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BEVERLY HILLS, California (Reuters Life!) - Spanish celebrity chef Jose Andres worked on his Beverly Hills venture The Bazaar for two and a half years, only to open in the midst of the worst economic and financial downturn in decades.
But Andres may have found the recipe for a successful recession-era restaurant: offer customers a menu of options under one roof and offer them something they can't find elsewhere.
Like a bustling Middle Eastern souk, The Bazaar boasts several spots where drinkers and diners can stop -- a cocktail bar, a traditional tapas spot, a contemporary tapas space and a patisserie complete with deluxe candy jars.
Customers can roam from one section to another and their checks will follow them through the Philippe Starck-designed space on the ground floor of the new SLS Hotel. Drink in hand, they can meander over to the design boutique and drop a few thousand dollars for a paparazzi celebrity photo or a replica of the Titanic.
If money is tight, diners can order just a few small plates, which Andres says are a good value at under $10.
Alas, not even a celebrity and luxury shopping mecca like Beverly Hills is immune to this deep financial crisis. And although Andres, 39, has never been more popular thanks to his "Made in Spain" television series and cookbook, he can't ignore the economic chill.
"Of course, I am worried. You can only not be worried if you are a multimillionaire not invested in anything and with cash in the bank," said Andres, who is based in Washington D.C. where he opened a string of acclaimed restaurants over the last 15 years.
But a recent feverish Friday night at The Bazaar belied the economic downturn and Andres said he was pleased with the bustling crowd and the critics' reviews in the first month.
The Los Angeles Times food critic S. Irene Virbila gave The Bazaar a positive "early bird" review with the headline "Great taste in design and food." Los Angeles food bloggers have also buzzed with praise for Andres' first West Coast venture.
The Bazaar appeals to seasoned gourmets and food fashionistas. Andres is inspired by both the traditional cooking of his home country and avant-garde cuisine fostered by chef Ferran Adria of El Bulli, where Andres trained.
On the Rojo side of Rojo y Blanca, decorated with photos of bullfighters and Picasso-style drawings, Andres' team taps high-quality Spanish ingredients to serve up classic tapas like a plate of Iberico ham, tomato bread or potato omelette.
On the contemporary Blanca side, modern tapas include liquid olives inspired by Adria and watermelon tomato skewers.
No matter where one sits, one can order from either menu.
And then there are the roving carts in which a mixologist stirs up a liquid nitrogen caipirinha and a chef whips up cotton candy around a foie gras nibble.
Soon, Andres will open the final space, an exclusive 36-seat dining room called Saam.
"Nothing I am doing here I haven't experimented with before," said Andres. "I've been creating the base for years."
And if The Bazaar survives and thrives in tough economic times, Andres can be expected to take diners to new places in coming years.
"Money is just one reason to do a project like this, although it is not the most important," said Andres. "It helps you do other things. You can put money in the bank, or, like me, you can continue investigating and doing other things."