Wednesday, February 24, 2010

This Shit's the Bomb: Saam, Los Angeles, CA

I'll admit that despite my foodie blog pretensions, I haven't been to all that many crazy destination restaurants. Matsuhitsa, Chez Panisse Cafe (maybe), Redd (barely)....that's pretty much it. It's hard to justify the price but I have found that once you hit a serious price threshold on food, the quality is almost invariably superb.

So when my friend invited me to dinner at Saam, Jose Andres' private tasting room at The Bazaar in the SLS Hotel I said, "Sure, what the fuck?" I'd eaten at Bar Centro at the Bazaar a couple of times and I'd been reasonably impressed.

But Saam was pretty fucking ridiculously amazing. An added bonus? Jose Andres was in the kitchen that day--I believe he's in town for the next several weeks, so take note cult-of-personality followers. And Andres is probably the most important and innovative chef currently working out of the USA. And that's what he was doing at The Bazaar too, expediting in the kitchen, not out gladhanding the crowd.

So even if you don't live in LA and you don't particularly care about food, you'll care about my course-by-course review of the twenty-two course tasting menu at Saam.

As a quick pre-cursor, Jose Andres is the sort of pioneer of what is rather incorrectly called "molecular gastronomy" by the food press. At its core it's the use of chemistry to explore new ways to experience food and drink. When it's great, you taste something like, say, a margarita in a whole new way while it stays at its core a margarita. When it's bad, it's a superfluity of salty air and seaweed foam.

Saam was great.

Course 1: The Golden Boy. Sherry and Cava with orange bitters and 14kt gold dust. A delicious drink. The gold powder suspended in the cava carbonation was hypnotizing in the same way that a ventriloquist's dummy is hypnotizing to homosexual hypnotists.

Course 2: Beet Tumbleweed. Shaved beets stuffed into a ball and then deep fried. It tasted like deep fried beets--sweet, earthy. I wanted a basketful.

Course 3: Olive Oil Bonbon. Thin lightly sweet candy shell filled with some of the most awesome extra virgin olive oil of all time. Very clean, fresh and grassy. This was the first "molecularly gastronomical dish of the night." Great.

Course 4: Bagel & Lox Steam Bun. Crazy interesting. Bagel dough stuffed with dill sour cream topped with smoked salmon. The first exceptionally innovative dish of the night. The dough tasted profoundly of bagel and the combination of flavors resulted in a perfect deconstruction of the classic lox bagel.

Course 5: Tuna Handroll 2009. Mini tuna handroll with top shelf chopped tuna, liquified nori, avocado puree, in a crispy cone. Fabulous

Course 6: Black Olives Ferran Adria. Adria, the crazy chef-dictator of El Bulli, is the inspiration behind this dish, olive juice spherified in a sodium alginate suspension. It burst with fresh olive saltiness.

Course 7: Jose's Combination. Perhaps the best dish of the night, a slice of Jamon Iberico loaded with Spanish sturgeon caviar. The meatiness of the delicious almond-fed ham bounced fabulously off of the salty zip of the caviar.

Course 8: Boneless Coconut Thai Chicken Wing. One of the few seafood-less dishes on the menu, this was great as well, even if the flavor was very TGI Fridays. The chicken was impeccably tender and the flavors of the Thai seasoning were well composed.

Course 9: Sea Urchin Ceviche. Sea urchin is delicious. Except when it sucks, which is often, and then sea urchin tastes like dirty sea water. But at Saam, the sea urchin was poppin' fresh. It was not dirty and Jersey-shore tasting. It was also topped with a hibiscus air which was quite complimentary.

Course 10: Chipirones en su Tinta. Squid braised in its own ink. Boring but tasty. One of the few dull dishes of the night. Not bad, just dull. The sauce (made from squid ink and shellfish stock) was tasty.

Course 11: Japanese Baby Peaches & Persimmons. Of the purely vegetarian dishes of the night, this was da bomb-ingest of da bomb. The persimmon was in the form of seeds and persimmon foam. Tasty cakes.

Course 12: Guacamole New Way. Here was a molecular gastronomy dish that was done without spherification or flavored air. Thin sliced avocado wrapped around tomato sorbet with onion foam and micro-cilantro. It was an incredibly complicated way to make guacamole, but it made me experience the flavors in a new way.

Course 13: Hot & Cold Foie Gras Soup with Corn. Melty foie gras and retarded good chicken broth topped with some whippity whip cream. Oh yeah, and corn nuts. Good. Straightforward.

Course 14: Norwegian Cigalas. I'm going to pretend this means Norwegian Cigar because that is awesome. Its a small Norwegian lobster that looks like, well, a shrimp-toned cigar. The meat was sweet and tender.

Course 15: Smoked Arctic Char with Tzatziki. This might've been the best dish of the night. The tzatziki was suspended in spherified awesomeness and the char was a fabulously tender piece of smokey fish goodness.

Course 16: Not Your Everyday Caprese. Tomato sorbet with a cherry tomato stuffed with sherry vinegar and paired with a spurty balloon of buffalo mozzarella whey.

Course 17: Wagyu Beef Cheeks. Finally another non-fish dish. The beef cheeks seared medium rare were served with some baby mandarins and caramelized cipollini onions. Great.

Course 18: Philly Cheesesteak. All good things in life are served by a monkey. Saam's cheesesteak is no exception. Nor is a cliche referring to something as being no exception a cliche. Except when it is. Which it is in this case. But yeah, there's a little brass monkey (that funky monkey) carrying a tray with a bit of air bread (like a football shaped cracker) inflated with creamy cheese and topped with seared slices of Wagyu beef.

Course X: The special supplement course. Mushroom risotto with piles of shaved black Italian truffles. Rich and earthy truffles to make James Spader spooge in his trousers complement some seriously stanky mushroom risotto. Really good and literally covered in shaved truffles.

Course 19: Dragon's Breath Popcorn. A signature dish that all the ladies love because it means you can breath smoke out of your face. A bit of praline popcorn frozen in liquid nitrogen that you eat with your mouth shut so that the liquid nitrogen smoke comes out your nose. For some reason. This was the most mediocre dish of the evening, though it did get me kinda high.

Course 20: Thai Dessert. Chocolate mousse with curried peanut dust and coconut sorbet. Tasty despite the peanut dust that clogged up my lungs like a Mississippi lung clogger.

Course 21: Hot Chocolate Pear. Poached pear with hot milk chocolate, some hazelnut shit, and pear sorbet. I liked this dish quite a bit, though it was really similar to the Thai Dessert in its basic composition. I guess in Spain they don't know about dark chocolate.

Course 22: Petit Fours. Totally innocuous chocolate tablets and candy bonbons. Nothing to really say. Pleasant.

I didn't have much booze since my dining partner wasn't a drinker, but the two glasses of tasty white wine were enough--a Cava Rosado and a great small-production Gruner Veltliner.

So at the end of the day a 22 course tasting menu for $95 (plus service) is probably the best deal in global fine dining, especially when Jose Andres is working in the kitchen. I mean seriously the regular tasting menu, without any supplements, is TWENTY-TWO COURSES for just NINETY-FIVE DOLLARS! Where is there a deal that fantastic in ultra fine-dining?

Plus the service is stellar, well-trained without being ponderous. You're even ushered to your table individually by a hostess--they never seat two tables at the same time at Saam. I think they leave at least fifteen minutes between seating people. The small dining room is attended by three waiters, plus the hostess.

23 courses! w00t!

Saam at the SLS Hotel
465 S. La Cienega Blvd.
Los Angeles, Ca 90048

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