Can you really eat and enjoy a 22-course dinner?
I recently finished a 22nd course dinner at Saam, the boutique restaurant-within-a-restaurant at the SLS hotel in Los Angeles, and realized two things: First, there was absolutely nothing in José Andrés’s parade of teensy, fanciful dishes that could teach a home cook anything. Second, I wasn’t in the least bit full.
Rare is the marathon tasting menu that doesn’t leave you feeling like a force-fed goose. Pierre Gagnaire’s three-star Paris shrine to his monumental personality served astonishing food which, as the meat courses droned on (and a long parade of desserts waited in the wings) caused real fear to set in, and not only fear of the bill—fear of explosion.
Several people have described the legendary tasting menu at Per Se in New York to me in a tone that is three-fifths wonder, one-fifth buttery bile, one-fifth anxiety about their credit rating. I recall a spectacular meal at a restaurant called El Raco de Can Fabes in Spain—a rival restaurant to all-time-champion El Bulli—that just plain exhausted me, and my wallet.
I recommend Saam to anyone who will be visiting LA and is curious about the fancy-pants world of the long-form, ultra-finnicky show-off dinner. First, $120 for 22 courses is a relative bargain, compared to prices at the rest of the restaurants named above, or for that matter (just for perspective) the price of Pittsburgh Steelers nosebleed-section tickets on Stubhub. Second, there’s a tapas-like friendiness to Andrés’s food (the huge restaurant that houses Saam, called Bazaar, is a riff on the tapas theme). One dish consists of a tiny boneless chicken wing, marinated and made crispy, topped with a drop of gelatinized hot sauce, a wee daub of blue-cheese emulsion, and a microscopic mince of celery. It was a one-bite homage to the buffalo wing—and delicious. Other treats: a little ampule of spun sugar containing a drop of olive oil; glass noodles constructed from smoky dashi broth, with a wee clam; a demitasse foie-gras flavored soup with a sweet corn foam and bits of crunchy corn nuts; a slow-cooked quail egg with crisp potato, wrapped with “veal breast pastrami.” The food was matched with a canny assortment of vivid wines (which costs extra, of course).
As I say, nothing a home cook could learn here. But then, you don’t go to the ballet to learn how to pirouette. Some things are best left to the fancy-pants professionals.