"Olives" pop like tiny water balloons, blue cheese is frozen into mini sandwiches, bread melts like meringue, and frozen caipirinhas waft in like fog. These are just a few of the smile-inducing offerings at the new Bazaar by José Andrés at the SLS Hotel.
This is no game of smoke and mirrors. Andrés is a culinary clinician who has considered every reaction his food will elicit, weighing not only its depth of flavor but its every hue, aroma, sound, texture and mouth feel.
One of the world’s most exciting chefs has found a home in South Beach, and what a natural fit for this adult wonderland. Not just the meal but the décor, the waiters and the experience are sexy, fun and adventurous.
The first of two high-ceilinged dining rooms is swathed in blood red with black accents including deep leather couches and matte mica tables. Beyond the hostess stand, a slightly more formal room is dominated by a shimmering white chandelier encrusted with tiny shells. With a long standup bar separating the two rooms and an open kitchen along one wall, the place has the vibe of a good party.
The menu can seem bazaar-like, but smart, well-trained waiters, handsomely dressed in white shirts and ties, are eager to explain the drill. Basically, two sections, “Miami Meets the World” and “Spain Yesterday and Today,” are comprised of more than 60 small, shareable plates.
Large swathes of both sections are dedicated to produce. The quinoa with 20 vegetables is an intensely flavored treat with an array of Lilliputian roots and shoots and a husky tamarind broth. Even better is a side of Brussels sprout leaves as fresh as a just-cut lawn tossed with slivered almonds, green grape halves and lemon foam.
Molecular cuisine may be old hat elsewhere, but except for La Broche, which disappeared as quickly as a puff of liquid nitrogen, there have been few serious attempts to make it work here.
At the Bazaar, don’t expect baskets of bread. Dinner might begin instead with bagels and lox, a tiny pastry cone filled with cream cheese, bright orange beads of salmon roe and toasted black sesame seeds. Or maybe bite-size empanadas made of golden-fried wonton wrappers around a wisp of cod mousse with a drizzle of honey. Or one of my favorites, the thoroughly tropical and utterly dramatic dragon fruit ceviche of diced tuna and avocado with toasted pecans and bright lime juice served with a crown of pink hibiscus foam.
In a nod to Spain’s classic canned tapas, Andrés serves plump Mediterranean mussels with carrot diced as small as coarse salt grains in an oval can with the lid jauntily tipped to the side. A more filling selection is the paella-like noodle dish black rossejat with a rich aioli dotted on a creamy layer of tiny toasted pasta sticks infused with black squid ink and topped with perky shrimp.
The Art Deco connection between Miami and Singapore inspires such delights as kueh pai ti, four little cups of crispy potato filled with shaved veggies, salty peanuts, chopped shrimp and chiles as hot as summer sidewalk. Creamy coconut rice with chewy bits of sweet and sour tamarind and seared scallops is a tropical embrace.
A twist on Peruvian papas a la huancaina is draped with briny whole sea urchin and studded with marble-sized purple potatoes. The velvety sauce is assertively salty and bracingly spicy.
We ordered tirelessly and found every dish delicious, or at least provocative. The Cuban’s warm, dribbling Swiss cheese almost guarantees a trip to the dry cleaners, but with its tiny squares of yellow pickle, swipe of mustard and stellar Iberico ham on a puff of bread that dissolves like a communion wafer, this “sandwich” is a triumph.
Deconstructed Key lime pie and a chocolate mousse mini cake with coffee ice cream may be a bit tame in comparison to the savories. But the frozen banana skin filled with mojito sorbet and topped with meringue towers and shavings of lime and mint should be wearing a party hat and swinging from the chandeliers.
Bazaar by culinary genius Andrés is Miami’s most exciting place to eat today — if you can get a reservation.