Twist by Pierre Gagnaire
Mandarin Oriental (last visit: April 2010).
First there was Joël Robuchon. Next was Guy Savoy. Now, there is Pierre Gagnaire, the third three-star Michelin French chef to open a restaurant in Las Vegas. He is known for his oddball combinations of ingredients; the fact that he frequently succeeds is what has won him acclaim. Twist is his eighth restaurant, and his first in North America.
Service with a Smile
I wanted to eat at Twist, but its web site said "jacket required." This posed a problem, as I wouldn't have a jacket with me this trip. However, the on-line reservations link indicated a jacket was not required. I emailed Twist, describing my dilemma. Just 3 hours later, I got a response, saying that it would be OK not to wear a jacket - it was requested but not required. A day or two later, I happened to look at Twist's web site, and it now said "jacket requested." Talk about responsiveness!
Fast forward to the evening of my reservation. I arrived a little early - before the restaurant even opened. Not to worry; the maitre d' was already there. He noted that Mandarin Bar was nearby, and proceeded to escort me there, making sure I got a good table overlooking the Strip. When it was time, I was escorted back to the restaurant.
OK, now I'm seated in the restaurant. Seeing that I'm a solo diner, someone offered me some books and magazines to read while I waited.
Each of these things was a minor matter, but together left a lasting impression. Thumbs up to all the people with whom I interacted.
Your first choice is whether to order à la carte, or to go for the six course Spirit menu (described below). If you order à la carte, you'll begin to realize you're not in Kansas anymore when you see such choices as: mushroom broth served with chicken, cod cake and bloody Mary sorbet; Guinea hen with cinnamon and bacon; potato ice cream and Osetra caviar. Most courses offer multiple preparations. Thus, the foie gras appetizer comes as terrine, custard, seared and as a croquette.
It's fairly quiet, with soft instrumental music. Furniture is simple (and comfortable), with lots of dark purple, gray, silver and white. A high ceiling gives an airy feeling. Floor to ceiling windows give great views of the Strip and points east.
As indicated above, service was gracious and efficient.
Now as to the dress code: while jackets are requested, very few men wore then. Dark slacks and a nice shirt was the norm.
Glutton that I am, I chose the Spirit menu. It's supposedly six courses, but with several amuse-bouche, two or three or four pieces of bread, and a few mignardises, it seemed like more.
Even the amuse-bouche are worthy of comment. I normally think of them as a mere taste, but the group of four could have served as an appetizer. The tuna Chantilly was interesting, as were a couple of the others. A good start.
For those of you who want every last detail, I'll provide the full menu descriptions:
Shellfish & Red Beet (Red Beet carpaccio, Campari, Shellfish Salad “Baltard Market;” Soja glazed smoked Eel). This was one of those dishes that was memorable more for its quirkiness than its quality. The beets were oddly bitter; the smoked eel was served cold. It was good enough, but not special.
Sea and Earth (Santa-Barbara Prawns, Spicy Grapefruit Syrup, Ginger-Potato Salad; Poached Duck Foie Gras, Iberico Ham, Baby Squid, Scallop Mousseline; Baby Greens, Eggplant Tuile; Black & Blue Carrot Gelée, Cuttlefish Gnocchetti, Seaweed). If I had not looked at the menu, I would have described the first part of this course as potato salad with all sorts of stuff in it. Nonetheless, it was very good, so call it a success. I'm a sucker for foie gras, so of course I liked it - a lot - but I'd still prefer a nicely seared piece served in the traditional fashion. The black and blue carrot gelée was just plain weird.
Black Cod (Grilled Fillet & Poached in Citrus Butter, Molasses-White Balsamic Glaze; Lamb Lettuce, Green Asparagus, Manchégo Cheese; Asparagus Ice Cream, Green Apple, Paris Mushroom). The fish was crisp on the outside, soft and buttery in the middle; wonderful flavor and texture. On the other hand, asparagus ice cream was weird: not bad, not good, just weird.
Hibiscus (Hibiscus Gelée, Mascarpone Cream, Malabar Pepper Braised Turnip; Rosé Champagne, Lime Granité). This course was similar to a palate cleanser, but much more complex, with stronger flavors: sour, sweet, earthy, cheesy. Textures ranged from crunchy (granité), to jelly like, to firm. The small edible flower was a nice touch.
Grilled Prime Sirloin(Stewed Rhubarb and Celery, Pinot Noir Jus, preserved Shallot; Broccoli Salad , Egg “Mimosa” and Red Cabbage Gelée; Bolognaise, Grilled Zucchini, Beef Carpaccio and Black Olive). Open the lid to this dish, and an intense, almost peaty, aroma escapes. This enhanced a very good piece of beef.
Grand Dessert Pierre Gagnaire(LLLemon [Sorbet, Water, Cream]; Honey Parfait, Dried Fruit Syrup; The Evil [Saffron-Tequila Bavaroise, Peppered Mozzarella Ice Cream]; Coffee Tartlette, Whiskey Chantilly, Milk Chocolate-Pistachio Glacée; Chocolate Grapefruit with Campari). Who wouldn't like getting five desserts? LLLemon was suitably sour, Coffee Tartlette was bitter in a strange but addictive way, Honey Parfait and Chocolate Grapefruit were...(all I wrote down was "very good"). All in all, four very good desserts. Now, about The Evil: it had to be the most bizarre dessert I've ever eaten. The menu mentioned peppered mozzarella ice cream, but there was more than that. There were also dried tomato, tomato skin and eggplant, and god knows what else. It wasn't bad, but...but...but what was it? Well, it was fun.
That was the end of the meal, save for a few mignardises.
Twist is a good restaurant. A very good restaurant. However, you have to like experimental food in order to get the most out of the place. I enjoyed the dishes that succeeded, and enjoyed the less successful dishes for the challenge they offered. Service was impeccable. Now that Bar Charlie has closed, Pierre Gagnaire's restaurant is the best when it comes to gourmet food with a twist.
The meal was $200, plus drinks and tip.
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