By Steve Cuozzo
Michelin-starred chef and international humanitarian Jose Andres lays a big, fat goose egg at the Bazaar at the Ritz-Carlton Nomad (35 West 28th St., TheBazaar.com) — the year’s most under-achieving new restaurant.
Andres has many kinds of restaurants around the world including Middle Eastern-inspired Zaytinya on the hotel’s ground floor; he’s a prime mover behind thriving Mercado Little Spain at Hudson Yards; and he’s heroically fed millions in humanitarian crises from Haiti to Ukraine. But his long-awaited Bazaar — the sixth outpost in the world for the fine dining spot — is just bizarre. Although it’s beautiful, comfortable and welcoming, its blending of Japanese and Spanish influences — not the dreaded “fusion” but close to it — falls far short of its ambitions and of common sense.
Andres clearly wanted something new for his latest Bazaar, the first in New York.
“Hey, Japanese-Peruvian worked at Nobu — let’s try Japanese-Spanish!”
He’s claimed to have been inspired by the 17th Century journey of a samurai warrior to meet the Spanish king. But while the concept isn’t as goofy, as, say, Polish-Malaysian might be, the cuisines have little in common despite ever-popular “respect for ingredients.”
And then there’s the prices! Cocktails cost as much as $28, Japanese Wagyu goes for as much $65 an ounce. “Tortilla de camarones” — a small rice pizzelle cracker topped with near-invisible micro-shrimp —was a ripoff even for $14.
Alas, Andres doesn’t seem to spend much time there. Not only was the Japanese-Spanish marriage off-base, the execution wobbled like a tipsy bridesmaid. A typical under-achiever was pluma iberico, a $62 pork steak grilled on the robata (to make it “Japanese, get it?). It lacked seasoning and quickly turned gray on the tongue even with a splash of boqueron chimichurri.
Some choices are works in progress. When the Bazaar opened in August, a dish simply called “socarrat” featured shima-aji (Japanese striped jack) folded inside a crunchy but flexible bomba rice envelope. I love socarrat, the rice crackle usually found at the bottom of a paella pan. Bazaar’s twist lived up to its promise at first. But they have inexplicably switched to presenting it in six flat pieces that were are as soggy — how can socarrat be soggy?— as a potato pancake.
An overwrought ramen dish replaces noodles with julienned, chewy enoki and shitake mushrooms. The first time I had it, the broth and mushrooms were cooked together in a bag that was opened at the table. It was tasty and satisfying.
But they now infuse mushroom tea with aromatics in an hourglass-shaped gizmo like the ones beloved of mad mixologists or stunt-man chef Barton G. The spectacle turned heads — and tried our patience. After much flame-lighting, steam-emitting, and liquid-running from the upper vessel into the lower one, the waiter poured the fortified tea over the wannabe noodles and an egg yolk. The dismal result: a dish that needs to be piping hot was barely lukewarm.
On another disappointing night, wild black cod arrived near-cold after a 45-minute wait.
Friendly waiters and waitresses who describe dishes patiently and knowledgably are a credit to the house. But theres are gears missing in the machine, both on the floor and in the kitchen.
Servers sometimes milled about aimlessly, their destination unclear as they dodge trolleys of Iberico ham “hand-cut from the famous acorn-fed, black-footed Spanish pig.” (The ham’s wonderful albeit at $45 an ounce.) Busboys tried so insistently to snatch plates away when we were half-finished, it felt like an “SNL” skit.
On a positive note, the long, second-floor dining room is sexily crafted by Spanish design studio Lazaro Rosa-Violan in dark wood with rust and indigo tints. There are attractive ceiling and table lights and booths and tables are well-spaced, allowing diners to actually hear their companions. Views of funky old buildings across the street lend a fun, urban-grit reality check..
I hope Andres can right the ship. I have enjoyed the Bazaars in Las Vegas, Los Angeles and South Beach. (The latter two have since closed.)
He’s done much for the causes of humanity and world cuisine. It would be a pity to see him flop in the Big Apple, the most global city of all.