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The Bazaar on a Budget

Photo by Muy Yum
Photo by Muy Yum

So, our dirty little secret until this week was that we'd never been to The Bazaar.

When asked about the cocktails at The Bazaar by José Andrés, the Beverly Hills restaurant located in the SLS Hotel, we simply responded with mumbles and derps, like cowards. We know. We know. Yes, The Bazaar is an icon of molecular gastronomy. Yes, it offers up Spanish fare with the avant garde, whimsical twists Andrés is famous for. Yes, it's crazy expensive. So we recently stopped in to investigate how to have the Bazaar experience without having the bizarre experience of having to sell your blood plasma to pay rent next month.

Below are a few tips on Bazaaring, so that if you drop a (somewhat) reasonable amount of cash you'll have the most rewarding time.

1. Get someone else to pay. That's our handiest tip.

2. If you fail on tip #1, then we suggest that you nab a seat at the bar instead of the restaurant itself. Bar Centro -- dimly lit and sleekly furnished -- offers a full cocktail menu of stunning, playful beverages, plus the spectacle of their fabrication. Don't beach yourself on a couch across the room when you can be up in the bartenders' space, watching them manipulate ingredients, set things on fire and chill glasses with clouds of liquid nitrogen. For added flourish, bartenders tend to spill beads of the chilly liquid onto the bar where they dance like the mercury from a cracked thermometer then vapor up like Halloween effects. Sideshow: No extra charge.

3. Visit on a Monday or Tuesday. There are fewer crowds early in the week, and fewer crowds means a better chance of finding a spot at the bar. It also means that the bartenders have more time to show off.

4. Order wisely. It's hard to go wrong with their cocktail menu, to be honest. The Bazaar, which opened in 2008, has set a tone of creativity, whimsy and luxury that countless other bars continue to strive for. But it's truly shocking how many dudes in khakis walk up and order -- wait. Are you ready for this? Sugar-free Redbull and vodka. From The Bazaar. It's criminal. So if you're going to have an "experience" there, do it it right. Order one of their expertly crafted cocktails and enjoy the flavors, the complexities and yes -- a few extra calories.

As for cocktail suggestions with the most bang: you could start your night off with the LN2 Caipirinha ($20). A waiter trained in the art of Caipirinha (a traditional Brazilian cocktail that's made with cachaça, sugar, and lime) wheels a gilded cart up to your barstool, then whips and mixes the ingredients with liquid nitrogen. The result is a cloud of vapor and a hand-churned frozen concoction garnished with edible flowers and served with a tiny wooden spoon. It's tart, sweet, and pleasantly icy. And yes, very fun to order.

Lead bartender Rob Floyd's Smoke On The Water (blackberries, scotch, Islay mist, flame, $18) was also a favorite, with an assertive tart berry flavor mellowed by the smokiness of the scotch. And ex-Rivera bartender Amanda Gunderson makes a bitters-heavy Mayor of La Cienega Blvd (Angostura, agave, lemon, rum, $16) that is complex and deep - a cocktail that would have fit in perfectly at an opium den.

And if you ask really, really nicely, you may get to try a few reworked garnishes, like a maraschino cherry that's been turned into a "spherification" using an alginate bath, the olive brine "air" that tops their "New Way" Dirty Martini ($16) or our favorite garnish, a tiny Japanese peach, the harvest which Andrés purchases in its entirety. Because when you're José Andrés, you can do that.

5. Try a few nibbles. Tiny Japanese tacos ($10) are wrapped in transparently thin slices of cucumber, stuffed with a sweet lump of barbecued eel and topped with a crunchy chicharron. The chicken and béchamel fritters ($10) were crispy on the outside and creamy inside, and debunked the myth that high end tapas had to be light and unsatisfyingly small. We deemed these little croquettes "chicken pot pie wearing a new outfit." Sophisticated, but filling is the way to go when ordering and sticking to a budget.

And if you're broke but still hungry, there's a Souplantation a few blocks away. No judgment.

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