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Adventures in Dining

January 20, 2010

I am not now, nor have I ever been, a foodie.

Unfortunately I’m surrounded by them, which is how I wound up at not one, but two dens of haute cuisine last weekend. On Saturday I tweeted that I was coming down with a cold, and got direct message from V over at Staying In:

You’re still going to Irina’s birthday tonight though, right?

Crap, I replied.  That’s tonight? It had completely slipped my mind.

Even though V offered to drive, I was tempted to beg off due to sinus pressure, but when I told my mother the birthday girl had made dinner reservations at The Bazaar, she told me I had to go. It was “an experience not to be missed.” Her description could not do it justice, she said, and if I was really feeling lousy, I could call my dad to pick me up. All this fuss for a restaurant?

Irina watches a lot of Top Chef on Bravo, and despite appearing to be a mild-mannered Russian accountant, she’s got an adventurous streak and, like the rest of the dinner party, is willing to try just about anything – or let herself get talked into it by a friend. This wasn’t the first time she’d invited me to a restaurant that was more famous for being famous than it was for the menu.

To be fair, the Bazaar, part of the SLS Hotel on La Cienega, is known for its food, as well as a few other things:

  1. Having a chemist on staff whose primary function is to handle the liquid nitrogen.
  2. A “gift shop”/museum/gallery of modern “art” that ranges from jugs shaped like breasts (jug jugs, get it?), a collection of dominatrix bling, 80$ nylon teddy bears, and candles shaped like tea cakes.
  3. A separate room for the ‘patisserie’ where a waitress will escort you for dessert, if you feel like a change of scenery.
  4. A giraffe.

(Just kidding about the giraffe.)

They’re also really big on air, cotton candy, and turning solids into liquids. Take, for example, the Magic Martini ™, which is a martini strained through cotton candy. It’s quite a sight – the candy floss just disappears when it’s hit by the vodka. Cotton candy on sticks (resembling cotton swabs) passed by our table several times during the evening – they were reportedly surrounding the foie gras appetizer.

One of the Bazaar’s ‘specialities’ is liquid olives – I don’t like green olives when they’re in their natural state, so I declined, but the general consensus at our table was, ‘Um, okay.’ While the others were sucking the green gelatinous blobs off spoons and popping them with their tongues, I was snickering at the number of items on the menu that claimed to be finished with air. Salt air, lemon air, olive brine air – there must be a sous-chef whose prime directive is to blow on things. The restaurant is basically a giant circus – designed by Tim Burton.

What I did eat was very good – particularly the chicken and bechamel croquettes. I stuck to the easily identifiable; friends and family alike despair over my eating habits – not that I blame them. My tastes are terrible. And predictable. Show me to a tray of processed sugars and deep-fried dough and I’m happy. I live for carbs.

To the trendy gourmet, “carbs” are crass. Which is not to say that every plate that passed under my nose last weekend was low-cal – it just means that pasta isn’t ‘in’ unless it’s harboring some kind of seafood. Rice? Forget it unless it’s whole-grain and pilafed. They’ll fry anything but potatoes. No bread basket.

I like my food to be as simple as possible – knowing before I put it on my tongue that I’ll be able to swallow it saves a lot of time and the Heimlich Maneuver. I don’t eat anything that comes from the water (it tastes fishy), and I have a personal rule about consuming anything that I’ve personally hand-fed, which rules out rabbits, ducks, and kangaroos.

Among the items my adventurous friends tried Saturday night were the “Philly cheesesteaks” (tasty, but not particularly reminiscent of its namesake), tuna ceviche and avocado roll (a last minute addition; I abstained), sea scallops (ditto), catalan pork sausage, and the staple of the trendy restaurant: beef cheeks. I have yet to discover exactly which cheeks the meat comes from, and I probably don’t want to know.

Dessert brought more liquid nitrogen (without the table display), some excellent lava cake, and chocolate-covered pop rocks, which I was completely in favor of.

As V drove me home, I told her that I was planning to curl up in bed and watch Night Court, which was probably the first time a twenty-something ever uttered those words on a Saturday night.

Sunday, feeling slightly worse, I went to Animal, an austere hole-in-the-wall on Fairfax that wouldn’t open its doors until 6 p.m. precisely despite the pouring rain. As you might be able to tell from the name, they like meat. I’m surprised that they didn’t have beef cheeks on the menu, and didn’t offer to slaughter something at our table, but that wouldn’t have gone with the (lack of) decor.

If I’d worried about what I was going to eat at The Bazaar, it was nothing compared to my meal options at Animal, whose menu changes daily. As I scanned over the plates, all of which included at least one deal breaker, my stomach sank. The best part was the disclaimer:

changes and modifications politely declined

My mom likes to try new restaurants, and she’s certainly no chicken when it comes to trying new things, so this wasn’t the first time I’d arrived at a restaurant only to go home hungry, but I really hate food dictatorships. And yes, I’ve seen Last Holiday. Asking for substitutions is rude, sure, but is it so hard to leave something off the dish? It’s not as if it’s coming pre-assembled. Just let your hand skip over the dates and pecans, or ‘forget’ to bring out the truffle-parmesan fondue. I don’t like mushrooms or parmesan cheese, okay? Out of the twenty-something items on the menu, only one appealed to me: balsamic pork ribs (which were really good, but impossible to eat in a polite way. I felt like an…well, animal.)

Despite what some might think, I don’t actually take pride in my finicky tastes. I wish I could enjoy food the way most people I know do, but it’s not simply a matter of trying things. I try plenty of dishes outside my comfort zone – and spit them back out. I’m texture sensitive, and once I get it into my head that I shouldn’t like something, that’s it – I can’t look at it without gagging. My head says ‘Gag,’ and my throat muscles say, ‘How much?’

I don’t really like food. Obviously I eat it, and chocolate is my best friend, but I could survive on bread and water. Vegetables are a waste of molecules (if you have to cook something in something just to make it taste like something, then that’s a fail in my book.) Fruit – there’s that pesky texture problem again. I like crisp fruits, but don’t spend a lot of time thinking about it. I try not to take home leftovers because they inevitably go uneaten and have to be tossed. Food just isn’t something I think about all that much, and when I do go for a snack or what have you, I like to reach for whatever’s closest, because I am incredibly lazy. Convenience over content, baby.

Actually, it’s probably a good thing I know so many foodies. If I didn’t, I might never see the inside of an actual restaurant.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. January 20, 2010 6:01 pm

    It’s awesome that you’re at least trying!

    We didn’t have beef cheeks. That was beef hanger steak.

  2. Diana permalink
    January 20, 2010 7:54 pm

    Here, here! I’m with you on the food dictatorships!

  3. stephanie permalink
    January 21, 2010 7:53 am

    What can I say? I depair of your eating habits, but I love you anyway.

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