Friday, April 17, 2009

Saam at The Bazaar (Los Angeles, CA)

Saam at The Bazaar
465 S La Cienega Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90048
Fri 04/17/2009, 08:05p-11:50p

Ahh The Bazaar...the source of so much acrimony, notoriety, and animosity. I visited the restaurant on opening night last November, and wrote it up on this blog, noting the presence of a few weak dishes and on overly restrictive photography policy. I caught a lot of flak for the post, and surprisingly, the news even made to José Andrés himself. Andrés contacted me shortly afterwards, and invited me to dine again at the restaurant two weeks later. That evening was noticeably better food-wise, and we had the added pleasure of hearing Andrés expound his philosophies on restaurants and gastronomy. I hadn't been back since, but was eagerly awaiting the opening of Saam (named after SBE founder Sam Nazarian perhaps?), which had its soft opening on Thursday, April 9. Saam is The Bazaar's "secret" higher-end private "tasting room," basically a small 40-seat restaurant within a restaurant, sort of like Andrés much-lauded Minibar at Café Atlantico in Washington DC.

Yelpers will be familiar with the term UYE, or Unofficial Yelp Event. Well, I'm going to dub Saam the first Unofficial FoodDigger Event--a UFE. Will had originally planned an event at K-Zo, but was very receptive to Saam after I'd mentioned it to him; after all, he was one of the people present with me on The Bazaar's opening night. Other attendees included Brian of FoodDigger, Brian's wife Jan, Javier of Teenage Glutster, Mike of Right Way to Eat, and Ryan of Only Eats What Feeds Your Soul.

Saam Dining Room Saam Dining Room
Saam is located in a separate room behind Bar Centro. According to our server Carolina, the entire space, from the Murano glass sconces to the ceiling, was designed to be reminiscent of the legendary Harry's Bar in Venice, Italy. However, from the photos I've seen of the original, I don't really see the resemblance--the space looks more like Philippe Starck's reading room to me. No matter, what's important is that it's much more intimate, and much more serious, than either Rojo or Blanca of the main restaurant.

Saam Menu Saam Wine Flight Menu
The sole dining option is a 20-course tasting menu for $120. The fare consists of original courses, dishes from The Bazaar, and even food from Minibar. As for booze, there's no traditional wine pairing; rather, you're given the option of four wine flights. This makes some sense, as it wouldn't be feasible to pair 20 glasses of wine given the nature of the menu. However, it also means that your sparkling wine will be flat well before the meal draws to a close--a pity. Click for larger versions.

Manzanilla La Gitana and Amontillado Napoleon, Hidalgo, Palomino Fino Sherries
Surprisingly, three of my dining companions were interested in the sherry flight, so we decided to order up a couple bottles. First was the Manzanilla La Gitana, Bodegas Hidalgo, Palomino Fino [$51]. It reminded me of the Emilio Lustau Manzanilla at Giang Nan, with crisp, refreshing notes of apple, citrus, and brine. To counter this sherry's lightness, we also ordered the Amontillado Napoleon, Bodegas Hidalgo, Palomino Fino [$54]. This was a much more intense wine, with a rich caramelized sugar structure balanced by a pronounced nuttiness.

Bar Centro Menu Bar Centro Menu
Bar Centro Menu Bar Centro Menu
I, on the other hand, was interested in doing a cocktail pairing, and was thus brought the Bar Centro drink menu above; click for larger versions. Yes, the prices for bottles of liquor are obscene.

Salt Air Margarita
1: Salt Air Margarita
Interestingly, the first course of the tasting (described as a "welcome cocktail") was actually a drink from Bar Centro. The Salt Air Margarita is basically your classic margarita, but topped with a salt air. This layer of salty foam effectively takes the place of a salt rim and gives the drink an intensely salty attack, tempering the burn of the alcohol. The cocktail's sweet/sour interplay comes shortly afterwards, followed by the woody flavor of tequila. Overall, a balanced, sophisticated, margarita.

Sweet Potato Chips
2: Sweet Potato Chips
Served along with the margarita, what we have here are chips made from sweet potato along with a dip made from Greek yogurt foam, tamarind reduction, and star anise. We were told that the chips were indeed fried, but removed from the fryer while still soft. They then sit, letting the sugar crystallize, petrifying the chips. By themselves, the chips were nothing special; however, they were great when paired with its dip, allowing the interaction between contrasting sweet and sour flavors to sing. This is an item off The Bazaar's menu.

Cotton Candy Foie Gras
3: Cotton Candy Foie Gras
A popular dish from The Bazaar as well as Minibar, these lollipops consisted of speared foie gras, coated with chili, and wrapped in corn chip cotton candy. Upon eating it, I had an initial sensation reminiscent of sweet popcorn, which then gave way to the mild creaminess of the terrine. What was fascinating was that the flavor of the liver got stronger and stronger after the effect of the cotton candy faded away.

Olive Oil Bonbon
4: Olive Oil Bonbon
Taken from the Minibar menu, this was extra virgin olive oil, encapsulated in isomaltose (or isomal, a disaccharide sugar), and dusted with sumac and Maldon sea salt. Upon mastication, the bonbon exploded in my mouth, coating my tongue with rich olive oil. The sea salt and sumac then became apparent, giving the dish a contrasting salty/sour finish. I loved the presentation here, with the bonbon perched in an indentation atop a Lucite block.

Caviar Steamed Bun
5: Caviar Steamed Bun
A bun topped with paddlefish roe, crème fraîche, and lemon air. The brininess of the caviar was well-tempered by tangy crème fraîche and more importantly, the subtly sweet bun. Unfortunately, the bun was a bit too large for the amount of caviar, and became rather monolithic toward the end. Quite good, though not as good as the steamed brioche buns with trout roe I had on my second visit.

Bagel and Lox Cone
6: Bagel and Lox Cone
Smoked salmon roe, fresh dill, crème fraîche, all in a "feu de brique" (not quite sure of the name) cone. The cool, sharp brininess of the roe was deftly countered by the crème fraîche, while the cone provided a great texture contrast. This is also available in the main room, as well as Minibar.

Olives Ferran Adrià Olives Ferran Adrià
7: Olives Ferran Adrià
These "liquid olives" are perhaps The Bazaar's most famous dish, basically olive-flavored liquid mixed with sodium alginate, put into a bath of calcium chloride to create the encapsulating thin membrane. The "olives" were then marinated in a mixture of olive oil, rosemary, garlic, and orange peel. I've had this on both my prior visits, and the effect is getting old. I'm really looking for the kitchen to do something new with this.

'Liquid Cherry' Manhattan Pisco Sour
Our first round of cocktails consisted of a "Liquid Cherry" Manhattan [$16] for me and a Pisco Sour [$16] for Ryan. The Manhattan was basically your classic version, but with the maraschino replaced by a cherry spherification. The cherry provided a subtle, but overarching sweetness to the drink, which expertly accented the cocktail's whiskey base. The cherry explosion upon finishing the drink was an added bonus. The Pisco Sour was comprised of Pisco (a South American liquor distilled from grapes), fresh lemon juice, egg whites and bitters--a traditional preparation. I loved the light, ethereal foam and the drink's mildly sweet flavor. Very good!

José's Ham & Cheese
8: José's Ham & Cheese
This was basically a revised version of The Bazaar's famous “Philly cheesesteak,” but made with Jamón Ibérico de Bellota and La Serena sheep's milk cheese instead of Wagyu and cheddar. I preferred this version, as the cheese, with its delicate bitterness and saltiness, really complemented the jamón without overpowering it (as was the case with the "Philly"). The ham and cheese really formed a great balance, and was set off nicely by the light, crunchy air bread.

Sea Urchin Conservas
9: Sea Urchin Conservas
This was another dish that I'd had on both my previous visits; fortunately, it was also one of the strongest. The uni was served with pipirrana (a salad of diced onion, tomato, and cucumber), which lent a lovely tang that contrasted the rich, subtly sweet creaminess of the roe. This "pico de gallo" (as described by Javier) also provided a great crisp texture contrast.

Boneless Chicken Wing
10: Boneless Chicken Wing
Another holdover from The Bazaar, the wings were served with green olive purée and ice plant. As before, the chicken itself was immensely flavorful, succulent, and tender, while its accoutrements provided a great counterpoint that elevated the dish above mere fried chicken. Great with the Amontillado.

Shrimp Cocktail
11: Shrimp Cocktail
Known as "Just Shrimp Cocktail" on The Bazaar's menu, this was a near-perfectly cooked Santa Barbara spot prawn coated with lime juice and sesame seeds. The "cocktail sauce," replete with shrimp essence, was contained in a plastic pipette, which was squeezed at the same time that I put the shrimp in my mouth. The natural sweetness of the prawn was heightened and contrasted by the tangy sauce, though I would've preferred a bit more spice. A bit of sesame flavor even came through. Everyone seemed to love this one.

Bellini Brandy Alexander
At this point, I requested a Bellini [$16], made from fresh peach juice, Japanese peach, and sparkling wine. It was a gritty, viscous example, with plenty of peach mixed in, resulting in a taste that was heavy on peach, and light on alcohol. Ryan had a Brandy Alexander [$16], with brandy, crème de cacao, heavy cream, and nutmeg. It had a strong, pure chocolate and coffee flavor, and even contained bits of what I believe was cacao bean; the amalgam of cacao, cream, and nutmeg effectively tempered the power of the brandy.

Nitro Gazpacho Nitro Gazpacho
12: Nitro Gazpacho
A new dish, this was a playful take on traditional gazpacho, a cold Spanish tomato soup typically made from water, olive oil, garlic, vinegar, salt, and stale bread. The "Nitro" comes from the use of liquid nitrogen to chill the soup, resulting in a viscous, slushy consistency. Meanwhile, instead of stale bread, small pieces of air bread were utilized, providing a superb textural contrast. Taste-wise, the gazpacho had an intensely tomato flavor, which was a bit overwhelming actually; perhaps some more olive oil would've been in order.

Jalé Berry
At this point, Jan ordered up a Jalé Berry [$16], consisting of fresh blackberries, gin, Cointreau, and jalapeño. This was delicious, with nearly no alcoholic taste, but instead a sweet, herbaceous flavor with just a hint of spice.

Bluefin Tuna Toro
13: Bluefin Tuna Toro
This was toro served atop compressed watermelon infused with sushi rice wine vinegar, finished with soy air, wasabi, puffed rice, and a 63°C quail egg. I felt that the sweetness of watermelon overwhelmed the delicate flavor of the toro, though others would disagree with me on this point. I did, however, enjoy the complexities provided by the soy foam and wasabi, the richness of the egg, as well as the crispy texture contrast imparted by the puffed rice. A note about the 63°C egg: we were told that 63°C was chosen because egg white coagulates at 61°C and the yolk at 65°C; hence 63°C is right in the middle of that range, allowing the yolk to remain runny.

Norwegian Lobster
14: Norwegian Lobster
From The Bazaar menu, this was lobster with seaweed salad, sea beans, toasted bread, and a lobster-head soup. The lobster itself was immensely rich and buttery, with its signature sweetness intact; it was nice to experience the contrast when eaten with the sea beans. The broth, meanwhile, was akin to a heady lobster bisque--very heartwarming. This whole course went well paired with the Manzanilla sherry.

Passion Fruit Martini Uva Bella Cucumber Pom Deluxe
For our fourth round of cocktails, we first requested a Passion Fruit Martini [$16], made with rum, passion fruit, and ginger-laurel syrup. I really don't see how they can call this a martini will a straight face, but nevertheless, it was pretty tasty, with the sweetness of passion fruit very apparent; I could barely taste the rum. The drink was also topped with passion fruit seeds, which added a bit of a sour counterpoint. We also got two off-the-menu drinks: the Uva Bella [$16] and the Cucumber Pom Deluxe [$16]. Now, they're not on the menu at The Bazaar, but they are on the menu at Foxtail in WeHo, another SBE establishment. I preferred the Uva Bella (muddled grape, Hendrick's gin, St. Germain--French elderflower liqueur, lemon juice, orange bitters), with its floral, herbal flavor balanced by the sweetness of grape. That being said, the Cucumber Pom Deluxe (Effen vodka, cucumber, mint, lime juice, pomegranate juice) was also quite good, with a mild cucumber backdrop accentuated by the mint and tangy sweetness of pomegranate.

'Smoked' Salmon
15: "Smoked" Salmon
Salmon, tzatziki sphere, compressed cucumber, chickpea pancake, green chickpeas, olive oil, dill. This was one of the highlights of the meal for me. The natural flavor of the fish was accentuated here to great effect by the cool, creamy tzatziki and refreshing cucumber. And texture-wise, the salmon had a tender, sous vide consistency that went superbly with both forms of chickpea.

Not Your Everyday Caprese
16: Not Your Everyday Caprese
A traditional insalata Caprese is made from mozzarella, tomato, and basil, seasoned with salt and pepper, along with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Here, we have a mozzarella sphere, peeled cherry tomato, sexy tomato seeds (i.e. tomato caviar), balsamic dressing, Maldon sea salt, and pesto extra virgin olive oil. So basically, we have pretty much the same ingredients, but in different forms. We were told to eat all the ingredients in one bite, and the end result was that it tasted just like a standard Caprese salad. Another holdover from the regular menu.

'José's Gimlet' Cucumber Smash
On the left we see "José's Gimlet" [$16], made from Bombay Sapphire gin and fresh lime heart. A fairly traditional interpretation of the classic drink, the sourness of the lime was the perfect complement to the gin--simple but very effective. On the right is the Cucumber Smash [$16], basically a cucumber martini with Effen vodka. It was nice, but was very similar to any other cucumber martini I've had.

Tournedos Rossini 2009
17: Tournedos Rossini 2009
Named after Italian composer and gourmand Gioacchino Rossini, Tournedos Rossini traditionally is comprised of steak topped with foie gras and Madeira sauce. Andrés' update consisted of A5 Wagyu beef, truffle gelée, shaved foie gras, trumpet mushrooms, and dry brioche bread. The beef itself was phenomenal--tender, juicy, and fatty--but when eaten together with the various accompaniments, the natural flavor of the beef was simply overpowered.

'New Way' Dirty Martini
The final drink of the night, the "New Way" Dirty Martini [$16] was a dry martini served with olive spherification (as in the Olives Ferran Adrià) and olive brine air. The olive component was thus much more apparent than in a typical martini, but it was nevertheless well-balanced, making for a solid drink.

Dragon's Breath Popcorn
18: Dragon's Breath Popcorn
Served tableside, this was caramel corn dipped in a liquid nitrogen bath. To eat, put one morsel in your mouth, close it, and breathe through your nose; smoke will be expelled through your nostrils, à la fairy tale dragons. The dish is more for the effect, rather than for the taste, which is just like caramel corn. Dragon's Breath gained some infamy when it was recently taken off the menu at The Bazaar, becoming a Saam exclusive. Apparently, it was only given as a treat to VIPs, which angered some of the restaurant's more plebeian clientele.

Chocolate Biscuit Coulant Michel Bras
19: Chocolate Biscuit Coulant Michel Bras
Named after its inventor, French chef Michel Bras (owner of the much-lauded Bras in Laguiole, France), this was basically a molten chocolate cake topped with gold paper, served amid a vanilla and cardamom foam with candied ginger. The biscuit itself wasn't notable, though the use of cardamom resulted in a spicy, almost savory flavor component.

Coconut in a 'Half Shell'
20: Coconut in a "Half Shell"
Coconut sorbet, liquid nitrogen chocolate-coconut shell, chocolate cocoa foam, caramelized banana, passion fruit sauce with seeds, chocolate sauce. The most interesting thing here was the shell, which provided a unique texture to augment the sorbet. In terms of flavor, the mildness of the coconut was complemented by the sharp sweetness of the passion fruit--good, but nothing groundbreaking.

Petit Fours / Tablets / Bonbons Petit Fours / Tablets / Bonbons
Petit Fours - Tablets, Bonbons
To end the meal, we were given a plate of candied passion fruit gumdrops, saffron bonbons, and lollipops of white chocolate-raspberry and chocolate-candied orange. The most interesting were the bonbons, which had an almost alcoholic tinge to them.

Kitchen Tour with Chef de Cuisine Michael Voltaggio
We requested a tour of the kitchen, and, as can be seen in the video above, Chef de Cuisine Michael Voltaggio was happy to oblige. The restaurant was still quite busy at this time, so our tour was brief.

Group Photo with Chef de Cuisine Michael Voltaggio and Sous Chef Marcel Vigneron
The requisite group photo after the kitchen tour. Clockwise from left: Jan, Brian, Will, Sous Chef Marcel Vigneron (of Top Chef fame), Ryan, Chef de Cuisine Michael Voltaggio, Kevin, Mike, Javier.

Despite a rough start at Bazaar, I must say that I was quite pleased with my experience at Saam. The food was sharper and more focused, the service more on point, and the whole experience gave me the impression of a serious restaurant, with serious food. Since the place had just opened, I accept the fact that many of the items we had were repeats from Bazaar; however, this has to change in the future. I want to see a more or less exclusive line up of dishes, something that will bring us closer to having our own Minibar in Los Angeles, which is what I originally wanted The Bazaar to be. The bottom line is that, after dining at Saam, I'm going to have a hard time going back to The Bazaar. Leave the glitz, the ostentation, and the douchebaggery to the throngs of scenesters and poseurs that fill up Bazaar on a Friday night--as far as I'm concerned, Saam is the way to experience José Andrés in LA.


Blogger Chocolate Shavings said...

That olive oil bonbon looks amazing!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009 4:55:00 AM  
Blogger Food, she thought. said...

I may be insane, but that actually does not sound overly pricey. I find The Bazaar to be rather reasonably priced when ordering off the menu, that tasting menu seems to be right in line, and so do the flights. I wonder how generous they are with the pours? I am a huge fan of their cocktails, though, and would also have been tempted in that direction. Thanks for the great report!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009 6:36:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, fabulous meal! I really need to get some ingredients to make some of those spheres.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009 7:19:00 AM  
Blogger Right Way to Eat said...

Hey Kevin,

I would have thought Urasawa or maybe even Totoraku were the first UFE (Before Saam).

Food wise for me was better last time around, but I did enjoyed my dining experience better this time because I was with bloggers. With others, they get impatient with people taking pictures. LOL

Tuesday, April 21, 2009 8:36:00 AM  
Blogger FoodDigger said...

UFE, huh? I like it!

Great writeup. The food was certainly the star of the evening. Looking forward to C and S!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009 10:16:00 AM  
Blogger sygyzy said...

Can't help but make some comparisons to Minibar. It seems to me like there were elements that prevented the experience from being (what I'd consider) uniform or on point. For example, the presentation of the wine/sherry pairing option seems like an afterthought. WHO TYPES IN CAPS ANYMORE?

The decor looked amazing, so did the food presentation. Whereas minibar is 6 seats in a upper-casual restaurant, Saam is a fancy restaurant inside a restaurant. It could be argued that Minibar created it's own exclusivity by the limited seatings (2 x 6 diners / night), but it is what it is. Whereas, Saam is a 40 seater just named a "chef's tasting room." It may be, but it's the largest "chef's tasting room" I have ever seen. Does it sort of lose the appeal? Why not serve these same dishes or this menu at Bazaar? It's not like a night and day difference between the two (in terms of feel).

I loved all the presentation in cans as canning uber fresh and high grade seafood is a big deal in Spain. Everyone here is used to Starkist or some off brand tuna at their local megamart. In Spain, their canned seafood is probably better than most the average Joe gets locally.

Your comment about being frustrated with the olive spherification kind of rubs me the wrong way. Most people probably eat at a place like Saam or Bazaar once in their lifetime. NOT three times in as many months. It's obviously their -signature- dish, so I hope they never take it off the menu so new diners can experience it. Are you sick of the Arpege egg as well?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009 10:27:00 AM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Chocolate Shavings: It was amazing not so much for the flavor (which was pretty much olive oil), but for the overall sensation of eating it.

Liz: $120 for 20 courses isn't bad at all. According to HC, the flight consisted of "two 1.5 oz pours of four wines." I've pretty much had all of their cocktails, so next time I'll probably do wine.

5 Star: Here are some places to get the ingredients. Let us know how it turns out.

Mike: I wouldn't necessarily say Totoraku, since I don't think most of the people there were on FD. I can see Urasawa though.

Will: I wonder what the next UFE will be...

sygyzy: I would like nothing more than to have Minibar here in LA. Yes, size is an issue, and the fact that Saam can't be as exclusive does divert from the experience a bit. I think that they wanted to emphasize that Saam offers a tasting menu experience, whereas Bazaar serves up a tapas experience. Currently, you're right that the dishes themselves aren't all that different. My hope is that this changes in the coming months.

The wine pairing was slightly odd, though I'm not sure how else they'd really do it. If I'm not mistaken, Minibar doesn't do a wine pairing either.

I'd get sick of the Arpege egg if Passard was constantly making it for me! But I don't, since each restaurant has slight variations on this very famous dish. I do agree that the liquid olives are a signature item, but I just wasn't that impressed, even the first time I tried it. A compromise: keep it available, but don't put it on the tasting menu.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009 11:47:00 AM  
Blogger sygyzy said...

Kevin - Well played. I love your compromise :) As for the wine pairings, I was not suggesting they shouldn't have done it. I just meant how they presented it, literally the piece of paper and how they printed it, was ghetto compared to the rest of the menus. Minibar does offer a wine pairing.

Is it safe to assume reservations were not very hard to get? I have not been to either Bazaar or Saam.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009 11:54:00 AM  
Blogger MyLastBite said...

Kevin, I'm posting about Saam soon (went on the 11th), but I had pretty much the OPPOSITE reaction, not about the food.... the food was killer.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009 12:13:00 PM  
Blogger Charlie Fu said...

Hey Kevin,

Did you bring a DSLR to dinner? Or was this your Fuji? Great pictures

Tuesday, April 21, 2009 12:19:00 PM  
Blogger mattatouille said...

I feel like the cocktails can be even more imaginative. Considering the purview of The Bazaar and their stake on creativity, they ought to do more than just add a spherical olive to a martini. How about capture the cocktail zeitgeist in LA a la Rivera/Varnish/Copa D'oro/Hungry Cat etc?

The dishes do look very well composed at at $120 for 20 courses, a relative bargain.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009 1:43:00 PM  
Blogger mattatouille said...

oh btw, great photos from your sony slr.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009 1:43:00 PM  
Blogger H. C. said...

Wow, 4 rounds of cocktails AND wine? you people have livers of steel! ;)

Alas, I really wish I opted to do the occasional cocktail options rather than the wine flights, for reasons I've already noted in my my post.

I, too, felt the the price was reasonable considering the courses (and quality of food) served, but lackluster compared to my previous years' splurge meals and not sure if it's because of opening night hiccups.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009 3:31:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

sygyzy: I agree about the menu of wine pairings. It did look a bit unrefined vis-à-vis the other menus, like something just slapped together. So how does Minibar do a wine pairing? Not 20 glasses of wine I'm sure. Reservations were a cinch. Since they're not promoting the place yet, relatively few people know about it. The room was no more than a third full the entire night.

Jo: What exactly was the opposite?

Charlie: I brought both my DSLR and my Fuji FinePix. Can you tell which photos were shot with the DSLR? ;)

Matt: Completely agree about the cocktails. Given the nature of Bazaar's food, I feel that they can do so much more than adding a spherification to an existing drink. Their complexity doesn't hold a candle to what I recently had at Rivera. BTW, I just got a 50mm f2.8 macro (wish they made macros faster than that though), so hopefully I'll be able to use my DSLR more now.

HC: Correction: certain members of the party had livers of steel. ;) But in any case, I'm a bit surprised you didn't do a cocktail pairing, given your well-known proclivity for them. Since most of the dishes were repeats from Bazaar, I do feel that the dinner wasn't as good as it could've been, had the kitchen been able to craft an entirely exclusive menu. I guess that means we'll just have to go back?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009 1:35:00 AM  
Blogger Kung Food Panda said...

The pictures looked great, and as what Food, she thought mentioned, for $120 + wine/cocktail pairing, the food at Saam seems to be a relative bargin. Of course, that's all relative to each individual's budget for food.

Having visited Bazaar previously, a few of the items did look familiar, but there are a few on the menu that I'd love to try. It looks like I missed out on a nice dinner you guys had, plus the visit to the kitchen. Great write up!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009 10:59:00 AM  
Blogger digkv said...

Hey Kevin!
Wonderful post, i've been reading but haven't really been commenting lately. Well I have a huge question to ask you, my birthday is coming up and my family always takes me out to a nice place of my choice. My question is where should I eat that's around Orange County? Studio seems nice but at a $50+ price range it seems a bit pricey. Last year I ate at Marche and was pleased I'm wondering if I should go there again or perhaps Leatherby's? or Blanca? Thanks a lot Kevin, I really respect your opinion with food and would like your insight.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009 11:34:00 AM  
Blogger Cakespy said...

Oh my god! This is a stunning sensory experience! You lured me in with the olive oil bonbon (who knew!?) but then the rest of it just kept me going. What a cool experience and so inspiring!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009 11:36:00 AM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Danny: Thanks! It's funny, most of us at the dinner thought that $120 for the meal was a "bargain" like you said. But $120 for a meal would be obscene to most people! Only foodies lol...

digkv: Thanks man, and happy birthday! Studio is probably the top spot in OC, though it's pricy as you mentioned. Marché is also very good, and I need to go back there sometime. Leatherby's could be a good choice; Blanca is closed I believe. Napa Rose is worth a shot. I'd also consider The Loft at the Montage, Stonehill Tavern at the St. Regis, Mastro's, and The Hobbit (this is one that I'm particularly curious about).

Cakespy: Saw the bonbon on Tastespotting I take it? ;) It was definitely one of the more interesting courses of the meal, but the whole experience was pretty inspiring!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009 5:33:00 PM  
Blogger mattatouille said...

Wow, 50mm F2.8 macro? that's a weird one (that nikon doesn't have). Is it a Zeiss? Anyways, F2.8 is probably around the borderline, but it's still worlds better than a kit lens. The macro will serve you will, I'd like to get a 60mm macro sometime in the future, so good call.

Rivera's cocktails are some of the best in the city.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009 5:57:00 PM  
Blogger mattatouille said...

oh nvm, i looked up Sigma's 50mm F2.8 macro. I could probably get one for my nikon too, but my 35mm F2 works just great for my purposes (nearly a macro lens too). Good choice - that's a lens I'll recommend if the budget calls for it.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009 6:01:00 PM  
Blogger sdfafsadf said...

i'm drooling. thanks for the post and it was nice meeting you in person!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009 10:45:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Matt: It's actually Minolta glass. Sony bought Minolta's camera division so Minolta AF lenses work with the Sony bodies. The current Sony 50mm f2.8 macro is basically a reworked version of the Minolta design.

It's a true macro, meaning it goes up to a 1:1 reproduction. As I was trying out the lens at Saam, I realized that 1:1 is overkill. It puts you too close; the front of the lens is about one inch away from your subject. The closest I used was about 1:3 I believe. Your 35mm f2 is a 1:4.2, so that's probably good enough.

I miss the speed though. Thus, I'm thinking about buying another, faster lens, with the frontrunner being the Sigma 24mm f1.8, which does up to 1:2.7. There's also the Minolta/Sony 35mm f1.4, but that's only 1:5 and costs over $1000.

Jin: Great meeting you too! Let us know when you have your trip to Bazaar/Saam up!

Thursday, April 23, 2009 12:19:00 AM  
Blogger mattatouille said...

Good point about the 1:1 macro, I know that is a pretty big problem with the shorter focal length macros. You have to get way too close and there isn't enough workable distance. My 35mm has an ideal working distance. The 60mm is probably ideal for food photography, but it's also a larger lens.

I thought initially that it was a Minolta lens since I knew that Sony had bought them out, but it didn't immediately come up on a Google search.

A 24mm focal length is a little short for my tastes. At that focal length you'll get a signficant about of barreling too, which leads to odd photos. I'm not sure what Sony/Minolta offers in terms of lenses but I'd recommend something with a longer focal length, even though you get that extra aperture/speed. 35mm is just about perfect for me and F2 is plenty fast enough. That Sigma 35mm at $1000 is completely unreasonable.

Thursday, April 23, 2009 5:49:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

I just found a Sigma 28mm f1.8 that goes to 1:2.9 so that's probably the best I can do. The 24mm is a bit short, as you mentioned. The problem is that I can't find a suitable lens that has a normal (~50mm) focal length, f2 or better, and macro capacility of 1:4 or better. It looks like I can satisfy only two of my criteria simultaneously.

Thursday, April 23, 2009 6:47:00 PM  
Blogger ice_leopard said...

Hi, Kevin: I love reading your review especially after I dined at a restaurant to compare notes. I love your thorough review of each dish with detailed information that I didn't know of. I just had a wonderful birthday party at Saam and everyone (10 of us)was amazed at the experience. We had some of the same dishes you had. The price is now $95 and I consider that a bargain. Can't wait to go back!

Saturday, October 03, 2009 11:16:00 AM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Good to hear that you had a blast at Saam!

I'm actually thinking about going back (especially since the price's been lowered), but am concerned that the menu would be too similar to what I had on this last visit. Can you tell me approximately how many repeats there were?

Saturday, October 03, 2009 3:30:00 PM  
Blogger ice_leopard said...

Repeat items: 4,5,6,7,8,10,14,16
Similar items: 15 (same preparation but we had arctic char), 17 (same A5 Wagyu with different sides and condiments)

I actually wouldn't mind going back to the same menu because everything was delicious!

Sunday, October 04, 2009 12:30:00 AM  
Blogger Kung Food Panda said...

Hey Kevin, I'm going to Saam next Saturday at 8:30PM. Let me know if you're interested.

Sunday, October 04, 2009 3:49:00 AM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

leopard: Hmm so over half the items are the same or similar--a bit more than I would've hoped for.

Danny: Thanks for the invite, but I'll be at Saddle Peak Lodge that night. The chef invited me to dinner.

Sunday, October 04, 2009 5:07:00 PM  
Anonymous Joce at Foodie Finder said...

Hi Kevin,

I'm finally going to Saam on Oct 31st due to the lower prices (premium gas is expensive in San Diego). In the meantime, do you recommend I try The Bazaar first? Since reading this post, I figure Saam was the way to go.

Your thoughts?

Monday, October 19, 2009 4:33:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Joce, good to hear that you're giving Saam a shot. I don't think that it's necessary to go to The Bazaar first (though it certainly wouldn't hurt). If you do go, stick to the more traditional items, as Saam focuses on the avant garde stuff.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009 12:16:00 AM  
Blogger Brian Resnick said...

Great post!

I have 2 questions.

1. Were you full after this meal?

2. For my first time, should I eat at Saam or the main dining room?


Thursday, October 22, 2009 3:01:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...


(1) I was satiated, but not full--I could've had a Double-Double afterwards. ;)

(2) Actually I don't think it matters either way. Saam is going to be more avant garde, though.

Friday, October 23, 2009 12:58:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Kevin,

What a great post. I love that you took such detailed pictures. the mike in the picture looks like someone I knew from high school, which high school did he go to?


Sunday, November 29, 2009 1:35:00 AM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Thanks Shirley! I don't know where Mike went to high school, but you can ask him yourself. His blog is here, and you can find his email in his profile. ;)

Sunday, November 29, 2009 6:50:00 PM  
Anonymous Dr Peter Meyer said...

Your review of Saam's was absolutely right in every word - have been at SLS's Tres and crowded Bazaar several times - and yes I was tired of the "egg" at Arpege - this is a very welcome form of restoration to LA.

Friday, May 21, 2010 12:07:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

You bet Peter. I do need to return and give Saam another shot, post-Voltaggio.

Friday, May 28, 2010 1:11:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I finally for to Saam (after like 8-10 times at The Bazaar). Good stuff for sure. Perhaps still a few too many things that were also on the outside menu, and a hefty $50 corkage, but great food!

Saturday, February 12, 2011 7:46:00 AM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Very nice report. I do need to make it back here sometime. The menu's looked like it's changed sufficiently enough over the course of two years.

Monday, February 14, 2011 2:41:00 PM  
Blogger Liv Amore said...

I hope it's ok I used your cotton candy foie gras photo on my blog. I credited you it was just the best picture! And now that foie gras is legal again in Cali I had to find a great pic of that deliciousness! Glad to have come across your site!!

Wednesday, January 07, 2015 2:51:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Where's your blog Liv?

Tuesday, January 13, 2015 7:53:00 PM  

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