Monday, December 7, 2009

Twist - 12/05/2009

4882 Frank Sinatra Drive
Las Vegas, NV 89109
(404) 869-1191

Over the last few years Las Vegas has attracted a sterling collection of chefs, including French luminaries Joel Robuchon and Guy Savoy. Coming relatively late to the party with Twist, is Chef Pierre Gagnaire, whose eponymous restaurant enjoys 3 Michelin Stars and is 9th on Restaurant Magazine's Top 50 list. Surprisingly, this is his first US venture, and the first of several new gourmet restaurants that can be to open in the brand new $8.5 billion CityCenter.

Located on the 23rd floor of the Mandarin Oriental, diners are greeted by a view of the wine loft upon entry. Immediately to the right is a small bar area and an L-shaped dining room that seats 72. Suspended above the contemporarily dressed dining room are 300 small spherical lights that continuously sway gently as if caught in a light breeze.

Known as a pioneer of French fusion, Gagnaire lives by the philosophy "God put all these ingredients on Earth and it is our job to deal with them." His food is most often known for daring combinations, unique and incongrouous flavors, textures, and ingredients. The complexity can be seen in the extremely elaborate menu descriptions as well as the presentation of each course which typically comes in two or three plates.

CANAPE 01: Guiness and Jack Daniels Gelée
The first canape we were presented with was a small cube of beer and whiskey which tasted of dark bitter notes and a hint of alcohol

CANAPE 02: Nopi Salad
Cuttlefish, Haricot Verts, Red Pepper, Celeriac
My favorite of the starters was the Nopi salad made of diced vegetables and cuttlefish, the dish had a pronounced Asian flavor, with ginger and soy, combined with a tangy vinaigrette and an herbaceousness from the celery root.

CANAPE 03: Flaxseed Garlic Cracker
Bluefin Chantilly
The dry nutty cracker was quite enjoyable on its one as was the the bluefin cream which tasted reminiscent of both tuna and mayo as well as deviled ham. Eaten together the cracker came to the fore texturally, but the bolder flavor of the Chantilly dominated on the palate.

CANAPE 04: Toasted Almond Sablé
Everybody commented on cute the cookies looked, the almond slivers giving the impression of a bunny. The cookie itself was dry and crumbly with a strong aroma of butter complimented nicely by the toasted nuts, probably the best almond cookie I have ever had.

CANAPE 05: Pecorino Soufflé
Spinach Veloute
The soufflé reminded me of José Andres' air bread, a crusty hollow morsel, with the cheeze providing a bold shock of flavor.

CANAPE 06: Yukon Gold Crisp
Smoked Sardine, Golden Raisin
Another strong canape, the smoked sardine added very pleasing notes of sweet smoke and dried fish to the humble taste of the crispy chip.

French Ciabatta, Country Rye, Molasses Wheat with Raisin Walnut
Seaweed Butter, Isigny Butter
A very straightforward bread selection, my favorite was the fluffy ciabatta slathered with a generous helping of the creamy sweet unsalted butter.

Squab Breast, Foie Gras, Black Olive Gelée
Sake-Apple Marmalade, Pomegranate Seeds
The first course was titled sea scallops however the shellfish was overpowered by the heavy pairing of squab and foie gras. The richness of the squab and foie are expertly contrasted by the bitter greens, earthy black olive and the intermittent hints of sweetness from the fruit.

Liebig and Champagne, Mushroom, Mango, Spring Onion
Capellini, Green Pepper, Celeriac
Cauliflower Velouté, Nutmeg-Tumeric
The lobster was lightly cooked and quite dense giving it a cool luxurious crunch. The natural sweetness of the lobster matched well to the tropical flavors of the mango and complimented the tangy bitter notes from the other accompaniments resulting in a beguilingly light and refreshing sensation.

Carpaccio, Chestnut and Artichoke, Truffled Vinaigrette
Pascaline, Green Asparagus, Parmesan Mousse
Roasted Scallop on top of Truffled Biscotte
The carpaccio was lightly seasoned the dense smooth scallop, relying on a tart savor from the chestnut and artichoke. The next two courses both tasted strongly of truffle, the first emphasizing the interplay between the truffle and asparagus, while the second was a classic pairing of truffle and scallop. Ironically this was both the most straightforward and most luxurious of all the dishes.

Tartelette, Libanese Taboulé
Snow Crab, Aoyama Sauce
Bonito-Shellfish Gelée, Mozzarella Ice Cream
One of the more accessible dishes of the night, the tender sea breem was quite mild, relying on the buttery tartlette and savory body of the gelée. The snow crab was quite delicate and sweet especially well suited to the Asian styling of the Aoyama sauce, a delicious blend of mirin, soy, and dashi. It was interesting to note the dual use of bonito in this course, rather than being repetitive, the umami-essence helped tie the dish together.

Poached in Malabar Black Pepper-Citrus Butter
Cannelloni Beans, Marin Velouté, Crunchy Sauce
Another very lightly flavored fish, the tender Dory completely absorbed the poaching stock infusing the meat with a delicate citrus. What made the fish for me were the thin slices of clam which gave a briny weight to the fish and drew out the natural savor of the dory. The "Crunchy Sauce" so named for the thin slice of toast was a mix of tomato and grapefruit, that tasted initially of salsa but with an overpowering bitter-tart finish from the graprefruit. We were instructed to take small pieces of the fish and dip it in the crunchy sauce, which accentuated the citrus flavors of the dory and provided a satisfying contrasting crunch.

Chicken Chiffonade, Vegetable Gnocchi
Kombawa Cod Cake
Bloody Mary Sorbet, Ratatouille Bavaroise
The tender chicken and vegetable gnocchi combined to give a wonderfully homey character and provide a hearty base for the creamy earthy soup. The accompaniments were just as strong, the lightly fried cod cake was reminiscent of bacalao with a light toasty crunch and satisfying oily fishiness. The savory ratatoille and bracing bloody mary sorbet served as the perfect palate cleanser equally effective at washing the oiliness of the fish or the sapor of the chicken.

Toasted Beef Gelée, Oyster Cocktail with Shallots
Smoked Red Beet Purée, Country Bread and Comté
Marinated Clams, Whelks, Razor Clams, "Lee" Baby Spinach
The next course featured cooked(?) oysters. The shellfish had surprisngly soft supple texture and very light briny that contrasted with the tart savory beef, sweet beets and bitter popcorn greens. Apparently, the popcorn greens are microgreens that germinate from unpopped popcorn kernels. The oysters came with a side salad of spinach, arugula, and a variety of other shellfish which also exhibited a strong interplay between the bitter greens and sweet briny shellfish. The third part of the dish consisted of two thin slice of bread topped with melted cheese and tangy slaw of red cabbage.

Terrine, Dried Figs, Toasted Ginger Bread
Custard, Green Lentils, Grilled Zucchini
Seared, Sweet and Sour Duck Glaze, Fruit Marmalade
Gateau, Trevicchio Purée, Pickled Red Onions
I think the entire table was looking forward to the next course, a quartet of foie, who wouldn't love that? My favorite was the terrine, the liquified goodness of the foie providing a rich overtone for the salty ham. The majority of the table liked the gateau with its leaner, more iron-y liver flavor juxtaposed with more bitter grees. Surprisingly the terrine was one of the weaker preparations, extremely fatty and flavorful, it just lacked the complexity and thought of the other dishes. We were also given a luxurious foie custard with tapioca, a unique presentation like a foie gras milk tea.

Seared, Iberico Ham, Bell Pepper
Grilled with TTB Sauce, Avocado
Mousseline Perfumed with Sherry
Gelée with Kombu Seaweed Seasoned with Lobster Coral
Tartar, Campari Turnip, Baby Greens
This is one of Gagnaire's signature courses and after tasting it I can understand, fatastically prepared from start to finish, a truly comprehensive study of langoustine. Our server suggested we start with the warm presentations, then move to the gelée before finishing with the tartare, an interesting decision to go with the more full flavored preparations and have lighter finishes. The seared was probably my favorite, a juicy crunchy texture with smoky baconesque ham and roasted bell pepper. Next up was a simply grilled variation, with a fuller texture, truly emphasizing the pure flavor of the shellfish. Next up was a mousseline, that had an eggy texture and flavor. A umber of my companions, considered the gelée the top presentation, with its immediate emphasis on the pungent flavor the coral. The final course was a tartar with a texture and flavor similar to ika sushi, an intially chewy feel that turns to creaminess upon mastication.

Kirsch Brandy, Rhubarb Mousse, Grapefruit Granité
A cool intermezzo was very welcome by this point, the Kirsch brandy giving a bit of heat to the bracingly tart granité. The sous vided vegetables added a bitterness that reinforced the restorative feeling of this dish, though served diced as they were, I am not sure the sous vide preparation added anything.

Red Cabbage-Black Currant Jam, Tamy Potato
Pear-Celery Gratin, "Grand Veneur" Quenelle
We finally come to the last savory, by this point we were all ready to be done, having grossly underestimated the amount of food in each course. Looking back our initial idea to run the gamut seems laughable in its naievte. The venison was surprisingly light, barely any of the iron-metallic game normally associated to deer. The tender meat went well with the rustic Grand Veneur (huntsman) sauce and dark red fruit. We were also offered a vegetal pear-celery gratin which helped absorb the most intense flavors from the venison. And just in case we wanted more flavor, the third part of this dish was a quenelle made of the same Grand Veneur, which combines cream, currants, blood, and pepper sauce.

Elaborated from Seasonal Fruits, Vegetables
Homemade Candy & Chocolates
Nelson Sablé, Meringue, Citrus Sorbet
Probably my favorite of the dessert the buttery cookie was infused with a bracing acidity from the sorbet and an airy sweetness from the meringue

Quince Gelée, Bavaroise, Chartreuse Parfait
A lovely course, the liquer heat of the Chartruse was softened by the quince and and the creamy body of the Bavaroise.

Fruit Biscuit, Seasonal Coulis
The third dessert looked and tasted very much like a fruit cake with a sticky sweetness and florid perfume of cooked fruit.

Cachaca Granité, Cucumber Marmelade, Green Apple
Another stunning dessert, the refreshing lushness of the cucumber complimeted the sweet alcoholic burn of the granité.

Ganache, Ginger, Chocolate Ice Cream
The final dessert was a significant break from the rest of the desserts, emphasizing the bittersweet luxury of chocolate tinged with a slightly numbing spice from the ginger.

Petit Fours
Green Tea Leaf with Toasted Pine Nuts, Assorted Meringues
Frozen Lemon, Spanish Olive Oil
Dinner ended with an assorted mix of crunchy airy meringues, I suspect they had their own individual flavors but I was in no state to appreciate anything more than the simple sweetness. The green tea leaf was dried and crispy, with a fragrant bouquet of earthy grassy notes. We were also presented a lifesaver shaped drop of lemon juice. The frozen juice was so intense that the olive oil was all but lost

I don't think I have ever had so much difficulty putting words to my thoughts as I had with Twist. The myriad of sights, smells, tastes, and textures in each dish, bombard the senses in a fashion that is impossible to quantify succinctly. If I were to have one complaint it is by combining sweet, salty, bitter, and sour in every course gives an overarching similarity to the entire meal. What adds to the mystery is how Chef Gagnaire comes up with these courses. At restaurants such as Moto or Bazaar, the emphasis is about reinventing classic dishes, the culinary tradition is evident, but Gagnaire's food does not lend itself to such simple and easy quantification. Personally I am happy to welcome Chef Gagnaire's brand of cerebral fusion cooking to Las Vegas and the United States. More than any other restaurant I have been to, the only way to understand the food at Twist is to experience it for yourself. Even then you may not understand everything, I know I didn't, but if you do, please give me a call and explain it to me.


Kung Food Panda said...

The meal might have left you at a loss for words, but you beat Kevin to the punch with the post. Congrats!

Tangbro1 said...

Lol I should also beat him at Bar Masa and Shaboo too!

Jeff Overley said...

Holy wow, man, I read you a lot and this was a lot of food even by your standards. I vicariously enjoyed the feast.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm, I actually call it conservative - not very bold or daring at all. Almost boring. I agree with the scallop on truffles being the most satisfying followed by the asparagus with parmesan creme. But do you remember any other flavors by now? I seem to have forgotten them already even though I was just there two days ago. Great execution, good service, but kind of bland. Like a two star before they find the courage to focus on more intense dishes that take them to three stars.

Tangbro1 said...

Thanks for the support. It actually looks like more food than it was, each of the supplements was shared by three people.

When I say it was bold I mean the fact they paired so many disparate flavors together. For example the sea breem came with a side salad of crab with Aoyama sauce, on their own both of these are fairly simple, but eaten together the dish got a lot busier and harder to follow even without the dashi and mozzarella sauce. The combination didn't always build upon and compliment one another like they did with the scallops and truffle, but they did make me wonder what the chef had in mind serving the two together.