It all started because a woman named Georgia, whom I had never met, came into town and wanted tapas. One thing led to another, arrangements were made, potential divas were contacted and before I knew it, there I was with Georgia, Molly and Cynde, being driven to Beverly Hills by a Moroccan named Morad in a Chevy Suburban, listening to Arabic music, because if you have a Moroccan driver, you might as well find out what his favorite music sounds like. And Georgia used to live in Kuwait, so she already preferred it.
We were headed for The Bazaar restaurant in Beverly Hills. Just the thought of 1) driving to Beverly Hills 2) negotiating parking 3) walking into a chi-chi restaurant and 4) trying a type of dining experience I had never before encountered would have shut me down at the “Hey, that sounds like fun” stage, but Georgia is fearless. And besides, she had done this before. We were her willing disciples. So she hired a driver, told us to dress up and led the way through the throngs of relentlessly young and beautiful people wearing outfits that cost about what I spend annually on my own wardrobe. Which is saying something, considering that some of those young women apparently forgot to put on important aspects of their outfits. Like pants.
Speaking of outfits, I must admit that the instructions to dress as a diva sent me into somewhat of a tail-spin, especially after I walked into my closet and discovered that my wardrobe has been taken over by a middle-aged housewife. With the help of my 18 year old daughter, as well as some consulting on the part of a 9 year old neighbor who happened to be over, I settled on an outfit. Let me just point out here that Molly’s nails, which you can’t see in this photo, matched her zebra-striped bag. Cynde was wearing the most amazing pair of teal-blue kitten-heeled pumps. Georgia, a woman after my own heart, was wearing sensible flats under her long dress, while I… well, see my awesome shoes? Yeah, they belong to my daughter. It turns out I don’t actually own black pumps. Also, I discovered after about half an hour that they were two sizes too big, so I was having trouble walking in them, which caused the valet to comment, as he helped me out of the Suburban and then caught me, that I must have “started the night early.” So then, of course, I had to explain to him that these were my daughter’s shoes and they were too big and that was why I was walking like a drunken sailor and I’m pretty sure that just killed the whole diva act.
At any rate, after Georgia led the charge into the restaurant (which was more of a very slow and careful shuffle on my part), and thanks to Molly, who had the bravery to reject our first seating arrangement and find us a much more spacious, well-lit and less ear-splitting table, we began the culinary adventure. I, being British, would have sat in the dark with my elbows tucked in tightly, smiling and nodding as if I could actually hear the conversation, and left the restaurant hours later wondering what it was I had eaten. This is why it is important to have nights with brave diva friends. It’s not just the fellowship and encouragement… it’s the life lessons to be learned.
The first items of the evening were the drinks. I thought I understood how that worked, since that’s generally the schedule of meals at restaurants, but then Dr. Frankenstein wheeled out his cart and started mixing something in a big bowl, and somehow liquid nitrogen was involved in this process, resulting in clouds of cold smoke that billowed out from the cart and across the table.
We had just about recovered from that when someone brought Molly her gin and tonic, which was such a work of art I don’t know how she drank it. Literally, I mean. At least, without wearing safety glasses.
It was so beautiful, I had to take a picture with my big clunky tourist camera, which I brought along simply to take the initial group picture and then somehow found myself carting around for the rest of the evening. Cynde also took pictures of it, but since she is far cooler than I, she used a svelte little phone and was actually able to Instagram her photo.
Yes, we were those people. I used flash, too. At this point I think the waiters began to have an inkling of what they were in for. Well, actually, maybe it hadn’t really hit them yet. At some point, however, they were on to us, and at least one of them called us “the fun table.” And words were exchanged more than once along the lines of our main waiter, Collier, becoming betrothed to both Cynde and Georgia. It was a beautiful thing.
Once we had settled down, I was able to remember that the reason I was having trouble understanding the menu was that I wasn’t wearing my reading glasses. I fished them out of my stylish mom-bag (no, really, it’s a hand-me-down from my 81 year old mom, so it really is a mom-bag) and rejoiced as a whole new world unfolded before me. The menu was quite overwhelming. Four full pages of tapas, a page of specialty drinks and…wait for it…. an entire page devoted to water. I so wish I had thought to get a shot of that.
Georgia took pity on our dazed expressions and suggested we start with something easy, like an appetizer. When I related this to my husband later, he asked why, if tapas are like appetizers, do they have an appetizer section on the tapas menu?
Cynde and Molly opted for the caviar cone, which I was told was something like an ice cream cone only without ice cream and not a dessert. Ah. That explains everything. I smiled and nodded and tried to look knowing. Then, not wanting to look like a follower, I bravely struck out on my own and ordered a “Californian Cone.” It turned out to be just like the caviar cones, only instead of fish eggs, they used the innards of tomatoes, which actually looked very similar to fish eggs when lined up next to the caviar. I suppose it is a vegan alternative to the caviar. I am not vegan, myself, and only ordered it because, while I was trying to be brave, I latched onto the safety of the words “guacamole” and “tomato” rather than venturing into the unknown wilds of something called “Tortilla de Patatas New Way,” which apparently involved “potato foam, egg 63 and caramelized onions.” I mean, I might have handled the “potato foam” but “egg 63” sounded too much like something from Adam-12.
Georgia chose the sweet potato chips with a dip made from yogurt, tamarind and star anise and then graciously shared them with the entire table. Our cones, on the other hand, were a one-person kind of deal. A one-person, don’t blink while you’re eating this or you might miss it, kind of deal. But flavorful… my goodness. I didn’t know it was possible to pack that much flavor into one mouthful.
Which, I am beginning to suspect, is the entire point of the affair. At least, at THIS restaurant in Beverly Hills. Tapas elsewhere is all about the relaxed pace of the meal, so that one can enjoy the flavors without becoming engorged, while also enjoying the company and leisurely conversation. And that was the case here too, but I’m pretty sure Jose Andres takes it to a whole new level of culinary artistry. High praise indeed, coming from a woman whose idea of hors d’oeuvre is chips and salsa and maybe, if I’m feeling really fancy, some Ritz crackers topped with hard-boiled egg slices and mandarin orange sections.
Feeling quite initiated by our cones, we dove back into the menus with new confidence. It was at this point, incidentally, that I realized I had been sitting the entire time with my mom-bag on my lap. The night was supposed to be about channeling our inner diva. Apparently mine is in her 80s.
The first dish to arrive at the table was Eggplant Tempura. It was served with a bowl of froth that was called “air.” At least, I think that was what it was called. It was what we were calling it, at any rate, and we may have originally gotten that idea from the waiter. This “air,” and the tempura itself, I suspect, were flavored with “local honey.” Who knew there were beekeepers in L.A.? At any rate, it was amazing.
We then moved on to “Bunuelos,” which I had ordered off the “traditional” side of the menu, wanting to compare classic tapas with the more modern fare we had already sampled. These were deep-fried, breaded balls made of cod, with a honey aioli sauce. I have always wanted to know what aioli was. Now I know. I didn’t get a photo of the Bunuelos, but you can see it in the video linked below.
I also ordered “Yukon Potato Gnocchi,” since I had once ordered gnocchi at an Italian restaurant, the last time I was feeling brave while dining out. Apparently I didn’t pronounce it correctly this time, either. At any rate, this gnocchi was nothing like that gnocchi had been. For one thing, when the plate arrived at the table and the sauce was poured on top, the food was MOVING. Something to do with the heat of the sauce and the thinness of the potato shavings. I don’t know… I missed the explanation given by the waiter because I was too busy trying to videotape it. I can’t post the video here, so I posted it to my YouTube account and linked it, which leads me to question whether I have really gone over the top now. It’s bad enough posting photos of your food, but VIDEO? Just shoot me now.
The rest of the meal progressed through a haze of gazpacho, cauliflower “couscous,” something called “beef cheeks,” Brussels sprouts cooked in a way I never would have imagined, and some amazing little rounds of flank steak topped with spheres of a red pepper sauce that popped in your mouth. Those flank steaks were so incredible, we had to order another round. Molly topped us all in the adventure department, however, by ordering rabbit, which none of us had ever eaten. And yes, it tasted like chicken. I could have sworn I took some pictures of these culinary masterpieces, but found none on my camera when I got home. I was apparently so mesmerized by the food, I either forgot how to work the thing or never managed to pick it up. And yes, the food was that good.
At any rate, before long, we were looking at the dessert menu. Three of us were, anyway. Molly doesn’t have a sweet tooth. I mean, she REALLY doesn’t have a sweet tooth. So when Georgia was eating a chocolate orange lollipop and raspberry tart and Cynde and I were tucking into Hot Chocolate Mousse, a very confused waiter appeared at the table with a plate of Ox-tail Sliders, wondering if something had gone wrong with the order. We assured him that he had gotten it right and Molly thoroughly enjoyed her second new food of the night. Cynde also ordered a cookie for our driver, but it somehow never made it out to the car. Sorry, Morad.
After the dessert was thoroughly consumed (Cynde and I restrained ourselves from licking our bowls. But only just), Molly felt it would be rude, considering how artfully each dish had been presented, to return the empty plates in any other condition than in the same vein. She then proceeded to gather all the garnishes from our drinks, as well as a couple of morsels from our dessert plates, to decorate plates for the benefit of the busboy.
Cynde and I joined in; I created a minimalistic piece involving a single chocolate-covered rice krispie and Cynde… well, Cynde had a more all-inclusive, eclectic approach (read: whatever she could find on the table pretty much went on that plate). We then arranged the plates on the table, and placed a little gift and a note for our waiter in the center (he didn’t really expect a TIP from us, did he?).
Oh stop it, of course we tipped him.
Before we ventured back out to the car, Georgia and Cynde went back to the kitchen and applauded the chefs while Molly and I visited the Ladies Room. Oh. My. Goodness. There was an attendant in there, and Molly said she must love her job because she gets to see the looks on everyone’s faces as they walk in the door for the first time. Unfortunately, I did not get any photos of the vanity area.
I did, however, and forgive me for this in advance because I am sure this lands squarely in the category of TMI, get a photo of the stall. No, but really, how could I not?
The stalls were completely enclosed, floor to ceiling, including the door, and both the walls AND door were mirrored. I just didn’t think anyone would believe me unless I took a picture of it. So here it is. So, yeah, while you’re sitting there, you get to watch yourself sit there. I… I have no words.
One more thing, though. I must boast a little here that while I may have blown the diva act the second I stepped out of the car at the restaurant, I totally WIN in the mom-bag department. Not only did I sensibly pack a pair of flats in that bag, thus rescuing myself from my high-heeled torture and enabling myself to navigate my way through the hoardes of the well-heeled and shiny in my quest to find the much-mirrored lavatory, but, when preparing to leave, I managed to fit both high-heeled size 8 pumps into my bag, along with my big clunky tourist camera. AND I zipped it up. BAM! Who’s the Mom Diva? Oh yeah, that would be me.