absolutely had to eat at the Bazaar.

The Bazaar is in the SLS Hotel in Miami Beach. The decor is bright and airy and while the noise level got pretty high in the open dining room, my husband and I were able to maintain a conversation without feeling like we were shouting.

The menu is pretty extensive. There are traditional tapas, inspirations from Asia and the rest of the world, vegetable dishes, ceviche and more. There were so many things we wanted to try that I asked the waitress if they had a tasting menu. Turns out, they have two. The first was a 13 course selection, the second, "José's Ultimate" had a whopping 20 courses. You only live once, so I ordered a cocktail, my husband ordered a glass of wine, and we prepared ourselves for the 20 course feast.

First out was 'Bagels and Lox,' salmon roe and dill cream cheese served in little cornets. They reminded me very much of photos I'd seen of a similar cornet made by Thomas Keller at The French Laundry. Since I haven't tried Keller's, I can't compare the two. What I can say was this was a perfect bite. Crunch from the cornet, salty bursts from the salmon roe, and fresh and creamy dill inside hit all the right marks.

Next up was José's Taco, Iberico ham and caviar. I have to admit, when they brought this course out, I was a little dubious. Iberico ham is delicious, caviar is delicious, but what was the point, salt on salt? Then I tasted it and realized how foolish I was. The melting, nutty and rich Iberico against the salty briny caviar was another perfect bite. They needed nothing else, the simple combination of the two was striking and delicious, bringing these luxury ingredients to a new level.

After the first two courses, I was excited. Could they maintain this perfection over the next 18 courses? The next dish out, Aceitunas Rellenas, olives with piquillo pepper, anchovy, olive oil and citrus zest, brought me back to Earth. There was nothing wrong or bad about this course. It was very tasty. But tasty is not perfection or mind blowing. Here we had simple and delicious high quality ingredients, combined to make a tasty bite.

The next course came out, and again, my mind was blown. Here we have Mediterranean Muscles, olive oil, sherry vinegar, and pimenton. First, I had never had muscles so large in my life. Second, I had never had muscles that were as delicious in all my life. My husband and I fought over every last one of these beauties.

After the muscles, the endive filled with goat cheese, marcona almonds and orange dressing was a tasty, if uninspired bite.

As was the shrimp, sautéed with parsley, garlic, lemon and guindilla pepper. Very tasty, perfectly cooked, but nothing I hadn't had before. Then came the Embutidos Platter.

This was a course that seemed to highlight not only the finest possible ingredients, but embody a cuisine. I had never had the Catalan style toasted bread, pan con tomato, before. It seemed too simple to be a real thing. Toasted bread, olive oil, and fresh tomatoes spread like jam? And yet, when the bread is crusty and substantial, the olive oil fragrant, and the tomatoes juicy and super ripe, it simply can't be beat. Place that with chorizo, Iberico loin (think braesola, but nuttier and silkier) and more of that gorgeous Iberico ham and you've got a showstopper. If you haven't had Iberico ham before, think of prosciutto or serrano ham, make it less salty with a richer, deeper, more unctuous flavor, and you've got Iberico. The Iberico at Bazaar was hands down the finest I've had, with a nutty flavor (think roasted chestnuts, but meaty) that I can only attribute to the acorn rich diet those pigs must've been fed. It was a showstopper course.

Next up was Cuban Escabeche "Estefan's Way" which was hamachi, pickled onions, and sour orange.

I apologize for the quality of the photo, I don't know what I was thinking when I snapped the pic. I was excited about this course becauseI had read many good things about it. Unfortunately, for me, this was the only real miss of the night. There wasn't enough acid, the hamachi wasn't fresh and bright as I had hoped, and the pimenton weighted the flavors down. Maybe I was overly critical because it came right after the embutidos platter, but I did not like this dish at all.

So imagine my surprise when I really enjoyed the Dragon Fruit Ceviche which was tuna, pecans, lime and hibiscus. This was a dish I had heard many others complain about, but I enjoyed it quite a lot. The foam made a pretty presentation even if it's contribution to flavor was superfluous.

The 10th course to arrive was the bone marrow with hearts of palm, citrus and capers. I don't have much to say here. It was a dish I was initially excited about that left me flat. It was interesting and tasted good, but somehow I wanted more contrast between rich bone marrow and the other ingredients. It looked lovely, but was oddly rather boring.

And then they brought out the Not Your Everyday Caprese. Simply fantastic with roasted cherry tomatoes, pesto, crackers, balsamic reduction, and liquid mozzarella. I don't know how they made the liquid mozzarella, and I don't care. It was killer, bursting in your mouth as a cool and creamy counterpoint to the rich tomatoes and slightly spicy pesto. This dish was art on a plate in that all of the flavors of a caprese were present, but amplified to their maximum deliciousness. It was classic and new, stunningly delicious with a perfect balance of contrast in flavors and textures.

Next out was the Bao con lechon which they described as Chinese bun and pork belly. It was delicious and made by the homemade chicharrone. I loved every bite. I just wish he would've named it something different. I get that the name is a play on chinese bao and pan con leche, but the bun itself was brioche based, not a steamed chinese yeast bun. Maybe it only bugs me because I'm Asian, but it was a successful course that I could only love more with a better name.

By this point in the meal, I'm not gonna lie, I was getting full. I was extremely happy when they brought out the brussels sprouts next. At a time when every restaurant seems to have roasted brussels sprouts on the menu, roasted, charred and rich with bacon or maple or whatever, I was delighted to see that José Andrés took the absolute opposite route, serving his sprouts as a warm salad with lemon puree, apricot, grapes and banana chips. And unlike the dragonfruit ceviche where the foam was little more than decoration, the lemon air in this dish was a component of much needed importance, infusing the smell and flavor of lemon throughout every bite. So fresh and simply stunning. A perfect reset for the heaviest dishes that remained.

The next three dishes, Cuban Coffee Rubbed Churrasco, Pollo al Ajillo Cubano, and Papas Carnarias were all well-made and executed dishes. The beef was perfectly cooked, the chicken formed into a savory block, and the potatoes were lovely salty with two different sauces. Maybe I had been spoiled by how fabulous previous courses were, but I found them all fine. There were no game changers here, just solid, tasty food.

By the time the dessert courses came, I was stuffed. I tasted each then called it a night. The yucca churros with peanut butter and honey were tasty but a bit dense. The banana mojito and deconstructed (my husband really hates that word when it comes to food) key lime pie were both excellent, and had I not been so full I would've enjoyed them both a bit more. My favorite though, were the homemade paletas, simple fruit pops that seemed to refresh me after such a big meal.

When it was all said and done, it was a fabulous meal. I would happily go back, and while a big tasting menu is never cheap, you got a ton of spectacular food for your money.

The Bazaar by José Andrés
SLS Hotel South Beach
1701 Collins Ave
Miami Beach, FL 33139

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