That time I was mistaken for a food critic

Croquetas de pollo at Bazaar Meats by Jose Andres - (C) Photo by Andrew Schingen

Croquetas de pollo come in a José Andrés signature sneaker

By Eram Cowlas, Hennepin Theatre Trust Communications Manager


I once heard a radio ad that urged listeners to buy diamonds for their one true love because “you never remember flowers or a meal you ate once.” That guy should have been there the time I was mistaken for a food critic.

I was still in “beginner foodie” mode in 2017 when my husband and I — both journalists at the time — flew to Las Vegas to visit a friend. Vegas isn’t necessarily my first pick of vacation spots, but I knew one thing; it’s home to Bazaar Meat, José Andrés’s steakhouse. And it called to me.

Oysters at Bazaar Meats by Jose Andres - (C) Photo by Andrew Schingen

Oysters, Photo by Andrew Schingen

Despite the savory, smoky aroma that welcomed us, I was actually nervous. My stomach could only handle so much food; I would have to choose carefully. So, I was prepared to ask questions to craft the perfect meal. The serving staff was helpful as I pelted them with questions like, “The croquetas de pollo sound heavenly, but I know I can find them at other José Andrés restaurants. Should I go with the oysters instead?” I went with the oysters. My photographer husband — having been put on notice that I was expecting a culinary adventure — thought he was ready to capture it all on camera. Neither of us was ready.

The server arrived with a glass-covered dish that was smoke-filled to the point we couldn’t see food hiding inside. I was confused, until he opened the container with a flourish that wafted the smoke in our direction. That was when I began to realize the power Andrés possesses to bend both food and the very air around us to craft an experience so perfect that it hits on every sense. We breathed in an essence so perfect that I could imagine skipping the food. Except, I couldn’t. The Apple wood-smoked oysters with apple mignonette were perfection.

Olives at Bazaar Meats by Jose Andres - (C) Photo by Andrew Schingen

Olives, Photo by Andrew Schingen

When we were presented with my most anticipated dish — one that is actually an homage to Andrés’s culinary mentor — I couldn’t help but to babble about it to my dining companions as my husband’s DSLR camera clicked away. The Ferran Adrià olives is a magical dish presented both as traditional olives stuffed with piquillo pepper and anchovy, and in a modern interpretation as a liquid green olive that can only be described as a taste explosion that is more olive than olives. The server seemed amused (I hope!) as I excitedly explained that the dish is revered in the gastronomy world as one that revolutionized the very idea of what can be done with food. They live up to the hype.

Soon after, we were surprised when the server arrived with the croquetas we had passed on, stacked inside Andrés’s signature resin tennis shoe serving dish. We were informed it was compliments of the chef, who felt we couldn’t leave the restaurant without trying them. “Deep fried” and “light as a cloud” don’t go typically together, but these croquetas were that kind of heavenly and flavor packed. And so ­­— click ­— more photos.

Cotton candy foie gras at Bazaar Meats by Jose Andres - (C) Photo by Andrew Schingen

Cotton candy foie gras, Photo by Andrew Schingen

Cotton candy foie gras with crispy amaranth arrived — click, click, click — and it was an experience unlike any other I’d ever had. Each of us took turns eating the bite of fluffy, savory-sweet clouds so we could all watch the others and wait for a reaction and discuss.

Then small shot glasses filled with a pastel tomato and cucumber gazpacho magically appeared—apparently another “must have” in the chef’s eyes. It’s not something I would order, and it was more delightful than a cold soup should be. Even this understated shot got a round of pics.

The wagyu steak the three of us split was buttery, perfection — some of the best I’ve ever eaten. Even a tray of surreal desserts that also appeared without an order were a delight to the senses, each morsel perfectly crafted.

Dessert tray at Bazaar Meat - (C) Photo by Andrew Schingen

Photo by Andrew Schingen

In total, the meal exceeded my expectations, and only partially because of the extra delights provided compliments of the chef. It wasn’t until later, flipping through photos, that it dawned on us; my bizarrely detailed questions and my husband’s photography likely made the staff think we’re food critics.

The lesson learned could be to chill out a bit, but that doesn’t mean I won’t be as ridiculously animated during my next visit to a José Andrés restaurant. If you want to understand, you’ll have to go yourself and try those olives.

Get tickets to see José Andrés at the State Theatre, March 2, 2020, as part of the Inspired Conversations speaker series, presented in partnership with Star Tribune.