Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Pierre Gagnaire's Twist at MO LV, Las Vegas


Pierre Gagnaire's Twist


(Click to view video)

I'm an eater. Always have been. My parents owned and operated a restaurant and so my connection with food began as a child. So, without using the pejorative term "foodie" I will say that I am one who loves to experience the world through food and that I will seek to find the best or most interesting experiences I can find when I travel, whether they be three-star restaurants or a stall in an asian street market.

In school and when traveling with friends, I would occasionally take one night to myself and ditch my friends and spend my savings on one special dinner. Some of my most memorable dinners have been solo visits and I've happily continued this tradition when I solo travel for business as was the case with this visit to Twist. My experience with French cuisine in Las Vegas includes Guy Savoy, L'Atelier de Jöel Robuchon (four times), and Jöel Robuchon at the Mansion. I will base my review in comparison to these restaurants.

I have always wanted to try Pierre Gagnaire's food, but haven't had the chance. I've read some of his books. I'm fascinated by his point of view: throwing out classic French cooking and making it modern, and relevant through fusion. Twist is Pierre Gagnaire's first restaurant in the United States and it is located on the 23rd floor of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Las Vegas.

Booking a Reservation

The restaurant has 66 seats and I was told it can serve up to 77 covers in one evening. I had no trouble booking a reservation for myself through opentable.com. I will note that the MO does not necessarily have a hidden reserve of tables for guests of the hotel, and bookings are not necessarily easier for hotel guests. The restaurant was fully committed during most of this week due to the CES show.

Reception and Clientele

I was warmly greeted by the receptionist and promptly taken to my table. It was wonderful to see that solo diners are not relegated to the back of the restaurant: I received a wonderful table in the front room with views of the strip. Another gentleman solo dinner was seated on the other side of the restaurant near a window. As the night progressed, the room would fill to include a mix of clientele, including two girlfriends out on the town, a family with two children, a large group of CES participants to my left, and of course couples out for a romantic dinner. Jackets are not required for Twist, and some men elected not to wear them. The overall environment is elevated elegance without being stuffy.

Decor and Environment

The restaurant design itself is stunning in the sense of the large volume of the room, which is partially filled and made more intimate by Bocci lights hanging in sculptural patterns from the ceiling like stars in the night sky. The design reminds me somewhat of Danny Meyer's Modern in NYC, in the sense of the large volume of space and modern design. This is not at all like Jöel Robuchon at the Mansion (sea of intense floral bouquets, French chandeliers), L'Atelier (dark room, open kitchen), or Guy Savoy (wooden lattice walls, almost Japanese aesthetic). At Twist, there are literally craters in the white plaster walls, which provide a rich visual metaphor to Gagnaire's quest to shatter traditional concepts of French cuisine.

Wine List

I'm not a wine expert, and I am a light weight when it comes to alcohol. There is a reasonable selection of wines available by the glass, and I enjoyed starting things off with the Ruinart Rosé NV champagne from Reims. I will not comment further on wine, as there are people far more capable than I who can so.


I generally dislike tasting menus because I think many restaurants in Las Vegas design them for tourists and businessmen on expense accounts who don't care to think carefully enough to choose a la carte and who think $500 16-course tasting menu with Kobe beef add-on and wine pairing (as seen at other LV restaurants) is better than a carefully selected starter and main and select wines by the glass. I like the idea of a tasting menu letting you experience a wide range of Chef's dishes, but six or sixteen courses are just too much for me to eat and too many ideas to get my head around.

Several things made me order the tasting menu at Twist: 1) it was a four-course tasting menu plus dessert (you could call it six courses if you include dessert and intermezzo), 2) Langoustine five ways (a signature dish) was included, 3) loin of venison (personal favorite), 4) there were five desserts (I love dessert), 5) the cost was $185.00, entirely reasonable.

The Menu called Pierre Gagnaire's Spirit looked like this:

First Course: Sea Scallops & Foie Gras

Second Course: John Dory Fillet

Third Course: Langoustine Five Ways

Intermezzo: Cucumber, Tomato and Pineapple

Fourth Course: Loin of Venison

Grand Dessert Pierre Gagnaire

The Meal

Amuse Bouche

Usually an amuse is meant to tickle the palate and prime the appetite for what is to come. I would have to say the amuse at Twist is not really a bouche (mouthful) but instead comes in five courses. Because the amuse was not on the menu, I cannot give you the exact names or ingredients, only my general description. A variety of flavors and textures were offered, from crispy potato chip with embedded ?sardine garnish, to a cuttlefish salad that had a nice acid with chewy cuttlefish. My favorite however was a velvety smooth cauliflower purée enriched with lots of cream and butter that was enjoyed with sesame breadsticks.

First Course: Sea Scallops & Foie Gras

Squab breast, foie gras, black olive gelée, sake-apple marmalade, pomegranate seeds

I cannot find anything in my tasting notes on this course which probably reflects how much I enjoyed it (I was too busy eating). The perfect combination of textures and flavors, with a buttery under-seasoned sea scallop picking up its salt from the black olive gelée beneath along with acid from the sake-apple marmalade. Pomegranate seeds debut in this course, but recur two other times during the meal, and provide a perfect sweet acid crunch to the velvety fat of the foie gras. The foie itself is only reached after first eating through a tender filet of perfectly cooked squab meat.

Second Course: John Dory Fillet

Poached in malamar black pepper-citrus butter, cannelloni beans, marin velouté, and crunch sauce

I love fish, and the John Dory doesn't disappoint. The butter-poached fish melts in your mouth, while the cannelloni beans provide an amped-up meatiness. A cleaver crunch sauce adds delightful texture to the dish.

Third Course: Langoustine Five Ways

Mousseline perfumed with sherry manzanilla, grilled with TTB sauce and avocado, Tartar with Campari turnip and baby greens, seared with Iberico ham and bell pepper, Gelée with Kombu seaweed seasoned with lobster coral.

If there is anything that best describes the thoughtfulness of Gagnaire's cuisine in this tasting menu, it is probably this dish. The progression of the preparations provided me with a gift of understanding a langoustine from its primordial gestation (tartar) to its full evolution rising from the salty ocean. The saltiness of the Iberico and the smoky eggplant garnish perfectly brings to mind the marine environment. But the tartar was my favorite, bright intense, sweet floral notes of clean white flesh punctuated with the crisp acid of pomegranate seeds.

Intermezzo: Cucumber, Tomato and Pineapple

Kirsch brandy, rhubarb mousse, grapefruit granité

I smiled when I first saw this dish. Then I laughed when I tasted it. The sight of it brought back joyous memories of Alain Passard's L'Arpege, where I realized that vegetarianism is not madness. There I was served a tomato granité that was so pure, and honest and concentrated of flavor that I felt I could taste the sunshine on the vine. This intermezzo, a small palate cleanser, might do the same, I thought. There is acid from the grapefruit that cuts the sweetness of the rhubarb mousse, then the alcohol finds your tongue. But the twist here is the heat, incredible heat, that your palate intensely feels from the peppers hidden somewhere in this dish. Amazingly, as soon as the heat reaches maximal intensity, it disappears. Something that you think would ruin your palate, leaves it refreshed and ready for the next course (that's when I laughed).

Fourth Course: Loin of Venison

Red cabbage-black currant jam, tamy potato, pear-celery gratin, "grand veneur" quenelle

Gagnaire's playfulness with contrasts is nowhere more apparent then with this dish. A perfectly cooked loin of venison, is set in stark contrast on dark blood-red cabbage. The unctuous meat plays wonderfully against the sweetness of the cabbage bed. But the highlight is the "grand veneur" quenelle. Grand veneur sauce is usually served with big game (sometimes it's called huntsmen sauce), but here Gagnaire has made it into an ice cream! You might think the contrast of hot and cold would be madness in your mouth, but you would be wrong. The ice cream is not served ice-cold and it melts and wraps around your palate and lingers to flavor the meat in a way that a sauce alone could not.

Grand Dessert Pierre Gagnaire

Qunice gelée, bavaroise, chartreuse parfait, Nelson sablé, meringue, citrus sorbet, Cachaça granité, cucumber marmalade, green apple, Fruit biscuit, seasonal coulis, Ganache, ginger, chocolate ice cream

Twist has a marvelous pastry chef that plays to Gagnaire's principles of innovations and fusion. I think this is best exemplified in the Cachaça granité, cucumber marmalade, green apple dessert. Who would think that cucumber would provide such a flavorful dessert and that it could be garnished with pea shoots? Yet is all works, so well.

Conclusion of Meal

I finished my dinner with a double expresso and some housemade candies and chocolates. I thanked the heavens that I was spared the three tiers of petit fours and confections that are usually brought at this time. The meringue candies were especially light and delicious. It will bear mentioning at this time that the service throughout the meal was superb. The restaurant manager made his usual and customary rounds to the tables and I was warmly greeted by name. My waiter, even thought to bring me one of Gagnaire's cookbooks to peruse, a thoughtful kindness to the solo diner. This is something special I grasp immediately from Twist: it is a place where everyone will feel comfortable before, during and at the end of a meal, from the solo diner to a family with young children. The food is innovative, but approachable. The prices are not atmospheric. The setting is elegant and romantic, but not stuffy. The final twist to Twist may be that fine dining in Las Vegas doesn't need gimmicks or an up-sell, and that above all else, it can be fun.

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