What Gets Good Service in L.A.

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Photo by Lizabeth Steinhart

Several members of a group visiting and dining in Los Angeles converged at the new restaurant, Jose Andres's Bazaar, at the new SLS Hotel at Beverly Hills, which my meticulous colleague Patric Kuh recently reviewed in Los Angeles magazine. Anyone who watches television has likely encountered Andres's big, generous, irrepressible personality, and knows his passion for his native Spain and his enthusiasm for introducing the experimental cuisine of his first employer and lifetime mentor, Ferran Adria -- the cooking that has reached its zenith in this country in the hands of Grant Achatz.

Andres's Washington restaurants, Café Atlántico and Minibar, are very popular, and Atlantico spreads over three floors (my favorite of his group, Zaytinya, is more Turkish and Mediterranean than Spanish). But none of those will prepare you for Bazaar, which is an entirely different scene -- a Los Angeles scene, created by Philippe Starck and the local clubmaster Sam Nazarian.

Thus the crowds spilling over from the vast lobby/bar/design shop (operated by Moss) in the driveway. And thus the greetings that awaited us: when our advance scout went in asking to sit at the bar -- this is a vast restaurant, with as many seating areas as the Bazaar-like Spice Market, in New York's Meatpacking District -- he was told he could sit at a shared table on the patio under a heat lamp. And the waitress wouldn't really be able to get to him for a long time because she was busy. A table for the three of us? At least an hour and a half.

Then we were joined by a fourth: the stunning actress and model friend of one of our number. One look and we were shown to a table in the main dining room -- the half-empty main dining room, beside several other large, large dining areas with numerous free tables. Our new fourth happened to be on her way back from a meeting at Chateau Marmont ("Did you eat?" our scout, who had arrived from a long flight at the same time as I, asked. "Yes, but it was business," she replied. "Everything here is." "I'd say a lot of people here," he said, scanning the room, "are looking to get [lucky]." "Here, that's business," she replied immediately).

Later we compared notes with another group of four friends who had booked in advance and were actually served. Being in the trade, they wanted to keep their menus. They wanted to keep ordering tapas throughout the meal, depending on what they saw being delivered to other tables, following their sense of what the kitchen did best as they tasted through sectors of the menu. This is how critics eat. But it's not how diners are allowed to order at Bazaar. You can't keep your menus on the table -- it's too cluttered, the waitperson informed them as she snatched them all away. The wine list? Can't keep that either: we don't have enough. But, the table was told, "we'll put you in the rotation" to see it again.

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Photo by Lizabeth Steinhart

Midway through that meal, one of the party was recognized by a former resident of his current hometown, someone known to the management. Hugs all around, animated standing conversation. Friend gone, party re-seated, menus and wine list reappeared and suddenly food appeared practically as soon as they ordered it.

In fairness, the food did not seem to vary by status. The greatest-hit Andres dishes like little torpedo-shaped Philly cheese steak variations, the hollow pita-like torpedoes filled with non-Cheez Whiz and covered with slices of rare beef, and deconstructed caesar salad are proficiently prepared. A pro member of our party rightly marveled at the quality control a celebrity chef could maintain over a sprawling satellite. And it was my first taste of the newly available jamon Bellotta, which is worth a trip -- well, anyplace that's doling it out by the extremely expensive slice.

But it was enough to make you head straight to the place burger lovers say is way better than In-N-Out: Tommy's. Or, of course, to line up your company before you even try to leave your car with the valet -- generally a wise LA move.

Additional photos by Lizabeth Steinhart are available at Food She Thought.