Not to be confused with Chef Jose Andres’ other gastronomical wonder, “The Bazaar“, SAAM is a completely different experience altogether. Located behind Bar Centro in the tony SLS Hotel in West Los Angeles, SAAM offers one thing on their menu: a 23-course tasting menu to delight the palate by involving all five senses. When I received the invitation to participate, there was no hesitation. And is the case with all tastings, this experience is to be enjoyed leisurely (this particular dining experience roughly lasted five (5) hours).
I knew I was in for something special when I was led to a reserved table in Bar Centro where members of our party were already enjoying pre-dinner cocktails. This was our first stop until all members of our party had arrived before being led into the private dining room. Cocktails of choice included the “Dirty Vodka”, “The Grape Tour”, “Oakason & The Little Peach”, and “LN2″.
We were a party of five and after a few minutes, we were being led to the Chef’s Tasting Room located behind Bar Centro. Here, we were cut off from the lively bar scene and the main restaurant and into a more intimate, private setting.
The room was inspired by the legendary Harry’s Bar in Venice, Italy. I’ll have to confirm when I make a return trip to Venice someday.
Hand blown Murano glass sconces provided the ambient lighting while a cacophony of table books on Venice, Italy lined the upper shelf.
Once we settled into our seats, we were given a brief introduction and welcome. As mentioned, this was a 23-course dining experience at $120/per person. You were on your own if you wanted to order wine or cocktails with your dinner from the bar menu. Cocktails averaged between $16-$20. The tasting menu itself included a welcome cocktail, appetizers, entrees and desserts–a variety of courses that were original for Saam and menu items from The Bazaar. We were also given the option to add shaved black winter truffles to the Wagyu & Mushroom Escabeche dish for an additional $55. Yes, a bit pricey I know but I couldn’t resist and decided to go for it.
THE CHEF’S TASTING MENU | AUGUST 25, 2012
Course #1 – Kaviar Kir Royale | The “kaviar” in this welcome cocktail was not actual caviar but through the science of molecular gastronomy, Chef Andres created his own kaviar made from creme de cassis. Paired with cava, it made for one gorgeous cocktail. Welcome, indeed!
Course 2: Beet & Yogurt. Incredibly light, the texture reminded me of “styrofoam” and coupled with the sweet, tangy texture of the yogurt in the center with the delicate crunch of the beet, this was a wonderful combination of flavor.
Course 3: Oyster & Jamon – the oyster was extremely fresh, the jamon (Spanish ham) was a perfect compliment with the oyster. Fresh, clean flavors.
Course 4: Seabeans in Tempura – presented on twisted tissue paper and fried with coconut dust to resemble tempura and drizzled with a tamarind reduction, these seabeans were a favorite among the group.
Course 5: Parmesan Macaron – this was one of my favorites with tiny basil flowers crowning the top. I’ve got to learn how to make these!
Course 6: Jose’s Combination – Iberico Jamon and Caviar to be rolled up and enjoyed as a Spanish taco (or burrito for that matter)!
Course 7: Patatas Bravas – light outer “potato chip-like” outer shell, filled with a delicate potato puree. I could go for a few more of these.
Course 8: Chicken Skin & Cigala – Baby Norwegian lobster atop a Crispy Chicken Skin, and topped with parsley “air” or foam.
Course 9: Not Your Everyday Caprese – utilizing molecular gastronomy through a process called spherification, the mozzarella filled pillows sit atop pesto and share the plate with mirin-marinated tomatoes, tomato caviar and delicate croutons.
Course 10: “Cappucino” – Warm, strained lentil broth in the glass, chanterelle mushrooms with escabeche Air. To enjoy, you sip, dip the mushrooms in the “air” and repeat.
Course 11: Uni & Eel – Wild rice infused with eel and uni broth topped with delicate uni and garnished with grilled strawberry, black garlic, wasabi and garnished with sea grass.
Course 12: Chipirones – Baby squid, with baby spinach, cippolini onions, artichoke puree and artichoke chip.
Course 13: Banh Mi – flash fried brioche, wagyu beef, tofu dehydrated and re-hydrated with fish sauce, crunchy pickled carrots, daikon, cilantro and aioli. The brioche was a bit greasy for my taste but overall, it was a nice combination of flavors.
Course 14: LEGO My Negroni – the palate cleanser. Sitting atop a bowl of crushed ice and to be enjoyed in two bites, these lego-inspired blocks include Campari, papaya, orange and orange zest.
Course 15: Carrot or Scallop – an artful play with carrots and scallop. The scallop is dusted with carrot paint (a combo of carrot juice mixed with xantham gum) shaved carrots, and pea tendrils.
Course 16: Mirugai – geoduck, shaved radishes on top of an oyster tarragon puree.
Course 17: Wagyu & Mushroom Escabeche. For an additional $55, I opted to enjoy it with shaved winter black truffles. So aromatic and worth the indulgence. Loved this dish!
Course 18: Philly Cheesesteak – from The Bazaar menu, I was happy to enjoy this course again. Air bread filled with creamy cheese and topped with thinly sliced wagyu beef, sea salt and chives.
Course 19: Japanese Baby Peaches – the green jewels in this dish are Japanese baby peaches before the pit is formed and served alongside with burrata pillows, toasted hazelnuts and brioche croutons.
Course 20: Dragon’s Breath – Caramel Corn “popped” in liquid nitrogen. I actually took video of this presentation but what you are not seeing is the after effect once you chew on the caramel corn cake. To be enjoyed immediately, you chew it with your mouth closed and breathe normally–the liquid nitrogen introduced in the caramel corn releases cool “steam” which come out from your nose, hence the “dragon breath” effect. They give you a mirror so that you can see it for yourself. It induced giggles and OMGs from the group. Such fun!
Course 21: Frozen Apricot Timbale with Amaretto – loved the cool, slightly tart apricot filled with creamy amaretto liqueur in the center (the spot to the right of it is the teaser) and served alongside an almond milk spumo. It’s a grown-up version of an amaretto-filled popsicle!
Course 22: Dessert Desert – milk chocolate cardamom ice cream rolled in almond powdered, shredded phyllo dough tumbleweed, and cherries.
Course 23: Sexy Little Sweets – To the left is chocolate covered star anise, passion fruit and dark chocolate; in the middle are green tea chocolate, white chocolate & pink peppercorn and milk chocolate bars; and to the right are three varieties of fruit gelees.
A chocolate treat and a souvenir menu scroll to remember our dinner by.
Overall, I enjoyed the dining experience. My favorites were the Parmesan Macaron, Chicken Skin & Cigala, Uni & Eel, Not Your Everyday Caprese, Wagyu & Mushroom Escabeche and the Philly Cheesesteak. My least favorite was the Carrot or Scallop (although it wins top honors with me in visual presentation; I’m just not a fan of carrots). The Dragon’s Breath was a very “cool” experience.
If $120 is a bit out of your budget and you can’t wait until you win the lottery, you can always create your own tasting menu by going to The Bazaar (Rojo or Blanco) where you’ll find the Philly Cheesesteak and Not Your Everyday Caprese on its menu.
SAAM At THE BAZAAR
SLS Hotel – Beverly Hills
465 La Cienega Boulevard
Los Angeles, California
Valet parking available or you may be lucky enough to find street parking to avoid having to pay the $14 valet charge.