If I had a buck for every time I’ve heard that “New York is back,” I’d have enough for a few bites at chef and humanitarian José Andrés’ new restaurant, The Bazaar. Literally.
A place where the plates range from $14 for eight olives to $65 for one ounce of Kobe ribeye, with $8 oysters in-between, certainly assumes that the moneyed are poised to spend again. This is not the first return to super-luxe dining since the pandemic, of course. Daniel Boulud’s Le Pavillon, which presently peaks at $205 per person for six courses at dinner, was among the earliest post-vaccine arrivals; James Kent’s Saga ($295 per person for nine-ish rounds), which came a little later, is one of the most expensive. But Spanish and Japanese-influenced The Bazaar at The Ritz-Carlton, Nomad, with its recommended four-to-six dishes a guest, and its caveat that many amount to just a few chews, assembled untethered from a guided tasting or the notion of abundance a multi-course experience can evoke, seems to have the boldest dollar signs of those après-2020 currency symbols.
Some of The Bazaar’s “little starters,” for example, are even less substantial, at twice the price, as the amuse-bouche-sized openers I knocked at one of 2022’s best newcomers, the also costly, also à la carte, Le Rock. And some of their flavors are as fleeting as the essence of a Pamplemousse LaCroix, for comical sums.
That includes the Japanese sea urchin cone. Described by The Bazaar’s patient, professional staff as one or two bites, it’s most charitably enjoyed as the former, lest you get a mouthful of the bland, uni-obscuring yuzu kosho mayo gathered toward its tip. At $24 for the pinkie-measured nibble, this is not an unheard of supplement fee for that orange-y, buttery-to-dissolving good stuff on, say, a nice bit of sashimi, but here, it needlessly competes, with, rather than compliments, its accompanying emulsion. The disappointment and perhaps rightful guilt for having just eaten the equivalent of almost eight subway swipes sucks some air out of the otherwise grandly handsome space.
The Wagyu air bread ($18 per piece) is a much more uplifting affair. Versions also appear at The Bazaar’s D.C., Chicago and Las Vegas outposts as one of few recurring items—like those darn cones—across the brand. The Manhattan spin fills otherwise hollow torpedoes of that airy titular vehicle with marvelously melty manchego and tops it with a layer of thin, lightly seared beef. It approaches transcendent, decadent with textures alternating between silken, crisp and velvety. Eat it immediately, as instructed, and it’s unforgettable, and even seems worth its price.
It’s a chasm. It’s unnerving to learn that The Bazaar’s introductory items are portioned and priced like they’re from a restaurant in a New Yorker cartoon. It’s disquieting to hear that its penultimate “tasting through Japan” section starts at $40 an ounce for (surely the finest) short rib, and wonder, in “if you have to ask . . .” fashion, if a person is intended to order all four selections for what would amount to a minimum of $200, were they cut to their smallest possible portions. And it’s just confusing to figure out that, aside from the unspeakably expensive so-sos, there are some slightly less unconscionably expensive very goods on the menu.
While the oysters escabeche ($38)—which I ordered for its seeming hints of the molecular gastronomy genre Andrés is prominently associated with via its listed ingredients like “air” and “green apple “pearls”"—are ultimately uninteresting, topped with foam like you’ll find plenty of places, those teased gems just literal bits of fruit, the much simpler live scallops ($34) are fantastic. While the strip loin (recently available at $60 for 5 ounces; normally $80 for 8), as close as you can get to the considerably higher priced beef by the ounce section without going over, is cheerily interrobang-punctuated ok‽, if inadvisably done to a medium-plus in some places, the tartare ($36), made with Japanese Wagyu top sirloin, presented deconstructed with its egg yolk, mustard and anchovies, then assembled tableside and served with brilliant tempura shiso leaves, is wonderful. And while the puntillitas ($18) aren’t unlike any other fried baby squid in town, save for the vast room to roam between them, the bomba rice socarrat ($24) is excellent, enveloping to whisper warmth across lovely slices of raw shima aji.
Visit frequently enough, and you’ll know what to order for a good time. But the price of admission is so high, it’s too easy to leave feeling like the subject of a joke. “No two experiences at #TheBazaar are the same,” a post on the burgeoning chain’s Instagram page states. With the wild swings, the assertion lands a little more like a threat.
The Vibe: Gilded.
The Food: Some extraordinary items like the Wagyu air bread, beef tartare and bomba rice socarrat with shima aji. Average oyster preparations that cost too much to be so so-so and a huge miss with the super-spendy, signature Japanese sea urchin cone.
The Drinks: Excellent cocktails like the über-smooth milk punch, and Manhattan, old fashioned and martini classics plus beer, wine, sake and shōchū.
The Bazaar is located at 35 West 28th Street.